The snowfall records in the Sierra this season have been falling faster than the snow! To date, the ever-so-light snow that’s been falling by the foot has piled up to amounts that exceed resorts’ season totals, and it’s only mid-March with the traditional season ending of Easter Sunday still about five weeks away.
Spokespersons for the Lake Tahoe Visitors Authority (Tahoe South) and North Lake Tahoe are crowing, “Lake Tahoe has been experiencing a winter of epic proportions. The storm on the weekend of March 4—5 added two to four feet of snow at the summits, making Tahoe the snowiest destination right now in all of North America.
How Much Snow Is There?
According to an article that appeared in USA TODAY on March 2nd, the snow was so deep on March 1st at one snow data measuring site [Slide Mountain at Mt Rose Ski Tahoe, Nevada] that the devices scientists brought to do their measurements weren’t long enough. The statewide California snowpack is estimated to be 185% of normal for the date, with the historic snowpack peak still a month away. The Lake Tahoe Basin snowpack is at 220% of normal, and the Truckee River Basin snowpack is at 207% of normal.
Sierra ski resorts are sitting pretty on top of their record-breaking snowpacks going into mid-March. Virtually every ski resort in the northern and central Sierra has tallied up more inches of snow to date than what they average for an entire season. Most are also on track to break their all-time total season snowfall records.
Annual average: 350 inches This season to date: 679 inches as of last weekend.
2. Sugar Bowl
Annual average: 500 inches season average. This season to date: 679 inches as of March 6th.
Annual average: 450 inches season average. This season to date: 623 inches as of March 13th.
Annual average: 400 inches season average. This season to date: 537 inches as of March 13th.
Annual average: 400+ inches season average. This season to date: 520 inches as of March 13th.
The good news is that the amount of snow sitting on the ground right now is just as impressive as all the snow that’s fallen, even given a huge rain event in mid-January. Mammoth Mountain has 185 inches at its base and a mind-blowing 340 inches at its summit—that’s more than 28 feet! Think three-story building. Squaw Valley currently has 243 inches (20+ feet) at top and Sugar Bowl’s summits have 215 inches (close to 18 feet). Nearly all of Tahoe’s ski areas have more than 200 inches at their highest points and between 100 and 150 inches at their bases.
Off The Charts In January
Heavenly and Kirkwood’s senior communications manager, Kevin “Coop” Cooper recalls, “November and December were normal for snowfall amounts, but on January 2nd it started snowing and never stopped. We got 312 inches that month, including 42 inches in 24 hours.” During that same time period, Boreal near Donner Summit received 80 inches in 48 hours.
Here are just a few of the records that have been broken so far this season in the Sierra range:
Bear Valley: Most snow—9.5 feet—in a single storm cycle
Squaw Valley: Snowiest season, January, and January-February on record
Mammoth: January snowiest of any month—246 inches—on record, including 19 feet (228 inches) between January 3rd and January 13th
January was a record-breaking month for nearly every ski resort in the Sierra, even with a huge rain event mid-month. “Coop” Cooper recalls, “In mid-January, there was an atmospheric river that stretched from Japan to the West Coast; we got 17 inches of rain in between all the snowfalls. Think of what the total snowfall would have been if that had been snow instead of rain—one inch of rain is the equivalent of one foot of snow!”
More Powder Days Than Ever
The Sierra has seen more powder days this season than it probably sees in a decade. Kevin “Coop” Cooper says, “After this latest storm it was the best skiing and riding I’ve seen in 25 years. Our powder tested out to be even better than Utah’s powder!” Lauren Burke, communications manager at Mammoth Mountain concurs, “Mammoth has been having one the best seasons in recent history with endless powder days brought on by consistent, heavy snowfall. Every day has been a powder day, no joke!” And Liesl Kenney, public relations director for Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows joins the chorus, “To say more powder days than usual would be an understatement. This recent storm brought us four feet in three days—light snow due to the cold temperatures. We have certainly been blessed by the powder gods this season.” [ED. NOTE: The recent maximum temperatures in the Sierra in the high 40s and low 50s have likely put the kibosh on those light powder conditions, at least for now.]
When Will It End?
Given the capriciousness of Mother Nature, it’s hard to say how long the giant snowpack in the Sierra will stick around, but a couple of resorts (Mammoth, Squaw Valley) are planning on cranking up the lifts on July 4th; Squaw Valley is hoping to operate at least weekends into June; Mt. Rose plans to stay open through Memorial Day (May 29th); and a few plan to stay open one weekend past Easter weekend (Bear Valley, Boreal, Northstar, Sierra-at-Tahoe). Heavenly, Kirkwood, Homewood, and Sugar Bowl are keeping their options open for now.
I say, who knows what next season will bring, so let’s keep the party going as long as we can!
Rose Marie Cleese is a correspondent for SeniorsSkiing.com, an e-magazine devoted to wintersports enthusiasts aged 50 and up.