By Jeffrey Weidel
Although now firmly entrenched in December and gearing up for what should be a strong holiday season, folks in the ski industry or a related business can’t help but take a glance back at what was a monumental end to November.
Snow began dropping heavily on Nov. 19 and was being measured in feet, not in mere inches. The timely arrival of snow kick-started many of Lake Tahoe’s ski resorts, who are mostly weather dependent when it comes to operating by Thanksgiving Day.
That was no problem this year. Many enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders canceled their early Christmas shopping plans and instead made a trip to Tahoe where all the major resorts were running lifts and offering extensive terrain.
“It was rare, it was definitely rare,” said Rachael Woods, Alpine’s public relations manager. “We’ve had one of our biggest Novembers ever. People were really psyched; we had top to bottom terrain and great powder conditions.”
At popular Sunnyside Restaurant and Lodge in North Lake Tahoe, the rooms were booked thanks to some ski resorts reporting up to 10 feet of new snow for Thanksgiving.
“People who went out said the conditions were amazing, just epic,” said Melanie Head, one of Sunnyside’s managers.
Like any ski area, Lake Tahoe rests its hopes for a good season each year in the hands of Mother Nature. Last year sizable mid-December storms rescued what could have resulted in a poor holiday season and bad year overall. This year should be even better thanks to large snow totals that resulted in a great Thanksgiving weekend and will ensure a good snow pack.
“That’s why we’re all up here working and that’s what brings people to Tahoe in the winter — snow,” Head said. “We had a fantastic November. We’re always lucky when the snow comes early. It always takes one big storm before people really start thinking about coming here. People are making plans and we’re quickly filling up for the Christmas holidays.”
The sudden November storms put many of Tahoe’s resorts in scramble mode to get operational for the influx of crowds. Heavenly, Sugar Bowl, Alpine, Northstar, Squaw, Kirkwood and Mt. Rose all opened a bit prematurely.
“We saw the storms coming and we went on 48-hour notice getting ready,” said Jennie Bartlett, Sugar Bowl’s marketing and sales manager. “We pushed some our employee training back and the managers worked overtime, but we were ready to go (Nov. 24). We had a great Thanksgiving and some strong numbers this weekend (Dec. 4-5) as well.”
No one needs to remind Ed Gates there is lots of snow in the Sierra. He owns Snow Mountain Rentals in Auburn and has seen a ton of early business.
Conveniently located just off Interstate 80 on Bowman Road, Snow Mountain Resorts is a morning stop for many day skiers and snowboarders. The shop opens at 7 a.m. and visitors can rent equipment for a bargain price, buy needed accessories, and even have a quick breakfast nearby — then continue their journey to a resort.
“We doubled what we did last year in November. This is the best start I’ve had in 18 years,” said Gates, whose shop previously was located in Soda Springs and Meadow Vista, before he settled in Auburn five years ago. “The last few years have been really tough; it’s closed some shops down.”
The influx of early season snow has resorts like Sugar Bowl nearly operating at full speed. It already has all its major lifts running and 86 available runs. With more storms expected in December, the season is shaping up as a very good one.
“This is one of our best starts in a long time,” said Bartlett, in her 12th year at Sugar Bowl. “We have 75 to 80 inches of base, so we really have a lot of snow for this time of year. It definitely sets us up for a good season.”
Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.