When the winter months arrive, many Bay Area families look forward to a trip or two to the Lake Tahoe area for some skiing, snowboarding, sledding and other forms of snowy fun. This year, though, Tahoe has been experiencing a record dry spell, with authorities actually issuing wildfire warnings in January. It hasn’t really snowed since Thanksgiving, and although snow finally did arrive early this week, for the most part, the storm bypassed the top of the Sierra with only 1 inch of snow reported at the Mount Rose Ski Resort near Reno, Squaw Valley USA near Tahoe City, Calif., and Boreal near Truckee, Calif. All the big ski resorts have been forced to make their own snow, and some of the smaller resorts have not even opened yet.
We got a chance to see what the dry spell has done to Tahoe just last month, when we went on a ski trip between Christmas and New Year’s. A friend who had been there a couple of weeks ago warned us, “There’s no snow”. I didn’t understand what she meant, because I had called a couple of resorts, and they assured us they were open. So we went anyway.
My friend was right, there was no snow. At least, not for the first 5 or 6 thousand feet of elevation (normally you’d begin to see snow at about 4000 feet). When you finally did begin to see snow, it was sparse and patchy. And where one would normally look up to see snow-capped mountains, everything was a dull shade of brown. It looked like Tahoe in the springtime.
Even the ski resorts look different. Although all the big ski resorts like Heavenly, Northstar and Squaw Valley are open for business, only a few lifts and runs are actually working. It felt strange to ski down a snowy hill with dirt and grass on either side of you. Manmade snow is not exactly the most enjoyable surface to ski on; it’s crunchy rather than powdery, and with so many people using the same trails, it gets packed down pretty quickly (not to mention icy when the sun shines). As beginners, we quickly realized that falling on this snow was, shall we say, a tad more uncomfortable compared to falling on the soft powder that was oh-so-plentiful in 2011 (people were skiing till June last year!).
Still, we had a great time. We’re all beginning skiers, so we had plenty of green runs to entertain and challenge us. The crowds were thinner than they were at the same time last year. I guess many of the black diamond skiers knew better than to waste their money going down the same two or three runs again and again, so I never had to worry about lightning-fast skiers coming up behind me. Best of all, we didn’t have to worry about driving in a snowstorm. Our nightmare 14-hour journey last year traumatized me so much that I plan to reschedule any planned ski trips, cancellation fees be damned, if the weather forecast shows anything more than flurries. If this weather keeps up, we might be able to enjoy a few more trips to the “snow” with a drive time of less than 4 hours! So while the rest of the Bay Area may be singing, “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”, I’m more than happy to sing “Rain, rain, go away”.