An extremely disappointing December in regards to snow has impacted many Lake Tahoe ski resorts.
However, larger ski resorts tend to separate themselves from the smaller ones when a lack of snow takes place.
Heavenly Mountain is a great example of a resort that benefits tremendously from its snowmaking capabilities, which it has billed for years as the “West Coast’s largest snowmaking system.” Whether that’s true or not, one can’t argue with the amount of terrain Heavenly is currently offering as the Christmas holidays arrive.
Heading into Saturday (Dec. 23), Heavenly had 17 lifts running, accessing 28 trails. The famed South Lake Tahoe resort opened its California side Saturday for the first time all season.
The amount of terrain is largely due to snowmaking. Heavenly’s snowmaking system includes four pump houses, two reservoirs, almost 1,000 water and air hydrants on the mountain, and over 60 automated fan guns placed on steeper terrain that can make nearly twice as much snow as the typical air or water gun.
The Vail Resort property also has a large crew that often works around the clock in three shifts to take advantage of the cold temperatures. Heavenly has the ability to make snow at its summit (10,000 feet) when the weather is much warmer at lake level.
In stark contrast, Sierra-at-Tahoe has a very small snowmaking operation and typically doesn’t open until two or three weeks after Heavenly is welcoming skiers and snowboarders. Located approximately15 minutes west of Heavenly, Sierra often calls its operation “snow farming.” Sierra typically farms natural snow from its 13 acres of parking lots and also in the trees to keep its ski trails supplied with snow.
Sierra utilizes a mere seven snow guns on its mountain. But in years when snow is much more plentiful, Sierra gets hit harder than many other Tahoe ski resorts, thanks to its location on Echo Summit, which historically gets some of the most natural snow in the region.
Heading into Sunday, Sierra had 7 of its 14 lifts operating, accessing 18 of its 46 runs. Its snow total for the season is 13-39 inches.
Another large resort – Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows – had 19 lifts running, providing access to 32 runs (23 groomed). Its base ranged from 8-64 inches.
The good news for skiers and snowboarders is all 14 of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts were open by Dec. 23.
Weather report: Abundant high clouds and periods of gusty winds in the high Sierra are expected through the weekend, leaving Lake Tahoe with partly sunny conditions for Christmas Day. More high clouds and periods of gusty winds in the high Sierra are expected Sunday.
The National Weather Service calls for a small chance of precipitation through Dec. 31, including 20 percent on Friday (Dec. 29) and New Year’s Eve.