Nasty weather a mixed blessing at ski resorts |

Nasty weather a mixed blessing at ski resorts

Pounded by a series of snowstorms, Heavenly and Kirkwood were shut Monday but Sierra-at-Tahoe managed to open, kicking off its first day of the season at noon with about 5 feet of fresh snow on top of the mountain.

Sierra at times is able to open when the other South Shore resorts cannot because it’s less exposed to high winds.

“There are a few different advantages when it comes to wind,” said Nicole Belt, spokeswoman for the resort.

“We don’t have a lot of terrain exposed above the tree line. And there’s also a lot of lush old-growth forest dominated by red fir trees that grow to be extremely tall and offer a lot of wind protection. When we designed our mountain we took wind into consideration and built lifts into canyons.”

Belt said parking lots were full Monday and shuttle buses from South Shore were coming over Echo Summit packed with skiers and riders.

“People came up for the powder and they’re pretty excited and amped,” Belt said.

Heavenly Ski Resort and Kirkwood Mountain Resort opened Saturday and Sunday but had to struggle with high winds.

“It’s very windy on top of the mountain right now,” said Molly Cuffe, spokesman at Heavenly, on Monday morning. “Typically winds pick up when a storm system comes in and dies down when they move out. We anticipate opening (Tuesday) at 9 a.m. There may be some delays in opening; we’re getting a lot of snow.”

Cuffe said Heavenly received 24 inches of snow in 24 hours, bringing the total from Friday to Monday to about 4 feet. “Potentially we’ll get Stagecoach Lodge open this weekend, with more terrain opening everyday,” Cuffe said. “We were open up to Canyon chair (Sunday) and guests up on the mountain said the snow was just phenomenal.”

On Saturday, Heavenly opened Waterfall lift but had to close it by about 10:30 due to winds.

Cuffe said Monday ski patrol were concentrating their avalanche work on the Gunbarrel face so it could open as soon as possible.

Kirkwood Mountain Resort is set to do plenty of avalanche work, too.

“It’s hammering — there’s a couple of inches an hour coming down,” said Tim Cohee, president of Kirkwood. “Our first job will be to dig out the lifts. It’s like fighting a war. You make headway then you go back and do it again.

High winds shut lifts down Saturday about 2 p.m. but the resort was open Sunday, after about 2 feet fell at the top of the mountain overnight Saturday.

Snow started falling again about 5 p.m. on Sunday and it kept snowing through the night dropping another 3 feet at the top of the mountain.

As whiteout conditions kept Kirkwood shut Monday, Cohee said the goal is to have the entire mountain, including the backside, open by Friday or Saturday.

“The forecasts were pretty accurate,” Cohee said. “We’ve probably gotten about 7 or 8 feet. By the times things end, we’ll be way over that.”

It’s not just the South Shore resorts that are excited about the white stuff accumulating by the feet.

As of late Monday afternoon, Mammoth had gotten 4 feet since the storm arrived. It was falling at a rate of 3 inches per hour early Monday.

June Mountain was planning to open today.

On the West Shore, Homewood expects to open the entire mountain on Thursday, just in time for its annual toy drive. Guest who donate a new, unwrapped toy that day can ski on fresh powder for 10 bucks.

Farther up the lake, Alpine reported receiving 2 feet of snow in the 12 hours between 4 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday. This brings the storm total on the top of the mountain to 62 inches.

“This storm is definitely significant,” said Gary Murphy, Alpine Meadows avalanche forecaster. “The amount (of snow) we’ve received is only compounded by the strong winds, which helps deposit even more snow within the resort boundary.”

Squaw Valley expects to open KT-22, Headwall and Snow King this weekend now that 5 feet of snow have dropped on the mountain since Thursday.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at

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