Heavenly starts to assess the damage
Skiers and boarders looking for a new run carved under the Heavenly gondola may be surprised come winter.
The 670-acre South Lake Tahoe fire burned a giant rust-colored swath across the steep slopes east of the gondola, but most of the trees are still standing.
The Edgewood Bowl and Olympic Downhill runs served as firebreaks for the main thrust of the fire, the ski resort reported Monday.
Gondola riders viewed the damaged area on Monday.
“We knew exactly where the fire was,” Ron Bernstein of Quincy said, exiting the gondola at the base station with his wife, Billie.
Even though the couple heard about the fire at home and drove to Tahoe for a vacation, the view of the lake was the main reason they rode one of the cars.
The Bernsteins were not alone. The gondola reopened Saturday.
“I was stunned by how sharp the line was,” said Dennis Harmon, who is leaving his post as Heavenly’s president in two weeks.
Ski area personnel have not yet inspected the damage at the North Bowl.
“Our big concern is that a lot of the trees standing sustained damage,” Harmon said. “One tree had half its trunk burned through.”
Over the next few weeks, a fire rehabilitation team will conduct an assessment of the environmental damage.
Heavenly management’s first concern was the safety of the 220 gondola passengers trapped on the hill Wednesday, Harmon said. Ninety-five of those visitors were at the top with the others at the mid-station observation deck.
“We were very concerned for our guests. If it had gone up the hill instead of sideways, that would have been a scary proposition,” Harmon said, estimating the resort evacuated the guests with trucks between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.
“We got on the radio, and all the company vehicles went to the top. That part I’m pleased with,” Harmon said.
Heavenly relied on the condition of the work roads, staff at all three gondola stations and its snowmaking system.
At one point, all 50 sprinklers were spraying water from the snowmaking ponds at East Peak Lake and Sky Dam.
When the system was first planned, the ski resort intended to use it for firefighting, but the idea lay dormant until it was needed.
“This was a close call for Heavenly and the community,” Heavenly Vice President of Marketing John Wagnon said, adding a heartfelt thank you to the quick response of firefighters that saved facilities. “By this winter, you essentially won’t even be able to tell there was a fire nearby.”
There may be one sign of the times.
With the cause of the fire pointing to “smoking material,” lighting up at the resort is now strictly prohibited.