Catching a wave

Heavy snow fall means more water for state, good conditions for
The first half of January brought nearly two weeks of solid snow and rain, dumping nearly 22 feet of snow on Kirkwood Ski Resort south of Lake Tahoe.

The resort was faced with a one-day closure after highway traffic in both directions was closed and one chair lift was buried in more than nine feet of snow, said Tracy Miller, the resort’s sales and marketing director.

For most areas, the higher than average snowfall would have been yet another inconvenience, but in this case, the storms left Tahoe resorts a skier’s weekend paradise as thousands jammed lifts on the lake and in the surrounding mountains to take in pristine views, blue skies and plenty of action on the slopes

“I would say that our two resorts could not have anticipated anything better,” said Nicole Belt, communications manager for Sierra-at-Tahoe and North Star-at-Tahoe resorts in an interview Friday. “Blue skies, fresh snow and clear roads are a recipe for a great weekend here in Tahoe. I think it’s setting us up for a record-breaking season.”

When skies first cleared early last week, waist-deep powder awaited riders at Heavenly ski resort on the lake’s southern shore, according to resort communications coordinator Toni Toreno, and Miller reported that a 120-foot snowdrift had been found on Kirkwood’s back acreage.

“Certainly back in ’96 or ’97 we got more snow, but right now this storm has already pushed us over the 400-foot mark for the year. We generally average 500 to 550 feet, but right now we’re tracking for maybe 600 or 650,” Miller said.

Better than the snow’s depth itself was the quality and texture of the powder that fell on local sporting destinations.

The bulk of the storm dropped snow with low to moderate moisture content – between nine and 25 percent – and the storm’s final flurries, dusted onto slopes last Monday, clocked in at just four to five percent water content, said Miller.

Wet snow creates a good base for skiers, a firmly packed starting point, but the dry snow heaped on top of it was like spreading a thick blanket of leaves over a yard – a nice, cushy drape to make falls that much more bearable.

“It is exceptionally cold, which is good because it keeps the snow really soft,” said Belt. “When you get a real wet powder, that’s when it can turn icy, because overnight the extra water freezes and it turns solid.

“When you have a very dry snow, it has the consistency of almost a sugar. If you picked it up with your hand and blew you would blow all of the snow out of your hand.”

Said Miller, “When you fall on icy snow you can fall and slide down three lift towers before you stop. This is ego snow. It doesn’t matter what level you ski or ride, you can push it a little higher, because if you fall, you just stick where you are.”

According to the California Department of Water Resources, all of that snow translates into roughly 26 inches of water, or some 87 percent of the yearly total for the region.

That may not seem like too much, but considering the snow season doesn’t end until April 1, there’s a lot of time ahead. For the year to date, the central region has received 187 percent of its normal snowfall. The state as a whole is currently near 200 percent of its average for this time of year.

Southern California, whose residents were hit hard by flooding and mudslides during the storm, could face more trouble as the area’s snow pack melts this spring. Hills blackened by last year’s catastrophic forest fires could still give way should runoff be too great.

The southern section of the state has already received more than 100 percent of its average yearly total.

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