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Tahoe Nugget #220:

Tahoe's Winter of Discontent
January 5, 2012

No doubt about it, winter 2012 is off to a monumentally slow start. Virtually no snow has fallen on the Tahoe Basin since the pittance we received at Thanksgiving, which is giving regional resorts fits as they try to maintain a good sliding experience with man-made snow.  A few ski areas have put their extensive snowmaking systems to good use and have opened a number of trails, but region-wide many employees have been laid off or never even got a start day.

Nugget #220 Sierra at Tahoe  Lift
Closed chairlift at Sierra at Tahoe ski resort on Highway 50 near Echo Summit.

The Wall Street Journal reported that lift ticket sales at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley USA were off by 75 percent compared to last year during the all-important Christmas-New Year's holiday period. And that doesn't count the lost revenues from empty restaurants and bars.

Nugget #220 Sierra at Tahoe  skiers
Sierra at Tahoe shows off decent conditions on Dec. 26, 2011.

December 2011 was the second driest twelfth month in the central and northern Sierra since a regional index was established in 1920. Only December 1989 was drier with zero snowfall measured, but at least in 1989 the resorts had picked up about four feet of snow in November which gave them a minimum base to work with.

Nugget #220 Gehrke Snow  Survey
Snow surveyors look for snow on Echo Summit Jan. 3, 2012.

State snow surveyors were out in force on January 3 looking for snow to measure. At 7,382 feet in elevation, Echo Summit is one of the snowiest areas in the Sierra, located just south of Lake Tahoe. Surveyors found only one seventh of an inch of snow, the lowest amount ever recorded at that site this time of year. Statewide, the snowpack water content is 19 percent of normal for the date.

Nugget #220 Heat Wave SIZED  Graphic_edited-1
Heat wave graphic from National Weather Service, Reno office.

A positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation is the likely culprit for the extremely dry weather, but at some point the blocking high pressure in the eastern Pacific will move and the proverbial storm door will open. On a bright note, travel has been easy and locals and visitors are hiking, ice skating, riding bikes and playing golf.

Nugget #220 Brockway Golf  Course
Brockway Golf Course on North Shore has reopened.

In addition to the seemingly endless bluebird days with cloudless skies, recently the Lake Tahoe Basin has been experiencing a slew of record warm temperatures, which has put the kibosh on most snow making. Resorts like Heavenly Valley, Northstar California and Mt. Rose have the best conditions on limited terrain.

Nugget #220 Donner Ski Ranch No  Snow
Donner Ski Ranch never even fired up a lift.

Skiers are reporting that the snow conditions at Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley are starting to get thin. The only skiable terrain that Homewood Mountain Resort can offer is at its base ($25 adult lift ticket) while Donner Ski Ranch never opened this season.

Nugget #220 Homewood No Snow
Homewood Mountain Resort has very little skiing terrain open.

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