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Will Mother Nature Cooperate With An Early Opening?

Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows announced last week that they will again be attempting to offer the longest season in Tahoe. That’s not always the easiest concept to define. Is it determined only by the days between opening and closing? Does it count if a resort opens early, but not continuously? Does is count if a resort offers some extra late dates, like Boreal’s Summer Shred days last June? No matter how you count it, plenty of people are appreciative when the mountain opens before Thanksgiving, or stays open until Memorial Day, when conditions permit. There’s the rub. Will Mother Nature cooperate with the plan to open Squaw Valley | Alpine Meadows between November 11th and November 18th?

November 12th last year....turn on Kangaroo. Photo by Andy Wertheim

November 12th last year….turns on Kangaroo. Photo by Andy Wertheim

There’s also the question of what would actually open early. For several years running, it meant early season turns were only available on Red Dog at Squaw Valley. Alpine Meadows skiers were told to get in the car and drive over to Squaw. Last year something different happened, and there was no official explanation. Alpine Meadows did indeed open on November 12th. In simple terms, it is pretty easy to open with just Kangaroo at Alpine. Several readers tried to convince me that somehow they read into the announcement that both Squaw and Alpine will open at the same time this season, and we hope they are right. You be the judge.

So why did we wait to post this news? Well frankly we’ve been spending a lot of time looking at the weather and wondering exactly what this season will bring. Last month, we already reported that NOAA had officially written off La Niña for the season. But since then, there’s been more disturbing news. Forecasters and climate researchers have started mentioning the existence of both “The Blob” and the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge.” These are not terms that have ever coincided with “great season ahead.”

A ridge of high pressure sits in the Gulf of Alaska will it move away for the winter? Image via Weatherwest.com

A ridge of high pressure sits in the Gulf of Alaska will it move away for the winter? Image via Weatherwest.com

Ugh. Image via Weatherwest.com

Ugh. Image via Weatherwest.com

Yes, that pool of water in the Gulf Of Alaska is awfully warm as we officially pass the autumnal equinox on Thursday and head into the shorter days of winter. This week, Daniel Swain at WeatherWest.com posted his thoughts about the relationship between the Blob and the RRR. Apparently it’s not quite as simple as the chicken or the egg. In the winter of 2014-15, that was the ongoing discussion. Did the Blob cause the RRR or vice versa? The answer is likely all of the above.

If you’re familiar with the idea of a self reinforcing feedback loop, you understand where we could be headed in the future. That Blob of warm water does encourage an area of high pressure to develop as warmer air continues to rise over the warm ocean. The reduced winds in the high pressure zone results in lowered windspeed, and therefore less mixing out of that warm water. So yeah, these are the sort of small scale changes that ultimately lead scientists to say the climate is changing. 2016 is again the warmest year on record.

Bryan Allegretto over at OpenSnow.com has also covered the re-emergence of the Blob and its potential ramifications for the season. In his post last week, BA was somewhat stoical about the potential for another drier winter. In his most recent post, he covers the possibility that although the winter of 2014-15 was certainly not a banner year for snow, there are other analog years that have been okay. He points out that the 2005-6 season brought 426 inches of snow to Donner Summit.

So with an ENSO neutral Pacific ocean, and the possibility of the existence of the Blob and RRR this season, few forecasters are willing to step out on a limb and forecast anything in particular for California. We just have to take it as it comes and hope there is enough snow to keep most of us happy.

I can look back to the 2014-15 season, where some of my friends only skied 1 or 2 days total, and know that I still managed to put in 70 days. Without any working responsibility this winter I plan to make the best of whatever happens. As usual, I am hedging my bets with multiple passes, keeping a variety of skis in my quiver for a variety of conditions and hoping something changes for the better, as it magically did last year.

I’ll be out at the Lost Sierra Hoedown over the next week so things may be slower here for a bit. Hope to see some of you out at the Johnsville Ski Bowl. 

A Dangerous Game Of Dominoes

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The Placer County Board of Supervisors started a dangerous game of dominoes this week. In a 4-1 vote, the Board tentatively approved the controversial Martis Valley West Project, after it was denied last month by the Placer County Planning Commission. As with all local development projects, it is pretty much opposed by anyone that will not directly benefit financially from the development.

We wonder  if the decision is the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” that will predict the fate of the even more controversial Village At Squaw Valley Project, which is scheduled for approval or denial in the near future. It’s a sure bet that an approval of the Village project would lead to succeeding approvals of the Base to Base Gondola and White Wolf projects. It’s a dangerous game of dominoes being played in Placer County, with effects that will be felt all over the Tahoe and Northern Sierra region.

The approval of the Martis Valley West Project will allow for the construction of 760 new homes plus assorted central recreation and commercial facilities to the west of Brockway Summit on Highway 267. The project is the result of complex negotiations over 10 years that resulted in Mountainside Partners moving the development out of the Martis Valley and onto the ridge. In trade, the size of the proposed development was reduced by nearly half.

Now that sounds familiar. It makes you wonder whether there really was any intention to build 1300+ new homes, or if it was the standard developer bait and switch to ask for double what you really want to build, so you can look like “the good guys” when you agree to cut the development in half. In the case of the Martis Valley proposal, the developer was also able to trade valley floor view homes for ridge view homes.

The four supervisors that voted for the proposal (Duran, Weygandt, Holmes, and Uhler) all represent the west side of Placer County, far from where the impacts will be felt. In general they used the following two rationalizations to explain their votes:

• The Martis Valley Opportunity Agreement, which was signed by the developers and local environmental groups in 2013 allows for the development. It was this agreement that moved the planned development from the east parcel to the west parcel.

• It was suggested that the denial of the project by the Planning Commission was not meaningful because the members of the commission may not have been qualified to make that decision. Supervisors instead went with the recommendation of the Placer County planning staff.

Previously, the Planning Commission had voted to deny the project based primarily on concerns about increased traffic and evacuations during an emergency such as a fire. The State Attorney General and several local organizations felt like the Environmental Impact Report for the project failed to adequately address those, and other, concerns.

The lone wolf in the vote was District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, whom represents the North Tahoe portion of Placer County.

“This is just not consistent with our own polices at Placer County about development. It’s not consistent with the area plans we are engaging now in the Basin which say that new development should be in redevelopment areas or immediately adjacent to existing development.” Jennifer Montgomery, Placer County Supervisor

Supervisor Montgomery asked the tough questions this week. Image courtesy of Moonshine Ink

Supervisor Montgomery asked the tough questions this week. Image courtesy of Moonshine Ink

The Board of Supervisors intends to revisit the topic of the Martis Valley West Project at their October 11th meeting. One would assume that is is unlikely that there will be any real change of the previous outcome on October 11th. It does indicate that it is unlikely that the Village At Squaw Valley Project will also be on the agenda at the October meeting.

It’s honestly frightening that the Placer County Board of Supervisors has taken such a cavalier attitude toward the future of the North Lake Tahoe region. What will it take to get them to look at the big picture and say no to development that is literally about to run amok? We’re guessing that it will take a lot more than 300 or 400 people showing up at the meeting on the Squaw Valley project to change the outcome of the upcoming Board of Supervisors vote.

In looking at social media, there’s been numerous calls for some sort of revolution. Clearly, the idea of the incorporation of the town of Olympic Valley is looking pretty good right now, eh? It’s no wonder that KSL Capital and Squaw Valley was willing to drop nearly a million dollars on defeating the possibility of local control. Other people have called for recalls of the four supervisors that voted in favor of MVWP, as if the people of Roseville and Rocklin even know the location of Martis Valley.

kst-fb-thumbnailThe folks from the Keep Squaw True movement are hoping to continue to educate people about the proposed Village at Squaw Valley Project. A town hall meeting has been set for Thursday, September 29th in Tahoe City. The meeting will be held from 6-8pm at the Fairway Community Center, 330 Fairway Drive in Tahoe City.

Honestly, you would have to be living under a rock for the last few years to not understand that the proposed development is a behemoth that far exceeds what is an appropriate amount of redevelopment at Squaw. We need to do far more than just educate people and sign petitions if we want to really protect what we have.

The game of dominoes that is being played by the Placer County Board of Supervisors is a dangerous game. We’re in dire need of a game changer if we’re going to protect the Lake Tahoe region for everyone.

Andy Wertheim: Hiking To Ellis Peak

Hello Friends,

During an afternoon break from trying to match real estate with people’s wishes, we headed down the westshore and up Blackwood Canyon to Barker Pass (the highest point on the road and the end of the pavement) to hike the Ellis Peak Trail.  This is a 6.3 mile out and back that offers panoramic views in all directions.  The trail climbs for the first third of the way causing the heart to pump in overdrive.  After walking through a nicely shaded forest we strolled up a lovely ridge with great views.  The west view takes in the Hell Hole Reservoir, and the east view is over Lake Tahoe.  To the north the Sierra Crest shows off Ward Peak, Squaw Peak, Silver Peak, Anderson Peak, Tinkers Knob, and in the far distance Castle Peak.  Toward the south one can see Mt. Talac and Pyramid Peak among many others.  The trail heads downhill next and again winds through shaded forest to an unnamed pass where one can turn left and walk to Ellis Lake.  We cross a dirt road and continued up a steep trail that ended at Ellis Peak.

The trail is dusty this time of year.  Some of the low growing foliage is turning color.  The air was crisp and mostly very clear.  I think it took us about 3 hours to complete the hike.  Take a sandwich along and spend some time on the peak taking in the incredible views.

By the way, we still have a few smaller homes and condominiums available for ski lease.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

Editor’s Note: Thank goodness Andy had a post written as my “summer” work schedule will continue to keep me super busy for another week or so. A little bit of snow is possible on Mount Rose over the next two days, which is exciting, except that I will be working in the snow on Mount Rose with 4th grade students! – Mark

 

Locals’ Summer Is Here

localssummer

With the last big holiday weekend of summer now coming to a close, thoughts all around Lake Tahoe are turning toward winter. In Truckee, the first hard freeze we have had since June brought morning temperatures down to 28° in my neighborhood. With frost covering nearly everything, there was a scramble to cover tomato plants and think about what else might be freezing that should not be frozen.

Snow was falling at Big Sky, Montana this morning.

Snow was falling at Big Sky, Montana this morning.

In the last 10 days, we’ve been seeing more and more pictures of snow falling in Oregon, Idaho, Montana and other points to the north. But in California, it’s just the start of “Locals’ Summer”.

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 11.03.26 AM

Here’s the first GFS 16 day forecast we have run in a long time, and it’s easy to identify that a high pressure ridge still exists right over the west coast and California. Even the monsoonal moisture from TS Newton gets shunted into Arizona and New Mexico. That means that there’s still plenty of time to get out and enjoy some summer fun, without the typical crowds of summer:

• You can go to Lake Tahoe and enjoy the beach without as much heavy traffic in Kings Beach and Tahoe City.

• You can hike some of the more popular local trails without struggling to find a parking spot

• You can bike on some of the more popular local trails without consulting Google maps to check for traffic

• You can eat at some of the popular places around town without waiting for a table or your food

• You can actually get some time off of work to enjoy Tahoe instead of working endless shifts in a row serving other visitors

• There’s still time to plan to attend the Lost Sierra Hoedown at the end of the month. It’s 4 days of camping, music, friends and family at the Johnsville Ski Bowl, one hour north of Truckee.

NOAA Precipitation Forecast for September, October and November

NOAA Precipitation Forecast for September, October and November

In the longer range, the NOAA official forecast is calling for the fall months to be likely a bit drier than normal, which is a different picture than some of the other sites that have continued to hype the possibility of a La Niña event this winter.

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NOAA Precipitation Forecast for October, November and December

If you extend things out another month into December, when most resorts will be closer to regular operations, NOAA is calling for an equal chance of above normal and below normal precipitation. That means, in simpler terms, that they expect things to be average. It’s not like you would expect the faucet will just be turned on in December, the transition from a drier pattern to a winter pattern takes some time. People that are looking to get in the earliest turns will probably want to invest in a Boreal pass to take advantage of early season snowmaking. Mount Rose has also done a good job of giving Boreal a run for their money over the last few early seasons.

There are no real clear signs about what the winter will bring. In a weak La Niña year, you would expect the Pacific Northwest to be wet and the Pacific Southwest to be dry. Tahoe is somewhere in between those places and only time will tell. I can certainly be happy with another average winter.

Cumulative Impacts Of Development: More Than Placer County Can Handle?

 

Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 5.17.37 PMA recent editorial in the Sierra Sun noted that President Obama will be attending the 20th Anniversary Lake Tahoe Summit on August 31st. The letter called on Obama to take note of the cumulative impacts of a number of proposed projects in the North Tahoe region, shining a light on the need to get more oversight at the state and federal level to protect Lake Tahoe for future generations. We agree that the future of the North Lake Tahoe region is too important to trust to the Placer County supervisors.

bill-clinton

The first Tahoe summit was held in Incline Village in 1997. President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore pledged $50 million toward the restoration and protection of Lake Tahoe. President Obama will be only the second president to attend the Tahoe summit, twenty years later. We hope that he’s ready to refocus some attention on protecting the entire Tahoe region in addition to the basin itself.

When KSL Capital came to Tahoe, they committed $50 million  just to the “Squaw Valley Renaissance.” Nearly $1 million was spent just in squishing the local community by stopping the incorporation of the town of Olympic Valley. We’re guessing far more than that has been spent in keeping Placer County officials “on board” with the Village and Base to Base gondola projects. We imagine that KSL is not the only developer or investor making big promises to Placer County officials. No wonder they don’t seem to listen to the local community.

If you haven’t been keeping score in Placer County, here’s what’s currently on the radar:

  • The Village at Squaw Valley Specific Plan
  • The Base To Base Gondola Project
  • The Martis Valley West Parcel Project
  • The Brockway Campground Project
  • The White Wolf Development
  • The Alpine Sierra Subdivision
  • The Stanford Chalet Project
  • The Tahoe City Lodge
  • The Palisades Project
  • The Plumpjack Inn Project

We can’t state it enough. Somebody bigger than Placer County needs to be taking into consideration the cumulative impacts of all of these projects. Recently, Attorney General of California Kamala Harris noted those concerns, issuing a 15 page letter outlining the concerns about the increased number of vehicles in the area and their impact on Lake Tahoe. Her concerns were curtly dismissed by Placer County officials.

The last president to visit the North Tahoe region was reportedly Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, if you don’t count JFK’s visit as a presidential candidate in 1960. We hope that President Obama takes a close look at what’s happening at the north end of the lake later this week and considers an expansion of federal oversight that will prioritize protecting the greater Tahoe region instead of Placer County’s protection of investor profits.

There’s much more at stake here than developer profit and county tax revenue. We aren’t asking for no development, just reasonable and appropriate development.  – Fred and Marice George in The Sierra Sun

Here’s a link to the editorial at the Sierra Sun.

Andy Wertheim: Overnight At Emerald Bay

Hello Friends,

Although I have been to Emerald Bay many times over the years that I have lived in Tahoe, I have never spent the night in Emerald Bay.  Thursday night changed that issue.  We spent the night at the boat campground on the north side of the bay.  The campground is very nice, clean, and quiet (at least on Thursday night).  Most people arrive by boat, but a few of us came in kayaks.  We loaded our kayaks with all the gear one needs for a one night stay and pushed off from Meeks Bay.  The lake was smooth, boats were scarce, warm sun shined down making the 7.5 mile paddle to Emerald Bay pure joy.  We took our time stopping to stretch and dunk in the lake at the Bliss State Park Beach and at a small cove just before entering Emerald Bay.  I think the paddle from Meeks Bay to the campground took about 3 hours.  On the way back we did not hug the shore line as much as we did on the way over so our paddle time may have been slightly less.

We were allowed to have a fire in the large steel cylinders provide that double for cooking.  Bear bins are provided for all your extra gear and food to dissuade the bears from coming to dine in the campground.

We spent some time paddling around the bay and visiting the beach where the Vikingsholm is located before enjoying an evening meal.  Stars flooded the sky and a sliver of moon peeked through tree branches.  The air temperature remained on the warm side all night and into the morning avoiding the need for down jackets.

A campsite can be reserved online through Labor Day at ReserveAmerica.com.  The cost is $35 per night.  Firewood is $9 a bundle if you have the need for a nice campfire.  After Labor Day and until snowfalls the camp is open on a first come first serve basis. There is a very nice person that lives at the site during the summer and fall who acts as the camp host.

Attached are a few photos I snapped of our kayaks in and out of the water and the campsite.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim