Almost six months since the Caldor Fire ripped through El Dorado County, effects of its rampage are lingering far beyond the crisp forest. Sierra-at-Tahoe has spent the season rebuilding its lifts and cleaning up its devastated forest. Not only can the effects of the fire be seen physically, but also in the county’s economy, as many lost jobs and businesses continue to struggle without ski season tourism.
Among the thousands of acres demolished by the fire was the ski area Sierra-at-Tahoe. What started almost 30 miles away from the resort, the Caldor Fire gained momentum across the Grizzly Flats, ran along US 50, and made its way up Echo Pass to the ski area.
Nearly 80% of Sierra-at-Tahoe was destroyed. Including lifts, equipment like snowcats and snowmobiles, and a majority of the forests that make up Sierra-at-Tahoe’s infamous tree skiing. Luckily, firefighters were able to save the lodge and base area, but much of the area’s recognizable terrain has been destroyed.
Since the fire, maintenance crews have spent the last six months cleaning the area up. This includes repairing multiple lifts where haul ropes, communication lines, and many other parts imperative for the lifts to properly function were damaged. However, the biggest piece remaining in order to restore the area will be cleaning up the charred forest as dead trees pose a safety threat and could fall unexpectedly.
Since the majority of ski areas operate on leased federal forests, the land is not theirs. Because of this, structures like lifts and lodges can be insured, the forests, however, cannot be. This poses an unprecedented dilemma for the resort as to who will fund the restoration and clearing of the land. As of now, the resort has its sights set on fixing up the lifts enough to open two days this weekend, April 9th and 10th, to celebrate its 75th season.
However, the resort alone isn’t the only business feeling the heat this season. Other small businesses, shops, and restaurants that normally rely on ski season tourism are hurting. Just as areas were beginning to recover from impacts left by the covid pandemic, the local economy is taking another hit from the effects of the fire.
Local businesses, ski shops especially, are hurting for business as their whole business model runs on the premise of skiing. Other businesses which offer hospitality services like hotels and restaurants have seen a decline in consumerism, affecting their bottom line.
The county itself is experiencing the effects of the loss of tax revenue brought in by the resort. Without visitors buying drinks and lift tickets, the town’s budget has taken a hit.
Not only are businesses experiencing less business, but Sierra-at-Tahoe is also a major supplier of jobs in the area. The resort employs hundreds throughout peak season to run the lifts, lessons, rentals, and lodge. More than 550 people lost their jobs due to the resort’s inability to open. This is not to mention those who lost jobs working for small businesses and in the hospitality industry throughout the county.
Throughout this season, Sierra-at-Tahoe has been constantly keeping its community and “Sierra Fam” in the loop. The resort and community continue to look to the future while navigating the effects of the Caldor Fire. The resort is continuing restoration and hopes to open again for the 2022-2023 season bringing much-needed businesses back to El Dorado County.
“With a brand new haul rope + communication line on our most iconic lift, Grandview Express continues to be a symbol showing the damage incurred, and the rebuilding occurring as each obstacle is overcome.”