Maybe so, in some years. But this wasn’t one of them. Indeed, the whole season is being more or less written off, thanks to California’s historic drought, now in its fourth year. This January was the driest month since California began keeping records in 1895, and Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts fell victim. According to the Sacramento Bee, seven of the 14 ski resorts in Lake Tahoe have shut down early for the season because of a snow shortage.
One of the latest to call it quits was the popular ski area at Sierra-at-Tahoe.
“It is with a heavy heart we must announce we’ll be suspending winter operations beginning tomorrow, Monday, March 16,” the resort announced. “Conditions around the mountain have deteriorated to the point where we can no longer deliver a product that meets our standard. Although temperatures remain high and the forecast lacks precipitation, we are fully committed to resuming operations if we receive an adequate amount of snow. … After exhausting all possible tools — even with snowmaking at every opportunity and strategic movement of snow, Mother Nature came up short.”
While the season started off strong thanks to two storms in December, the snowfall this year has been dismal overall. The Associated Press reported the snowpack at Sierra-at-Tahoe is at or near historic lows, and this winter has seen unseasonably warm temperatures.
Two weeks ago, snowfall accumulation at the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory officially reached zero. “We’ve never seen a zero snow depth in March in the history of our station,” Randall Osterhuber, a research associate at the center, told the Bee. Osterhuber said that normally the snowfall is around 10 feet. This season, however, the entire Tahoe basin is at about 16 percent of normal. “For us to be at zero at this point is significant,” he said.
“We’ve had season passes for the last 20 years, and this year was the first year we didn’t buy them because of the drought,” Shaun Walker told the Bee. Last week Walker, who brought his family to Tahoe for vacation, opted to spend his time hiking. “We just opted not to ski and not waste the money,” he said. “I feel bad for the ski resorts … I’m sure they’re taking a hit.”
The problem is not limited to Tahoe, but has struck almost two dozen ski resorts throughout the West. And climate experts say it’s not going to end.
“We definitely have an expectation for warmer temperatures,” Mike Anderson, a state climatologist at the California Department of Water Resources, said. Warmer temperatures mean that it’s more likely precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. “So years like this winter will definitely become more the norm instead of being the outlier,” he said.