Christmas storm has Tahoe snowpack looking strong
With Thursday’s storm in the books and sun in the forecast, Lake Tahoe Basin ski resort officials are expecting a banner holiday weekend.
“It’s the best holiday skiing we’ve had since ’04-’05,” Kirkwood Mountain Resort spokesman Kevin Cooper said of conditions. “I haven’t seen Kirkwood filled in like this in the last four years.”
Thanks to recent storms the resort was able to open 100 percent of its terrain prior to the holiday. A number of Tahoe’s other ski areas may be able to open their remaining terrain following this week’s storm.
“People are actually going to see a white Christmas,” Cooper said. “It’s been a long time.”
Prior to the winter storm that rolled through the region on Christmas Eve, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Kirkwood had both already topped their season snowfall totals from last winter. Thursday’s storm was expected to drop 5 to 10 inches of fresh snow at lake level with up to 20 inches at higher elevations.
“More snow is always great. Tahoe needs it,” Northstar California and Heavenly spokeswoman Marcie Bradley said. “It’s a great Christmas gift. Everyone is stoked.”
With portions of the Sierra Nevada receiving more than 100 inches in December alone, the region’s snowpack is showing promise compared to recent drought years. That promise bodes well for the remainder of the ski season. According regional forecasters the full effects of the strong Pacific El Niño event are more likely to be seen starting in January.
“This storm is putting us right at average,” OpenSnow.com forecaster Bryan Allegretto said of the current snowpack. Looking ahead to January through March El Niño impact, he added, “All the patterns are starting to align.”
The Tahoe-based forecaster said he was increasingly optimistic regarding the potential for an above average winter.
“I think it’s a good start to go into the rest of the season,” he said.
Looking ahead, Allegretto said he expects the next two weeks to show a break in the storm cycle with increased activity in January.
Sun and cold temperatures are expected through the holiday weekend.
“The whole weekend will be cold and clear,” Allegretto said.
BACKCOUNTRY AVALANCHES A CONCERN
While resorts will be brimming with powder-hungry skiers and snowboarders this weekend, avalanche forecasters are urging caution in the backcountry. The Sierra Avalanche Center raised their avalanche threat level to considerable Thursday — level 3 on their 5 tiered scale.
“I would encourage backcountry users to evaluate terrain and snowpack carefully before committing to any slope,” Sierra center forecaster Andy Anderson said. “It is all too easy to let the excitement of deep powder lead to careless decisions that can have dire consequences”
Under the current threat level, human-caused avalanches are likely with natural avalanches possible during and shortly following the storm.
“We expect instability to persist through the weekend due to recent snow, shifting wind and colder temperatures,” Anderson said. “If you are going out into the backcountry, be informed.”
Slopes above a 30-degree angle are most prone to slides. Travel directly beneath a steep incline can also release an avalanche from below.
As of Thursday, Dec. 24, the considerable avalanche danger was for areas below, near and above treeline. Northwest, north through southeast facing slopes will be especially prone to wind loading and wind-slab avalanches that could release significant amounts of snow, depending on snow depth.
With light cold snow on top of frozen crust, all aspects of the compass will be susceptible to smaller loose, dry, slides or sluffs.
Persistent weak layers deep in the snowpack could also potentially release a large slide, especially on northwest through northeastern slopes.
Backcountry users should remain cautious through the weekend.