Tahoe ski resorts work around lack of natural snow
A lack of snow this season is forcing two South Shore resorts to lean on their snowmaking systems, while a third is covering portions of its trails by hand.
Thanks to continuously cold temperatures and some snowstorms at the beginning of the season, Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Resort has opened 50 percent of its mountain without assistance from snowmaking guns.
However, an absence of recent snowfall has led some resort staff to walk into the woods, grab a bucket of snow and dump it on unlocked ski terrain, Sierra-at-Tahoe spokesperson Steven Hemphill said.
The method is just one way Sierra-at-Tahoe has coped with the drier-than-normal weather.
“Let it snow. Do your rain dances. Wash your car,” he said. “We’re doing it all up here.”
Despite the scarcity of natural snow, all three ski resorts in the South Shore area — Sierra-at-Tahoe, Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Heavenly Mountain Resort — reported great ski conditions this week.
Sierra-at-Tahoe has terrain open that’s great for families and beginners, Hemphill said.
“We are really proud of the product we do have out,” he said.
Kirkwood had to close down the Timber Creek area this season because of the drier weather, spokesperson Kevin Cooper said. The resort has about 9 percent of its total terrain open, but conditions are still better than they were two years ago.
“We still have some great skiing,” he said.
Things get “a little tough” at the resort when Mother Nature doesn’t deliver much-needed snowfall, Cooper said. People are a little more cautious when they come to visit Kirkwood this season, but what they end up finding are good ski conditions.
“We’re seeing good numbers,” he said of the number of visitors, “and we’re confident we’ll push through the season.”
Kirkwood has been using its snowmaking system whenever possible to continue improving terrain, officials reported, and Heavenly has done the same.
Heavenly spokesperson Sally Gunter said the resort had put in about 750 hours of snowmaking as of Tuesday. That’s about the same as the resort’s snowmaking usage two years ago, when South Shore experienced another shortage of snowfall at the beginning of the season.
With the machines’ help, Heavenly plans to open more terrain this weekend.
“We’ve been very fortunate because of the West Coast’s largest snowmaking system and the cooler temperatures we’ve had,” she said.
Working with what it has, Heavenly is still focused on providing a quality product to guests this season, Gunter said.
“Heavenly is open,” she said. “We do have snow.”