California's prolific winter has ski resorts poised to remain open into summer

California's prolific winter has ski resorts poised to remain open into summer

By Jennifer Fabiano, Accu Weather staff writer
February 16, 2017, 2:03:11 PM EST

California ski resorts are experiencing a significant snowfall season, with some areas breaking records for snowfall amounts.

In the first month of the year, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows in Olympic Valley, California, had snow totals that were 405 percent of their usual average for January. While the average January snowfall for the past 45 years sits at 70 inches, January 2017 capped out at a total of 282 inches of snow.

Resorts have had improved ski conditions and have been able to offer guests access to more terrain.

“There are areas that just haven’t been skiable like they are now,” said Sam Kiekhefer, a public relations coordinator for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

The January 2017 record surpassed the previous record, 175 inches in January 1982, by 107 inches. The season total by the end of January was 387 inches of snow. Less than halfway through their usual 175-day season, the resort had already received 86 percent of the average for seasonal snowfall.

With 295 inches, Kirkwood Mountain in Lake Tahoe, California, had a January that was 193 percent above average snowfall.

“That was probably the most intense January that I’ve seen in my 25 years here in Lake Tahoe,” said Kevin Cooper, the senior communications manager at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.

Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes, California, had a January that not only surpassed the average, but, with 247 inches, also set a record for the most snow the resort has ever received in one month.

“We opened in early November, and since then it has been storm after storm after storm,” said Lauren Burke, a public relations and social media manager at Mammoth Mountain Ski Area.

On Feb. 10, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows reported that both mountains had already surpassed the average annual snowfall of 450 inches, with Squaw Valley at 467 inches and Alpine Meadows at 465 inches. The mountains are now at a season total of 482 inches.

Record-breaking snow totals bring improved ski conditions and more skiers to the mountain, but it’s not all positive as the snow falls. Conditions also result in some hitches in operations. Resorts reported that too much snow has caused difficult travel conditions, hard times digging out buried lifts and diminished parking areas.

Some storms bringing excessive snow, extremely high winds, thunder and even lightning have forced each resort to close for a few days of the season, but the resorts are choosing to look on the bright side.

“There’s definitely [a] challenge that comes with all this snowfall, but all in all we’re happy with it; we’ll take it anytime,” Kiekhefer said.

Cooper shares the same sentiment.

“We haven’t had to dig to this capacity, but it’s a very welcome thing to have this much snow because we’re seeing a lot of happy skiers come to Tahoe and enjoy it to its fullest,” said Cooper.

All 27 of the state’s resorts are open this season, according to Michael Reitzell, the president of the California Ski Industry Association. While the 2015-16 season was successful, in the few years prior, the drought brought hard seasons to the resorts.

Several resorts were closed due to lack of snow during the two worst of the drought years for the industry, the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. Mammoth Mountain had a season total of 263 inches for the 2012-13 season, which is 137 inches below average for the season.

“It was definitely some lower snow years the last couple of years, but we were always confident that Mother Nature would return with a vengeance and the 2016-17 season has been just that,” Burke said.

‘Biggest storm of winter’ to unleash flooding rain in California into Friday night
Did the 2015 Nepal earthquake shrink Mount Everest?
How to stay safe while shoveling snow

This winter is a reminder that snow totals fluctuate yearly, as Kieckhefer pointed out.

“I’m looking at data here from the past 45 years, and I’m seeing worse seasons than we’ve had those two bad years in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and I’m seeing better seasons than we’re having now,” Kieckhefer said.

Regardless, the resorts are looking forward to long seasons extending into summer months.

“I remember a season where I skied on July 4, and that’s definitely a goal for me personally again this season,” Kieckhefer said.

The resorts are committed to staying open as long as conditions are safe and enjoyable and are confident that the current snowpack has set them up to last until July 4 or beyond.

“People are so excited to be skiing again and excited that snowfall is back on the West Coast; you really see that refreshed love for being in the mountains this year,” Burke said.