Holiday travel forecast looking up |

Holiday travel forecast looking up

Adam Jensen
Adam Jensen / Tahoe Daily TribuneCars and people head toward Stateline Thursday afternoon ahead of storms anticipated this weekend.

The holidays are often the happiest time of year. Christmas to New Year’s may also be one of the busiest holiday weeks in recent memory.

Significant early season snowfall has allowed Lake Tahoe ski resorts to open most or all of their terrain, fading memories of last year’s dismal season and spurring travel to the area.

“It’s looking very favorable now and certainly the snowfall that will come in this week will be icing on the cake,” said Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer for the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association, about bookings at the north end of the lake so far this year.

Early season bookings appeared to be suffering from a hangover from last year’s lack of snow, but recent snow has helped reinvigorate people’s winter travel plans, Chapman said.

At the South Shore, November tourism was also lackluster, but the remainder of the season shows reasons for optimism, according to information from the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority.

November bookings in South Lake Tahoe were down 16.4 percent from last year, but the rest of the season is already looking far better than 2011, according to an executive summary by the LTVA.

“Occupancy on-the-books for the upcoming six months (November-April) is up a dramatic 81.6 percent compared the same period last year, while rate is down -17.6 percent,” the summary reads. “South Lake Tahoe bookings taken in October for arrival October-March were up 9.7 percent compared to the same period last year.”

Statewide, holiday travel also appears to be on the upswing, according to the American Automobile Association, which estimates 11.7 million Californians will travel during the end-of-the-year holiday season. The number represents a 1.8 percent increase from 2011.

“For the fourth consecutive year, California has seen a slow to steady increase in travel volume,” AAA Northern California spokeswoman Cynthia Harris said in a statement. “This season we are experiencing the highest number of travelers as Californians kick-start the New Year with a holiday vacation.”

One potential snag for the weekend leading up to Christmas at Lake Tahoe is a problem you won’t hear skiers and snowboarders complaining about – too much snow.

Heavy snow and strong winds will cause whiteout conditions and snarl traffic over Sierra passes this weekend, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

A winter storm warning is in effect until 4 a.m. Monday. Up to 5 feet of snow is possible above 7,000 feet west of Highway 89 and up to 3 feet below 7,000 feet, according to the agency.

“Conditions will deteriorate rapidly late Friday and early Saturday,” according to Thursday winter storm warning. “Travel is discouraged over the Sierra passes this weekend. Carry extra food … water and clothes in your car if you must travel.”

Avalanche activity is expected to spike during the storms and backcountry activities are not advised. The snowfall is expected to let up in time for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to forecasts.

Chapman encouraged people to keep on eye on the weather while making plans and get in before storms hit if possible. Although travel might be impacted during the weekend, the snow should help Lake Tahoe businesses have a happy New Year’s week and 2012-13 winter, said Carol Chaplin, executive director of the LTVA. It will also give the area a competitive edge against other regions when it comes to destination travelers.

“Five feet of snow –it should set us up really well for the season,” Chaplin said.

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