Pray for snow: Sierra-at-Tahoe’s winter ritual is Thursday
November 10, 2009
The tradition of praying for snow runs deep in resort towns, combining the spiritual with the jovial. In Vail, Colo., Ute Indians perform a traditional snow dance during the winter festivities. The folks in Breckenridge take a week to celebrate Ullr, the mythical Norse god of snow, in the middle of dating games, comedy shows and parades.
Here in South Lake Tahoe, locals have been gathering to hog call – literally – for the white stuff since Sierra-at-Tahoe’s first Pray for Snow Party in 1993. This year’s event is Thursday at Murphy’s Irish Pub.
“It’s people putting their positive thoughts and energy into a good winter,” said John Rice, general manager for the resort.
The tradition was born the same year Sierra-at-Tahoe changed hands, dropping “ski ranch” from its name. Rice gathered a priest, a rabbi, a Presbyterian minister and an American Indian medicine man.
“It was a serious prayer; it was a prayer for snow,” Rice said.
Later, Rice and the resort’s marketing manager caught a hog calling contest on TV. They laughed and decided to create a contest where participants called for snow, instead of hogs.
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“Over the years, we’ve had some really interesting entrants,” Rice said.
There was the man who played the harmonica while his dog howled. There was also the man in a Fred Flinstone-like fur tunic who let out a blood-curdling scream.
There was also Robert Lusk, known affectionately as “Preacher Bob.” The Novato resident was a season pass holder who showed up every year in a monk robe to bless the slope on opening and closing day and perform unofficial marriages (good for one day) on the mountain.
When he was younger, he would sleep overnight in the parking lot so he could be the first one into Huckleberry Canyon on a powder day.
Lusk died earlier this year of prostate cancer. Rice said he was well loved and will be missed.
“He was a crack up,” Rice said. “He was part of the fabric and color of the resort.”
Rice will appear as El Nino Grande, singing his own pray-for-snow ballad to the tune of a traditional mariachi song.
“It’s a lot of fun and a good chance to get out there pre-season, let it rip and have a good time,” Rice said.
In the end, that’s really all anyone can do.
“There’s nothing we can do to change the weather except for yell at the clouds and tell it to come down,” he said.