Let the party begin | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Let the party begin

The biggest party of the century this weekend followed by a chance of snow on Monday – it just doesn’t get much better than this at Lake Tahoe.

And to top it all, South Shore casinos are reporting better-than-average turnout, thanks to open roads.

“We’re doing pretty well for December,” said Harrah’s Lake Tahoe communications director John Packer. “People who normally wouldn’t drive up during the winter months are likely to make that trip now because they know the roads are clear.”

He couldn’t offer solid figures, but Packer said revenues are up in all areas. However, the dry-weather trend could be a hindrance to casino profitability if it continues. Harrah’s has not seen any cancellations by guests hoping to add a little snowplay to their New Year’s agenda, but Packer said business could suffer after the New Year’s Eve celebration if the dry spell continues.

The feeling is similar across the highway at Harveys Casino Resorts.

“Like Harrah’s, Harveys Resort & Casino benefits when our slot players from the Central Valley can come up and enjoy the products, but being community-minded and wanting the ski resorts to do well, we would like to see some snow,” said Harveys’ Senior Vice President of Marketing Jim Rafferty. “We run a variety of businesses here, and one of the businesses we run is a four-diamond hotel property. It absolutely helps our business if we get good snow.”

According to the National Weather Service, the Tahoe Basin is looking at a good chance of snow Monday, possibly earlier, to break the two-week dry spell.

Lake Tahoe had received 7 inches of December snowfall by Thursday. That’s about 20 percent of last December’s total accumulation of 34 inches.

“We’re well behind where we would like to be for the winter,” said Jeff Cohen of the California Department of Water Resources. “Normally, you’d have about 12 inches of water content, which is about 5 or 6 feet of snow. Right now there’s an average of 3 inches of water content, about a foot to 18 inches of snow. It’s pretty skimpy.”

Cohen blames the dry weather on La Nina and, based on 80 years of records, said heavy accumulation shouldn’t be far off.

Even without snow since Dec. 13, ski resorts in the area are staying afloat.

“Snowmaking saves the day,” said Kirkwood Ski Resort’s director of communications Tania Pilkinton. “Under the circumstances, we’re doing well.”

Kirkwood currently has 26 trails open, 40 percent of its terrain, and is planning a month of money-saving events to entice snow sporters.

According to Pilkinton, snowmaking operations are to be credited with keeping the lifts moving this season.

“The numbers are down, but given how long its been without snow … I know those of us who are making snow are doing well,” Pilkinton said.

Due to early season conditions, Kirkwood is extending its Stay-and-Ski-Free package through Jan. 13, allowing all lodging guests to ski free during their visit.

Sierra-at-Tahoe reports 60 percent, or 27 of its trails, open and is attracting guests with its new tubing and biking sports.

“We have four guns shooting snow and we have a really good product. The groomed runs are incredible,” said Sierra’s Director of Marketing and Sales Tracy Owen Chapman.

Chapman said late snowfall isn’t all that unusual when looked at in terms of a 30-year average. She said rumors that Sierra-at-Tahoe may be closed this season except weekends is shocking based on how well the resort is doing despite conditions. “We’re treating it like any other winter,” Chapman said. “We’ll be open through April.”

Sierra-at-Tahoe has abandoned the idea of hosting a New Year’s Eve event due to lack of lodging, but not due to lack of snowfall, Chapman said.

“A New Year’s party was something we were kicking around, but we never planned it. We want what’s best for the guests, and without lodging to accommodate them, we thought it would make sense for our guests to partake down in town,” she said.

Heavenly Ski Resort is relying heavily on its own snowmaking operations, and is looking to open more trails for the New Year weekend.

“We have 25 trails open – we just opened one yesterday – and we’re hoping to open one more tomorrow and one the next day,” Bandows said Thursday.

Heavenly skier visits are lower than average for this time of year, but due to the way the Christmas and New Year’s holidays fall, Heavenly was planning for a slower-than-average month.

“We knew in May, when we were working on our budget, that Christmas this year was not going to be a record Christmas,” Bandows said. “We were looking at the way the holiday fell. Christmas fell on a weekend and people came up Friday and left on Sunday. We really didn’t get the two solid weeks out of it we traditionally get.”

The resort is gearing up for the FIS Freestyle World Cup event in three weeks and anticipates some help from Mother Nature by then.

“We’re good to go,” Bandows said. “But we’ll keep our fingers crossed. Some natural snow would be great.”

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