In a winter with the lowest snowfall in the Sierra Nevada since record-keeping began, some resorts fared well while others barely managed to open.

On April 1st, it was no joke when California’s Department of Water Resources snow surveyors went to Phillips Station off Highway 50 near Echo Summit to do their official April 1st measurement of the snowpack. Whereas the average

Despite snow drought, author's daughter Katie Cleese and friend Rose Cendak practice Quidditch at Heavenly Valley. Credit: Rose Marie Cleese
Despite snow drought, author’s daughter Katie Cleese and friend Rose Cendak practice Quidditch at Heavenly Mountain Resort.
Credit: Heavenly Mountain Resort

snow depth at that location is 66.5 inches on that date since record-keeping began there in 1941, the measuring crew—with Governor Jerry Brown by their side—found themselves in a meadow devoid of any snow at all. It was unprecedented. Since it’s now likely that there will be very little Sierra snowpack runoff into the state’s reservoirs this year coupled with the previous three years of statewide drought, the governor announced on the spot a mandatory 25 percent reduction in water usage for everyone—companies, institutions, and individuals alike.

Yet, despite there being grass instead of snow in the meadow at Phillips Station, one can still ski and snowboard in the Sierra—at least for a couple more weeks. A small handful of wintersports areas will remain open past the traditional Easter weekend closing date, thanks to their snowmaking efforts, their higher elevations, and/or their careful protection and manicuring of the snow they were lucky enough to have fall on their slopes.

To catch a few more runs before all the snow is gone, you can head to any of the following (closing dates as of April 2nd are in parentheses): Bear Valley (Sunday, April 12th), Boreal (Sunday, April 12th), Heavenly (Sunday, April 19th), Mt. Rose (Sunday, April 19th), Kirkwood (Sunday, April 19th), and Mammoth Mountain (Sunday, May 31st). Bay Area skiers rarely make the trek to Mammoth on the eastern slope of the Sierra off Highway 395 since the quickest route there, via Tioga Pass in Yosemite, closes every winter after the first major snowfall. This season, however, Mammoth was and remains a great option since the Tioga Pass road never closed this winter—a first! As of March 31st, Mammoth had 19 of its 28 lifts operating, with a base of 30–60”. The resort has often been open for skiing over the 4th of July weekend; don’t hold your breath this year!

Only one Sierra wintersports resort is closing this Easter Sunday, April 5th, the traditional end of ski season: Alpine Meadows.

Katie Cleese soaks up the bennies in the too-warm patio at Heavenly Mountain Resort.  Note snow melt in background. Credit: Rose Marie Cleese
Katie Cleese and Mike Allen, Director of Ski Services, soak up the bennies in the too-warm, mid-mountain patio at Heavenly.  Note snow melt in background.
Credit: David Koth

Several Sierra resorts had a tough season, especially those with no snowmaking capacity or besieged by higher temperatures that prevented snowmaking or located in the Central Sierra, which didn’t get as much snow as their neighbors farther north. Sierra-at-Tahoe managed to open on December 12th and ran its lifts for a total of 94 days before it had to close on March 16th. Badger Pass in Yosemite National Park opened on December 14th but had to close on January 19th, never to reopen. Dodge Ridge racked up similar stats to Badger Pass, opening on December 17th and closing in mid-January. Homewood on the west shore of Lake Tahoe opened on December 20th but then closed on February 23rd to wait for another significant snowfall that never came. Tahoe Donner closed on March 15th and Diamond Peak closed on March 29th. Sugar Bowl had to cut its 75th Anniversary season short, closing on March 22nd.

Hopefully, all the resorts will have a banner year next year, but with the new normal, it looks more and more like any California resort that hopes to survive the changing climate will have to take the plunge into a robust snowmaking system.

One Comment

  1. mike stebbins says:

    The Colorado River drainage saw fair to middlin’ snow packs this year so Southern Cali ought to have enough. Still, that high pressure ridge that sat out there in the Pacific and pushed snowfalls north and east hit us hear in Montana. Thankfully, I lived on the east coast a few years so hard and icy conditions weren’t a problem for me but many of the local resorts here in SW MT were hard hit as skiers, local powder purists, stayed away in droves from mid-January on. We dance Ullr’s sacred dance and consume the holy beverages in hopes of a better season next year.

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