Tahoe’s Record Snowfalls—The Pros And Cons Of An Epic Winter

Words by Agatha Wasilewska

Resorts and their marketers dream of big dumps and lots of them to befall their mountains; the press is fabulous and it brings the crowds out in droves and makes for fantastic photo opps. This year the ski areas around Lake Tahoe must have been praying extra hard because they got more than anyone could have imagined or bargained for.  As the season winds down and the mountains start closing, Transworld Business thought it would be interesting to pay Tahoe a visit and find out how this record breaking snow season has affected the resorts and local retailers from both the good and bad sides of the fence.

Lake Tahoe is perfectly situated to attract the San Francisco Bay area crowd and keep a steady stream of visitors from far and away coming to this unique ski destination. With so many resorts, all of which set record breaking snowfall amounts this year despite a drought-ridden January, at such close proximity to each other, the competition for customer loyalty is steep, and each resort has uniquely branded itself with that in mind.

Here is an overview of a selection of resorts we visited and their reflections on how the season went down.

Northstar Stash Cabin on March 23. Photo Cory Anderson

Northstar Stash Cabin on March 23. Photo Cory Anderson

Northstar-at-Tahoe

Total snowfall:

666 inches. (The season average is 350 inches)

Vail Resorts newest acquisition, Northstar-at-Tahoe received its most snow in the past quarter century. Northstar -at-Tahoe faired well throughout the storms, Communications Manager, Jessica VanPernis states, "Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort and the entire Lake Tahoe region experienced an incredibly snowy season – the snowiest in the past 25 years. We ended the season with almost 670 inches, and despite the fact that Tahoe measured storm cycles in feet versus inches all season long, Northstar-at-Tahoe Resort stayed open every day from the start of the season to the end. Our guests benefited from our wind-protected slopes – there wasn’t one day this season when we were closed to the top of the mountain due to wind or snow.”

Not only did the snow not stop opening days, the mountain also managed to juggle guests snowbound travel plans and host a full schedule of events such as stargazing snowshoe tours , Noel Nights in the Village at Northstar, Fire & Ice New Year’s Eve Celebration, The North Face Ski Slopestyle & Superpipe Series , Burton Stash Gathering, TransWorld TransAM and the Oakley Progression Session – Women’s Ski/Snowboard Camp.

Massive snow was not the only thing that was new at the resort. On the mountain, Northstar  expanded the offerings of the Burton Snow Academy, including small group and private snowboard instruction and the Kids' Ski& Board School are teaching kids as young as 4 years old to shred.

In addition to all the current changes, Vail Resorts has announced that it will invest $30 million in capital projects this summer that will include a new lift on the backside of the mountain, two new ski trails, and a new on-mountain resort restaurant at the top of the Zephyer Express lift. The new restaurant will offer 500 indoor seats and 200 outdoor deck seats for resort guests.

Sierra At Tahoe

Getting the goods at Sierra at Tahoe

Getting the goods at Sierra at Tahoe

Total Snowfall: 763 inches

Sierra is famous for its epic parks that keep snowboarders coming back over and over again. Focused on creating a true lapping playground for snowboarders, the park crew adds new and unique features each week, paying great attention to flow, aesthetic detail, and progression. With so much snow, the backcountry and tree runs were open most of the season and the powder hounds got to enjoy over 48 powder days (days with more than 6″ of fresh snow).  Sierra was able to keep seven terrain parks open most of the year, and the late season photo and video sessions had tons of snow to work with. Overall, it was a big, white, cold, and deep winter.

John Rice, Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort general manager says that all of this snow was a bit of a mixed blessing: “While this season set a record for snowfall with 62 plus feet, it often fell on weekends and holidays making it tough for the big crowds to get here. The price of fuel and the number of hours in snow removal impacted earnings, but on the whole it was a very successful season. With so much snow it was possible for Sierra to have a Thanksgiving opening, over 10 feet of snow on the ground by Christmas, and a Superpipe up and running by early January. So the snow was a big positive at times too.”

With a relaxed yet dedicated vibe that has made this mountain stand apart from the rest, Sierra continued to tweak and change their signature parks this season to accommodate the snow and events. Communications Manger  Stephen Hemphill states; "All the events were a great successes even considering the heavy snow, which caused the Parks crew to completely rebuild the park two times as digging out was not a possibility.”

Highlighted events and photo shoots included The Billabong Flaunt It Finals, Gatorade Free Flow Tour, Red Bull Butter Cup, Volcom PB and Rail Jam, and shoots with Forum Snowboard and Flow Snowboards in the springtime.

That's what 529 inches on the season looks like

That's what 529 inches on the season looks like. Any questions guests?

Heaveny Mountain Resort

Total Snowfall: 529 inches

Heavenly Mountain Resort, a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, Inc., is located in downtown South Lake Tahoe, melding snow and gambling together. This year brought many changes to Heavenly, along with some challenging conditions.

With all of the snow and the winds, Heavenly had its hands full this season keeping the mountain open and running smoothly counting almost a month of days closed, which even with an epic season affects the bottom line. "In the Sierras, we measure our snowfall in feet, not inches,” says Heavenly’s Elizabeth Latenser. “Heavenly received record-breaking snowfall this year and more than 30 powder days where more than 6 inches fell overnight.  Those big snows often come in extreme weather events that can bring strong winds that impact lift operations.  The good news when lifts aren't able to run is that a powder day can stretch out into a couple powder days."

There was also plenty of new amenities for visitors to focus on. In February 2011, Heavenly debuted a spectacular 14,980-square-foot restaurant located at the top of Heavenly's Gondola that offers 500 indoor seats and 250 outdoor patio seats and is the crown jewel of Heavenly's major revitalization over the past eight years, which includes new and upgraded lifts, increased snowmaking and grooming, and additional on-mountain amenities.

Check out this video re-cap of the Year at Heavenly: