Snow making may save Tahoe ski season

February 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The rain storm coming to the Bay Area in the next couple days is expected to bring just a little bit of snow to Lake Tahoe. That's bad news for Sierra ski resorts because they need a lot. But the weather is just part of the problem; the biggest obstacle they face is public perception.

Lake Tahoe ski resorts are suffering from an image problem. Most are open and many have spent a lot of time and money making snow. But not many customers seem to be showing up.

"I'd say it's been challenging to convince people that we actually do have good conditions, and with the snow making and the natural snowfall, we have a lot of terrain open with more than 80 trails," Northstar spokesperson Jess VanPernis said.

The Northstar ski resort- just taken over by Vail Resorts, the same company that owns the Heavenly ski area. The two resorts boast some of Tahoe's most extensive snowmaking equipment. It is saving their season.

"Despite the lack of natural snow fall, with the investments that we've made over the last five or six years in snowmaking, it's definitely paid off," VanPernis said.

Snowmaking allowed Northstar to create a competition size super pipe -- the largest one open at Lake Tahoe right now.

The big storm a couple of weeks ago dramatically increased the snow base. That allowed even more snow making. And during the past week they've gotten a few more inches of natural snow. So conditions are better than most people think.

Many ski areas won't reveal how business is going, but the California Ski Industry Association says the Christmas season was down 40 percent statewide.

The weak season comes after Northstar just spent $30 million in improvements like a new chairlift that opens up a lot more ski area. There is also a big new mountain lodge.

A few miles away, Squaw Valley has 70 percent of its mountain open. A new corporate owner took over two years ago. They've put in $15 million in improvements, including outdoor cabanas and fire pits.

Squaw is one of many resorts still counting on big crowds on Presidents Day weekend.

"There's a lot open now, and I think there was a pent up demand, so hopefully people are wanting to have their 3-day weekend and get up here," Squaw spokesperson Jenny Kendrick said.

So would the customers recommend Tahoe right now?

"Yeah, absolutely, as long as you don't tell anyone in the Bay Area," Jesse Edelsberg said.

The California Ski Association points out there are still a couple of months of potential skiing left before spring and there have been other years where big storms have come in late and saved the season.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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