For now, artificial snow will do the trick

Skiers and snowboarders will likely make their first turns this season on snow Mother Nature had nothing to do with. After warmer air temperatures limited snowmaking and delayed some resorts’ opening, a cold snap this last week has Lake Tahoe ski areas surging ahead with artificial snowmaking.

Boreal Mountain Resort, Northstar-at-Tahoe and Squaw Valley are all open, but with only a combined total of four open runs. Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe is set to open today, more than a week after it planned to.

Forecasts had indicated a wetter than normal November and December with warmer and drier conditions in the new year, but November so far has not brought much precipitation, especially the frozen kind.

The ski industry experts, however, are hoping for a better season than last year.

Last winter, the ski season for Boreal, located off of Interstate Highway 80 to the north of the lake, started off slowly. Fortunately, cold weather at the end of December and through January allowed the ski area to “finish out strong” into April, said Jon Slaughter, marketing manager for Boreal.

Boreal’s snow forecaster says the weather patterns are similar to the 1986-1987 winter, when the mountain received 400 inches of snow — a “great snow year,” Slaughter said.

At Homewood Ski Resort on the west side of Lake Tahoe, the cold temperatures this week have snowmaking machines out in full force in an effort to open as soon as possible, said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman with the resort.

Homewood has a 36-year average of 365 inches of snow accumulation during the ski season, but that average dropped to 365 after last year’s weak snowfall, Woods said.

This year, the ski area received the most snow in September and some in October. Homewood also had some snow fall Nov. 19 as well, Woods said.

At the southern end of the Lake Tahoe area is Kirkwood Resort, which has the highest base elevation in the area. Resort officials are also hoping the temperatures stay cool enough for snowmaking and an opening early next week, said Allon Cohne, the resort’s spokesman.

Kirkwood’s higher elevation typically brings the resort more snow than most with an accumulation last year of more than 400 inches — Cohne called that an off year — with averages of 638 inches over the past four years.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’ll let Mother Nature take care of the rest of it,” Slaughter said.

Predictions abound for a dry winter season

Laurel Ames has spent the last 60 years in the Lake Tahoe area skiing and snowshoeing, but recent years of poor snow have had her kids wonderingif a move is in order.

“My kids said the other day, ‘Well, where are we going to move where there’s snow?’” Ames said. “Why live here if it’s not going to snow?”

Of concern to winter sports enthusiasts — and those who provide winter sports services — is the general warming trend that has experts expecting a warmer and drier season, starting in January and February.

Weather forecasters anticipated a wetter than normal November and December due in part to a “moderate scale La Niña event” this winter, said Carl Young with the League to Save Lake Tahoe.

But so far the precipitation in the Lake Tahoe area has been “very light,” said Young, who has a master’s degree in atmospheric science. “When we get into January, February and March the indication are it will be dryer than average,” he said.

Young’s forecast is in line with that of the Old Farmer’s Almanac, a publication stemming back to 1792. For Lake Tahoe, the almanac is predicting average to above-average snowfall and above-average temperatures, said Martie Majoros, a research editor at the almanac.

“That’s part of the problem: Even areas that do get snow, they’ll get snow and it might warm up and it will melt,” Majoros said.

The almanac looks at meteorology, climatology, weather patterns and weather history as well as sun spot cycles and solar activity.

“We do believe the more solar activity usually indicates warmer periods on Earth,” Majoros said.

The cycles last 11 years, with next year marking a new period of less solar activity and therefore colder temperatures, Majoros said.

“If this trend continues, we’re looking at a scenario of shorter winter seasons and rain on snow events,” Young said.

With less moisture, the area would be susceptible to more fires as evidenced by this year’s Angora Fire in South Lake Tahoe, he said.  

Deals for Tahoe this ski season

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Interchangeable Lift Ticket

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Granlibakken Ski Package

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» $175 per person package

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» For information on ski conditions, visit 

State of the Lake Report 2007

Warmer nights

» Low temperatures up more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1911

Fewer cold days

» Average number of days with air temps below freezing dropped from 79 to 52 since 1911

Less snowfall » Percentage of snow in total precipitation fallen from 52 percent to 34 percent since 1911

Source: The UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center

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