No skiing in Lake Tahoe on Thanksgiving weekend? Yep, that appears to be a likelihood this season.
Barring an opening by Boreal Mountain, this week there could be no families in Tahoe slipping into their skis or snowboards and taking a few morning runs, then promptly heading home for a huge Thanksgiving meal.
For the first time in our memory (I’ve regularly covered Tahoe ski season since 1995), there’s a chance that no skiing or riding will take place over the Thanksgiving holiday.
No skiing over the Thanksgiving holidays will be unprecedented, according to Bill Jensen, who has lived and worked in Tahoe for approximately 40 years.
“I can’t recall this situation. Back in the day, Boreal with its high elevation, always seemed to have a lift or two open by Thanksgiving,” said Jensen, who worked for the Squaw Valley marketing department from 1980-90. “In my time with Squaw Valley, Thanksgiving was always considered “gravy.” I don’t recall not being open by then.”
Talk about putting a damper on the holiday, one that many Tahoe ski resorts depend on, since the Thanksgiving crowds are always sizable.
As of Monday afternoon (Nov. 22), Boreal was hoping to be the one resort to run its lifts this week. The small resort, located just off Interstate 80 on the Donner Summit, is hoping a few more nights of snowmaking will result in opening Wednesday or Friday.
One can thank Mother Nature for the barren slopes. There was a promising snowfall in late October, allowing both Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows) and Boreal to open prematurely Oct. 29. However, rising temperatures and rain over the Donner summit halted skiing at both resorts following the Halloween weekend.
Tahoe ski resorts have been dependent for more than a decade on snowmaking for the bulk of its early-season snow. But this year nightly temperatures haven’t dropped enough to warrant regular snowmaking.
“Four solid days of snowmaking and we’ll be close. But it needs to get cold and stay cold,” said longtime Mt. Rose ski resort marketing director Mike Pierce. “Mt Rose has been pretty consistent on early openings pre-Thanksgiving, but there are a few seasons that got off to a later start.”
Only three times in the past 20 years has Mt Rose had to push back its opening date into December. That’s one less than its four October openings, including three straight in 2017-18-19.
“We’ve been spoiled a little with the October dates,” admits Travis Bennett, a Mt. Rose marketing person.
In a depressing Twitter message, two Vail Resorts in Tahoe announced Friday (Nov. 19) there would be little joy during the holiday weekend. Scheduled to open that day, it was announced that both Heavenly Mountain and Northstar California would be closed until further notice.
“We have been closely watching the forecast, and continued warmer temperatures will delay our opening day past the Thanksgiving holiday weekend at Heavenly and Northstar,” Vail Resort spokesperson Sara Roston said.
Chris Johnston, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Reno, said the dry November conditions are not “super typical.” He noted that November 2016 was dry and then in the winter months of 2017, it was abnormally wet.
Temperatures need to be in the 20s for ski resorts to make snow. Johnston’s forecast calls for early morning temperatures in the 20s in coming days as a weak system approaches the Tahoe region. However, temperatures will be warming through the week and getting as high as 55 degrees by Thanksgiving.
Pin some of the blame on climate change. Last season was a poor one for snow. Only one Tahoe ski resort (Palisades) reached the 300-inch snow mark for the season.
In many “normal” snow years, the totals of at least several Tahoe ski resorts exceeds 500 inches. Last season, several ski resorts failed to even reach 200 inches.
Yet even in a dismal snow year, there were six Tahoe ski resorts open last Thanksgiving weekend, courtesy of their snowmaking ability.
Expected to open Nov. 26, Sugar Bowl also reluctantly announced Monday its lifts would not be running.
“We held onto hope as long as we could. But with a forecast calling for more mild and dry weather in the week ahead, we must delay the start of our winter season,” Sugar Bowl spokesperson Jon Slaughter said. “This means we will not be open for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday weekend.”