Is Tahoe Broken?

Miles Clark |
no snow please
Does this symbol represent Tahoe now?

One bad snow season is enough to make any skier or snowboarder lose a significant portion of their sanity.  Two bad snow seasons in a row creates widespread, infectious disillusionment.  Three bad seasons in a row may very well cause exodus.

“It just doesn’t snow here anymore.” – Chris, Tahoe local


“I didn’t even get a pass this year.  What’s the point?  Especially when it’s been so nice here in the Bay.” – Peter in San Francisco

squaw valley
Squaw Valley, CA on December 18th, 2013 with some dry patches.

Lake Tahoe, California is teetering on the edge of experiencing it’s third bad winter in a row.  We’ve yet to see a big storm this winter and it’s already December 19th.  That in itself isn’t shockingly rare.  What’s causing locals to fret is the forecast.  The current forecast is showing nothing but sun and above average temperatures into the year 2014.  Locals know this only too well and you can see the disenchantment on their faces and hear the despair in their voices.

LOOKING AHEAD, NO END IN SIGHT TO THE DRY PATTERN.” – National Weather Service, December 18th, 2013

no snow at squaw
Squaw Valley, CA on December 18th, 2013 looking very dry in spots.

This lack of snow problem compounds itself when you realize that Tahoe has only about 3-10 slushy inches of snowpack right now and that it’s going to take a few big storms to fill this place in enough to allow for meaningful off-piste skiing and riding.  With zero storms on the horizon, we’ll be fortunate to have a decent base by February.

So, where are we right now, snow-wise, and how bad were the past two winters?  I gave Randal Osterhuber, lead scientist at the UC Berkeley Donner Summit Snow Laboratory, a call yesterday to find out.

The snow lab at 6,900 feet on Donner Summit, CA.  photo:
The snow lab at 6,900 feet on Donner Summit, CA. photo:

This Season, as of December 18th, 2013, we’ve received a meager 46 inches of snowfall.  The average snowfall total for Dec. 18th is 91 inches.  That puts us at only 50% of average snowfall thus far this season.  For precipitation, we’re at 41% of average.  For snow depth, we’re at only 37% of average currently with only 11 inches on the ground at 6,900 feet at the snow lab and it’s melting fast…

Last winter, was the second least snowy year on record with only 230″ of annual snowfall putting us at 53% of the average annual snowfall.  The winter before that, 2011/12, we did a little better with 326 inches of annual snowfall putting us at 80% of our average annual snowfall, but we didn’t get our first storm that year until January 20th.

no snow
Back of KT-22 at Squaw on December 13th, 2013.

Expectations for this winter are already low leading us to ask the ugly question:  “Is Tahoe Broken?”  

Most likely not, but it sure feels that way right now.  Tahoe has experience droughts before with extremely dry periods in the 70s and 80s being infamous around here.  In 1977, Tahoe had it’s worst snow year on record with only 183″ of snow putting that year at 45% of average annual snowfall.

“Many of the pros around here have already left to find snow or have moved away.  The past two years scared them off and what we’re seeing so far isn’t encouraging.” – John, local business owner

big snow
KT-22 in the record breaking 2011 winter. photo:

So how does one stay positive about the current state of Tahoe snow?  We stay positive like we always do around here:  We go skiing and riding, we remain thankful that we live in such a gorgeous place, and we playfully tease our minds with the knowledge that at anytime a large, powerful series of storms can form and intensify in the Gulf of Alaska while high pressure sets in over British Columbia dropping the Jet Stream straight down to Northern California sending us our beloved atmospheric rivers along with cold temperatures resulting in copious amounts of snow sending the rest of the skiing and snowboarding world into a frenzied, jealous awe.   That’s how.

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22 thoughts on “Is Tahoe Broken?

  1. Yep, perfect, don’t buy passes here anymore, skiing in Tahoe sucks and you won’t enjoy it. Please stay away forever, Thank you very much.

    Love how a couple of thin seasons weeds out the extremely weak.

    Skiing has actually been pretty good and squaw has done a great job this year with the snowmaking, perhaps the best ever. Keep up the great work y’all.

  2. It’s worth noting that every mention of any lack of snow in Tahoe costs locals money – rather in their own businesses or lost hours of company pay. Anyone who spreads the word about limited snowfall, rather than taking about the amount of terrain that is open, is doing a serious disservice to the community. Thanks for this great article.

  3. Short memories everyone. The back to back 1976 and 1977 seasons were first and third driest at Mammoth of the past 45 years. Here’s the percent of average snowfall at Randall’s snow lab for 6 years from 1987-1992: 67%, 60%, 115%, 81%, 84%, 60%. Anyone else remember how low Lake Tahoe was by the summer of 1992? The 1993 season refilled it in one year.

  4. Tahoe ain’t broke. there’s nothing like California sun and seeing big blue sparkling off in the distance while you’re carving some EARLY season turns. get some!

    1. Yes, there is nothing like it. It is just a wee bit unfortunate that our EARLY season is continuing through January 🙁

  5. Global warming means some places will get dryer, while others will get wetter and more intense storms. Guess which side Tahoe is on..

      1. It doesn’t mean it won’t snow here anymore, its just the new normal, get used to it.

        Look on the bright side, now you can ride your mt bike all year long!

  6. I’m asking why I moved here? My pass OTOH can
    be used at Mammoth, Snowbird/Alta, J Hole or Aspen.

    Road trip time.

    1. I am asking why you moved here too. You obviously didn’t do your research as this is %100 normal for Tahoe.

      Most of us don’t even plan any serious skiing until Jan.

      No true local is even a little surprised by this. Anyone remember 87 and 88?

      1. Valleygirl, I’m siphoning water from the Gold Coast pond over the ridge and down the hill to Alpine Meadows. Let me know when you want AM’s snowmakers turned on 🙂

  7. The duck hunting was decent this morning…so I have that until 1/26. If no snow pack by then, pull me off the ledge. I have faith tho, seen too many winters when the dumping doesn’t start ’til after new years.

  8. Anyone who has been Local for more than a few years has seen this before. Not a big deal. Some years are big and some are dry. No different than it has always been. Many years start off dry and end up huge. Others (like last year) start off big and end up dry. Stoked to hear of all the Bay Area peeps not buying passes though!!!

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