Tahoe residents recall the Miracle March
Ten years ago today vacationers were playing on Lake Tahoe beaches that extended farther than the length of a football field, ski resorts were on the verge of shutting down and the utility district was proposing water-saving efforts.
California was in the middle of a five-year drought but Tahoe residents were about to get a reprieve.
Touted as the “Miracle March,” the third month of 1991 brought 250 inches of snow to upper elevations of the basin and relieved the pent-up anxiety of a ski-hungry town.
Dave Meyers, a Kirkwood ski patroller at the time, remembers operating with a skeleton staff. Just two of 11 lifts were open before the March snows came.
“We were contemplating closing for the year. We were cut way back on staff,” Meyers remembered. “Then it started snowing pretty much every day and we were doing snow safety all the time.”
The ski resorts quickly went from thoughts of an entire season lost to clamoring to hire lift operators.
“We pretty much got mobbed in March,” Meyers said. “After being deprived for four months, people were pretty anxious and happy to get on the slopes.”
Working in the marketing department of Sierra-at-Tahoe – then Sierra Ski Ranch – in ’91, Judi Harkins recalls the frustration of the dry years leading up to the big March with a sense of humor.
“I remember in the old days when I used to be in the ski business and it was a drought. They constantly blamed marketing for the drought,” Harkins said. “Until the big March when I came back to them and said, ‘Look, I made it snow.’ And they said ‘No, it wasn’t marketing.’ “
Sierra-at-Tahoe Assistant Ski Patrol Director Bob Shultz said the great amount of snow that March helped to cloud memories of the hard years.
“I just remember it being really good skiing,” Shultz said. “We were just really happy we could bring out the non-rock skis.”
Although many remember March 1991 as being extraordinary, the snowfall did not bring the area out of the drought, according to Jeff Cohen, California Department of Water Resources public information officer.
“It just kept the wolf away from the door for a year or so,” he said. “But it was by no means a drought-buster.”
Cohen said there were two other months of huge snowfall during the drought, which lasted from 1987-92. They may not have marked an end to the overall dryspell, but for the snow-starved community it seemed like a miracle.
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