This year, all preparation in anticipation of visiting the snowy California Sierras was in vain as the lack of snow in the Tahoe area continues to disappoint eager skiers and snowboarders.
“I’ve never seen a year like this,” said Garret Faulkner, a junior at SF State who grew up in Truckee, Calif., and has been skiing for 15 years. “I’ve been disappointed with the season and not motivated to go.”
The Sierra Mountains are most visited in the winter months as tourists flock to the resorts to vacation. Year-round population in the Lake Tahoe area is about 66,000 but reaches up to 250,000 on peak tourist days in the winter, according to a 2010 survey by civil and environmental engineer David Antonucci.
For college students, the limited time away from classes becomes an opportunity to escape and many opt for visiting the mountains during the holiday break to take advantage of student discount tickets. Over 2,000 student discount tickets were sold at various resorts last year according to that same survey. This year, only a handful of those tickets sold.
The Tahoe area has recently received about six feet of snow and weather experts continue to predict snowstorms to hit late January and into early February. While these predictions excite locals who hold out for prolonged powder days, the snow will come too little too late for SF State students who have returned for the spring semester.
“I might still try to get a few more days,” Faulkner said. “But the season was pretty much a bummer.”
The lack of snow presents a problem for those eager to go on ski trips who must find alternative vacationing options. This is an even bigger problem for locals who wait year-round for the storms to hit to attract tourists that boost the economy.
“No one has been coming up,” said Caleb Clapp, who has lived Tahoe for three years and works at a restaurant at the Squaw Valley resort. “People are getting laid off left and right because business has been so slow.”
Popular mountain resorts such as NorthStar, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley have remained opened throughout the season, but most runs are only open due to man-made snow.
Although these mountains are open, Clapp said some resorts are loosing money to maintain staff and equipment without the compensation from vacationers. Clapp, who worked at Northstar and Squaw Valley resorts, said that most of the money coming into the resorts is from season and student passes bought pre-season, which the resorts refuse to refund.
He said that locals are hopeful for a late surge of snow and business, but the last few months have been relatively desolate.
SF State meteorology professor, Jan Null, explained the lack of snow derives from a high pressure along the West Coast that diverts the storm track.
“Periodically the atmosphere gets into a state of equilibrium,” Null said. “The pattern doesn’t move and gets stuck under high pressure for that period of time.”
The storms expected to hit Northern California in late January are not the beginning of a steady snow season, Null explained. He predicts the solid snowfall to last between seven and 10 days.
“This is well below normal,” Null said. “If people want to get up there, the snow will be best within five days of the storms.”
The correlation between snow and economy has had an immense impact on local restaurants that rely on the busy snow season to boost business. The no-snow season has disappointed locals, visitors and especially restaurant owner Chris Thibaut of Jakes on the Lake in Tahoe City.
“Over the last two months, we are at about half of our normal sales, and that number actually improved due to holidays,” Thibaut said. “We’ve seen a serious decline in business due to the lack of snow.”
Not all businesses in Tahoe have suffered due to the lack of snow. Diana Graves, an agent of Keller Williams Realty for the last seven years, has been busy showing houses and condos to potential buyers.
“We are probably one of the few businesses who is actually busier this year,” Graves said, despite the lack of snow and tourists. “Without the storms, people can still see properties and landscape. The last few months we’ve been very busy.”
Graves, who lives just outside of Tahoe City, said although her line of business continues to prosper, restaurants in the area remain quiet and there are few vacationers in the area.
Those already living or owning properties in the area have been forced to find alternative means of entertainment through the dry season. Mountain biking and hiking remain popular activities among Tahoe locals. The low temperatures have yet to produce any real snow, but have frozen over many of the Tahoe lakes creating plenty of locations for ice skating.
“We are supposed to get some snowstorms sometime late January,” said John Bossi, a Tahoe resident for the last 30 years. “But until then, hiking and ice skating have been the popular activities. It’s been a good year to improve your ice skating.”