As you already know, California is suffering through what might be its worst winter in history. By mid-February, almost every hill in Tahoe had received less than 50 percent of its average snowfall – resorts like Tahoe Donner, Soda Springs and Homewood have all closed for the season.
But the snowmaking team at Heavenly is doing all they can to fight back against California’s drought. Owned by $3.1 billion company Vail Resorts, Heavenly is equipped with some of the most sophisticated and expensive snowmaking machines in the US.
The snowmaking staff [at Heavenly] manages more than 200 air water guns, boom guns, and Super PoleCat fan guns that blow piles of crystals—sometimes a thousand hours a season—for a grooming team of 20 to transform into skiable trails. With 30,000 feet of pipes and hoses, the system can cover 73 percent of the resort’s 4,800 acres. In ideal conditions, snowmakers can fabricate winter at the rate of a foot of snow over 43 acres in just 12 hours.
It’s not only Tahoe that’s being dramatically affected by the drought and warm weather – ski resorts all over the west coast have closed their doors for the season. Smaller resorts without high tech snow making equipment aren’t able to keep up with the abysmal lack of snow, and are forced to suspend operations until Mother Nature blesses them with powder.
Badger Pass, Dodge Ridge, and China Peak in CA have suspended operations. In Oregon, Mt. Ashland Ski Area, Hoodoo Ski Area, and Willamette Pass Resort have closed. Mt. Baker, Snoqualmie, and Alpental in Washington are all closed as well.
In an open letter on China Peak’s facebook page, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cohee wrote to skiers about the raw deal they’ve been given this season:
This has been what I’m now calling the ‘cruelest’ winter I’ve ever seen… By that I mean we have not only dealt with no snow, but also with incredibly marginal snowmaking conditions. To top it off, when we finally did get enough moisture last week to make a big difference, it came in with a snow level of well above 10,000 feet, higher than all but a very few peaks in the state. It was the nail in the coffin, washing away what precious snow we had on the mid mountain, forcing us to close all but the beginner hill for the busiest ski weekend of the year, President’s. In nearly four decades I have never worked for a resort that closed mid winter; now I have.
While it may seem there’s little hope left for California’s skiers, there’s still the possibility of a “Miracle March” coming back to save the season. Keep up your snowdancing and say your prayers to Ullr.