Let it snow, let it snow … please, let it snow!

‘Summit kids’ feel the heat of global warming

BETTER THAN NOTHIN'!<br>Snowboard and ski spots make their own powder to help Mother Nature. “Even if we had a six-foot storm, we would blow snow on top of that,” Boreal’s Jon Slaughter says.

Snowboard and ski spots make their own powder to help Mother Nature. “Even if we had a six-foot storm, we would blow snow on top of that,” Boreal’s Jon Slaughter says.


Skiers and snowboarders are experiencing their winter wonderlands later and later these days. Instead of hitting the slopes in mid-November, snow lovers are lucky to be on a run by Thanksgiving. Many resorts have delayed their openings until mid-December, and most are not fully operational until after the first of the year.

Ah, global warming …

Jason Mora has been a ski instructor at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort for six years. In that time, he has seen a decline of skiers and snowboarders in the Tahoe region. “The season is way later than it has been in past years. Currently, there’s pretty much no snow,” he said.

That’s no isolated instance: Many ski parks are experiencing light snowfalls this season. Some have as little as six to eight inches of snow, while others don’t have enough to register on an inch scale.

Usually, many of the parks make their own snow every year to attract early-bird skiers and boarders. “We always rely on manmade snow to help subsidize the natural snowfall,” Jon Slaughter, marketing director at Boreal Ski Resort, wrote in an e-mail. “Even if we had a six-foot storm, we would blow snow on top of that.”

Boreal was the first in the Tahoe area to open for the 2008-09 season, on Nov. 6, and is one of few that are open even now. Heavenly Mountain Resort opened the day after Thanksgiving (Nov. 28), and Onthesnow.com reported that the only other resort running in California before December was Mammoth Mountain, near Yosemite National Park.

Northstar-at-Tahoe and Sugar Bowl opened last Friday (Dec. 5). But many other parks—such as Sierra-at-Tahoe and Donner Ski Ranch—have delayed their openings beyond this weekend.

“In recent years, it’s always been one light snow in November,” said Steve Shearer, president of the Snowboarding Club at Chico State. “Everyone gets super excited, and then we don’t see snow until mid-December. Everyone gets geared up and it’s a big letdown.”

Last year, Mammoth Mountain opened Nov. 8, more than two weeks earlier than this year. Northstar-at-Tahoe’s 2007-08 season started in late November. And even when many parks officially open, they may have only one run or one lift in operation.

“We don’t get 100 percent opening until after the first of the year,” Mora said of Sugar Bowl.

A grand total of five acres out of 380 at Boreal were operational last week; Heavenly, with a mere 18 inches of snow, had only 20 acres open … out of 4,800.

Mora has definitely seen a decline in the skiing and snowboarding atmosphere. “Truckee and Tahoe are very tourism driven, so they have to constantly be bringing in tourists,” he said. Mora explained that because of the lack of early snow, many resorts have been working on building up their shopping centers, spa services and nightly entertainment, instead of focusing on the skiers and snowboarders.

“We have a term for them,” Mora said, “the flatlanders and the summit kids. The flatlanders are just tourists. The summit kids are the ones that are out there on the mountain for the pure joy of it.”

But if nature won’t comply with early snowfalls, then summit kids get left in the dust, because resorts will cater to the flatlanders as the only revenue source.

John Monson, director of marketing and sales at Sugar Bowl, knows exactly what the mountain needs: “Twenty-four hours of 25 degrees or less.” That should be enough to get the right amount of snow to open the resort, but unfortunately, Mother Nature hasn’t complied … yet.

“One storm could come along and you’re off and running,” Monson said. “It’s hardly uncommon, but it’s a part of the Sierras.”