It’s been exactly a year since the Caldor Fire reached the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski area in California, taking hold in the West Bowl before reaching the mountain’s front side. Barring one celebration weekend, the resort didn’t open at all during winter 21/22.
- Related: Sierra at Tahoe, CA, Shares Update on Post-Caldor Fire Restoration Project, Says Goal is to Reopen All 46 Trails By Next Season
80% of Sierra-at-Tahoe’s 2,000 acres suffered burn damage. Along with the vegetation devastation, the fire damaged the maintenance facility, five of the nine lifts and the magic carpet, and equipment like snowcats and snowmobiles. Luckily, firefighters were able to save the lodge and base area, but much of the area’s recognizable terrain and famous tree skiing was destroyed.
Since the fire, maintenance crews have spent the last 12 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 with the goal of getting skiers and snowboarders back to the resort this coming winter.
- Related: Feeling the Severe Economic Effects From the Sierra-At-Tahoe, CA, Caldor-Fire-Caused Season Closure
The rebuilding has been a collaborative process with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). Work continues to remove burned and hazardous trees, widen trails, and build new lifts. It is estimated that the effort will cost in the tens of millions of dollars range. Visitors to the resort next season can expect a completely different experience than they have in the past. The landscape is forever changed, but the goal is to build a ski product that is world-class for the future.
On the anniversary of the fire, Sierra-at-Tahoe offered this update on its website:
They say that time heals all wounds. And as our once open and vulnerable wound turns to a scar, we wear it like a badge of honor — showing that we fought hard and survived. And will thrive — again.
The Caldor Fire began August 14, 2021, almost 30 miles southwest of Sierra-at-Tahoe. Just 15 days later, the once far off orange glow transformed into raging flames as the sky grew dark. On August 29th, exactly one year ago today, our deepest fear became a reality. The Caldor Fire had arrived at Sierra.
Thinking back to the days leading up to that infamous night, there were many desperate attempts to slow the blaze to give the firefighters on the ground a fighting chance. And if it did come knocking at Sierra’s doorstep, it was thought that the runs and parking lots would act as mega fire breaks to give the crews on the ground the respite necessary to begin to push back. But, despite heli operations, dozer lines 6 blades wide, and back burning, the howling winds + lack of humidity made all attempts seem futile. The fire had taken off and Sierra was its target.
With eyes glued to the webcams, hearts from around the globe started breaking as the flames engulfed your favorite run… your secret stash, your Sierra — it was as if all those memories were on fire, transforming to ash before your eyes. We felt it too. Every person with a love for this mountain felt it. And in that moment, it seemed as if that wound could never heal.
The 3000-degree fire ripped through our beloved trees crawling through the canopies and the forest floor affecting 1,600 of our 2,000 acres, damaging lift towers, haul ropes, disintegrating terrain park features and four brand new snowcats and practically melted the Upper Shop — a maintenance building which housed many of our crews’ tools and personal belongings, some that had been passed down through generations. It would not have been uncommon to think that that was the end of Sierra, but to us, it was the beginning of a comeback story like you’ve never seen. As Paul Beran, passed Director of Mountain Operations said, “This will be a place of new adventure and rediscovery, West Bowl will now truly be a bowl.”
Armed with an arsenal of dedicated partners, many who’ve grown up with Sierra as their playground, before the smoke has even begun to clear we got to work — to heal the wound. Through the holidays, around the clock, after hours and overtime, the plan for execution was created and the expert team to get it done was assembled. And when the boots hit the ground, the energy was palpable. There would be no stopping this train.
In just 55 days, we’ve done what first seemed insurmountable and many touted as impossible- we’ve accomplished the goals set for Phase 1 — and more. West Bowl was given priority attention having suffered the most severe impact from the fire. The expert crews from Atlas and the RCD worked through restoration with a ‘minimal environmental impact’ philosophy, however Mother Nature’s impact was fierce. Many roads had to be carved across the mountain to allow for hand fallers, heavy equipment + trucking crews to access the steep and difficult terrain. And when the incline was so drastic that accessibility was near impossible — we called in the bird. With every passing day, every triumph overcome, + every obstacle eliminated, the momentum towards opening is in full swing.
With over 14,000 fire damaged trees abated in Phase 1, amounting to an estimated 5 million board feet of timber removed from Sierra’s slopes to date [more coming soon on ‘where the timber goes’], the area that so many have come to know like their back of their hand, has changed. From Highway 50, quick glimpses of the daily transforming landscape will take you back. But standing at the top of West Bowl Express looking down onto unchartered trails and revealed lines, will take your breath away.
This has been no easy feat. It’s been a true testament of our community rising from the ashes to take action, and not settling for anything less than a job well done. West Bowl will have a new look, but harness the same feeling you know and love as the place ‘where play reigns free’. Where you can ski/ride the beloved sun-kissed long laps your way— a new way. What used to be a place where tricks were hidden backstage in the trees, now will be your stage to perform. A place to let your off-piste side hit/180’s shine for the chairlift crowd above. A place where old memories + new adventure unite.
Note: Power to the webcams in West Bowl have also been restored so you can catch the first snowfall on new terrain this winter.