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The Tahoe region received a legitimate powder day earlier this week when a spring storm dropped over a foot of snow.
Last ski season was so bad one would have thought it nearly impossible to get any worse. 2015 managed to do just that. Many Tahoe resorts closed very early and some barely opened at all (Homewood and Donner Ski Ranch). California is in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought. Governor Jerry Brown has instated mandatory water restrictions on both agricultural and civilian consumption. The Sierra snowpack is an astonishing 6% of normal. Historical scientific trends are not reassuring. Paleo-climate data indicates we have suffered two, 100 to 200 year droughts in the last 1,200 years.
A Tale of Two Winters: Photographs below of Squaw Valley on March 30, 2014 and March 30, 2015. 2014 was a very poor ski season but improved drastically toward the end of March. 2015 has proven much worse with snowpack withering away for weeks by the end of March.
As the Tahoe ski season sputters to a finish, backcountry skiers looking for more turns should check out Mt. Lassen. The peak offers bountiful climbing and skiing options which allow you to ski wherever the snow is good. The road through the park is not open yet but it probably won’t be long. It’s currently about a 20 minute walk to snowline from the Devastated Area parking lot on the north side.
The greatest ski competition known to man or woman will go down this weekend when the Pain McShlonkey Classic returns to Squaw Valley. Studio 54 is the theme of this year’s Legacy Gala, the sexiest party on the planet.
For the first time this season it snowed at elevation 6,000 feet, just in time for the annual Snowfest. Another refreshing change was that weather forecasters actually under predicted snowfall amounts. Squaw Valley received 34 inches up top and nearly two feet of fresh snow on the valley floor. Conditions were great at Squaw and Alpine over the weekend. Backcountry conditions on north faces in particular have held up all week.
Last weekend’s precipitation greatly improved ski conditions and local morale in the Tahoe Region. Elevation 6,000 received nothing but rain while elevation 8,000 was caked with nearly two feet of dense pow. Skiers have been smiling all week. You can shred great terrain up high and finish your ski day with a beer on the grassy surroundings of Le Chamois in Squaw Valley.
Meanwhile, not all of California is in a drought. Mt. Shasta received 10 inches of precip (five feet of snow) last week and is at 120% of normal. Check it out:
Mt. Shasta Conditions report February 11, 2015
On January 23 American ski mountaineer Dave Rosenbarger was killed in an avalanche on the Italian side of Mt. Blanc. Originally from Oregon, Dave had spent summers in Tahoe and winters in Chamonix since 2003. He was a passionate soul skier and his zest for life rubbed off on nearly everyone he met. He was thirty eight years old.
Here we are waiting for winter to show up for the fourth season in a row. There is some descent skiing up high but no snow whatsoever at 6,000 feet which greatly limits access and options. A recent NPR broadcast used the term Junuary referring to the balmy mid winter conditions which have become a regular occurrence. Meanwhile the ice skating has been quite good. Hockey has become popular on many reservoirs near Truckee. Some high alpine lakes have clean slates of spectacular black ice. Around the New Year a small shallow section of Lake Tahoe froze creating a once in a lifetime opportunity to skate on the majestic lake that never freezes.
Many Tahopians were thoroughly disappointed that last week’s storm did not live up to to the hype generated by the media machine. Snowfall totals did not even scratch the low end of the forecast and virtually no snow fell at lake level. That said, there is still plenty to be grateful for. Most of drought stricken California received multiple inches of much needed rain. Higher elevations in Tahoe received a couple of feet of wet snow followed by cold nights and days which created velvety powder conditions.
Several projects have kept Squaw Valley and KSL busy this fall. Earlier this month a helicopter placed huge burlap and mesh foil mats over ski runs on Red Dog and Resort Chair terrain. The mats are designed to help with vegetation seeding and erosion control. One might also think they could help the resort open groomers with a minimal amount of snow since the mats basically create a glorified carpet over select ski runs.
Squaw is also undertaking an aggressive forest health management plan which will remove 5,000 dead or diseased trees from the Red Dog region of the lower mountain. Lower level vegetation that could serve as fire fuel will also be removed from Red Dog Face to Poulsens Gully. Although the primary intention of the project is to improve the natural habitat and reduce the risk of wildfire, skiers will be delighted in over 100 acres of new tree skiing access. This should be especially noteworthy on storm days when Squaw struggles to get the upper mountain open.