The first two major storms of 2017 brought with them as much excitement as they did powder, with Tahoe’s ski resorts reporting record amounts of January snow.
Paul Raymore, marketing manager for Diamond Peak Ski Resort, said,
“January was incredible—so much snow. The result has been many happy skiers and riders, lots of smiles and high fives, as well as some tired resort employees.”
Snowfall was consistently heavy at all of Tahoe’s resorts. Diamond Peak received 19 feet of snow, allowing the resort to open 100 percent of its terrain. Anna Jacobsen of Vail Resorts, which owns Heavenly and Kirkwood ski resorts on the South Shore as well as Northstar Resort on the North Shore, said this is the second snowiest January on record for Heavenly, and the snowiest January ever recorded at Kirkwood.
“It was a whirlwind of storms. We’ve seen our guests’ excitement build with each storm, and they just keep coming back for more,” she said.
Among those taking advantage of the snowy conditions was SNC’s Freeride Club president Dave Wadleigh. “We are currently experiencing the most favorable snow levels since 2011,” he said.
“This quantity of snow has both positive and negative effects for freeride skiing and snowboarding. On the negative side, we’ve had periods of time where the avalanche danger has been extremely high, which poses big risks. On the positive side, the snow has made almost all freeride terrain around the lake ridable,” Wadleigh said.
Since freeride skiing involves skiing over cliffs and other natural terrain features, the sport is dependent on high snow levels to make the terrain approachable.
While many Tahoe residents and visitors embraced the snowy abundance, this kind of weather also caused severe problems.
Multiple towns surrounding Lake Tahoe went without power for various stretches of time between Jan. 10 and Jan. 14, leaving thousands of people in the dark. SNC professor Katie Zanto, who lives in Kings Beach, said her family went 30 hours without power but managed to still enjoy the stormy weather, thanks to hot chocolate made on their wood stove. Zanto’s daughter, a first-grader, didn’t go to school for more than a week.
“The Tahoe-Truckee School District has already had eight snow days because the roads couldn’t be cleared to make way for the school buses,” Zanto said.
One of the most dangerous problems resulting from large snow events is the potential for avalanches. Squaw Valley ski patroller Joe Zuiches died Jan. 24 while working at the resort. An explosive charge he was using for avalanche control exploded in his hand.
Avalanche warnings have been in effect almost the entire month, with a Level 5 extreme advisory in place on Jan. 8, according to the Sierra Avalanche Center.
SNC student Isaac Laredo, an intern at the Sierra Avalanche Center, said, “January was unlike anything I had ever seen in my life. Around the Sierra crest, the month of January deposited 315 inches of snow. This put us at 200 percent of average snow pack. When you factor in rain, we are at 250 percent of precipitation.
“It was cool to see the characteristics of a maritime snow pack at play. Avalanche danger was quick to rise and then quick to fall. One day it was high and two to three days later it fell to moderate. There was some killer pow to be had,” Laredo said.
On its website, the Sierra Avalanche Center warns skiers and riders: “You control your own risk. The avalanche danger scale is a starting point in your daily planning process, but in the end you are in charge, and you make the choice.”
January’s exceptional amount of precipitation has radically improved California’s and Nevada’s water situation after a nearly decade-long drought. As of Feb. 1, the Lake Tahoe basin’s snowpack is nearly 200 percent of normal. The snowfall and runoff from recent storms also increased the volume of Lake Tahoe by roughly 33.6 billion gallons of water, according to the Weather Channel.
And on Feb. 2, the groundhog saw his shadow, letting us know another six weeks of winter are ahead. From all indications, the 2017 snow season in Tahoe will break records.
“People are regaining the stoke and hopefully Tahoe is back,” Laredo said.