Guest Editorial: One Star Reviews of National Parks Changed My Mind

We’re delighted to repost this piece from Treas Manning over at the Granite Chief blog. We read the same piece on National  Parks and came to the same realization ourselves. Solid work Treas!

Image via Granite

Image via Granite

My nephew Ryan, posted an article from Mother Jones. The article referred to one star Yelp reviews of our national parks. Ryan warned me, “this will either infuriate you or make you laugh out loud.” It did both.

In the end the one star reviews left me speechless. But then I started re-thinking KSL’s planned gargantuan Mountain Adventure Center. Maybe a ten story Walmart sized indoor water park and mountain-like play area is not a bad idea after all.

You see I kept thinking, I live at one of the most beautiful ski areas in the world, Squaw Valley. The entrance to Squaw Valley sits along the Truckee River and Lake Tahoe is just a short drive away and can actually be viewed from the top of the ski area. Shirley Canyon and Granite Chief Wilderness rim the ski area boundary. Squaw is surrounded by alpine lakes, waterfalls, bright green meadows filled with wildflowers and massive slabs of granite. Why do we need an indoor water park and mountain adventure playground?

The one star reviews of Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon really opened my eyes. I remember long ago on a warm summer day, a group of friends and I were playing among on the massive boulders on Lake Tahoe. Clowning around, I stumbled and scrapped up my knee. Thank goodness I didn’t tumble into the aqua blue water and get all wet, that would have been a disaster. It dawned on me, my little accident wouldn’t have happened at the Mountain Adventure Center. I would have been protected by guardrails and ranger like employees advising me to slow down and watch my step. It wouldn’t be possible to accidentally fall into the water as I would have to wait my turn with hundreds of others to climb the stairs to the top of the slide and purposely enter the water.

Not only that, but no worries of sunburn, and mosquitos. If I grow bored of the chlorinated cement rivers I could venture over to the indoor climbing wall or try my hand at the game arcade. I wouldn’t have to pack a bag lunch, I could have a burger served to me as I sunbathed under the florescent lights on a perfectly manicured artificial lawn for only twenty bucks or so.

Frankly this water park/mountain center idea might be a great one. In fact, we might want to consider building a few more around the lake. Emerald Bay might be a sweet spot. We could actually build a water slide straight from the parking lot that empties right out into the lake, or a zip line to Fannette Island. Let’s gut Volkingsholm and build a climbing wall, restaurant/bar, and movie theater. Why not turn one of the wings into a daycare center, it’s nice to get away from the kids on a family vacation.

Yep, I know I am going to make a lot of locals mad, but I have changed my mind. I am a newborn water park enthusiast. To hell with nature, what’s it done for us, no snow then too much snow. Wildflowers that grow like weeds, tree pollen, and damn it I have a family of grouse living right in my yard. I am over this natural beauty thing. I owe a big thanks to KSL for opening my eyes to the possibilities of a non-natural, safer experience.

Oh, but I do have one request, I’m going to need a little cable car built from my house to the Mountain Adventure Center, I hate walking down that hill.

Andy Wertheim: Hike To Ellis Peak

Hello Friends,

Fires in the valley sent smoke into the Tahoe Area over the weekend.  I walked up to Ellis Peak on Sunday morning starting from Barker Pass.   The haze, or smoke, minimized views in all directions on the way up to the Peak.  The air seemed to clear on the way down.

I clicked off a few pictures that you will find attached.  This is a classic Tahoe hike lasting approximately 6 miles to the peak.  If you visit both the peak and Ellis Lake, add a mile to the round trip.  It is not a hard hike, but there are a number of steep sections beginning with the first step as you leave Barker Pass (where your car should be parked).  Barker Pass is located approximately 7 miles from the entrance to Blackwood Canyon at Hwy. 89 on the west shore of Tahoe .

You will have excellent views in all directions of the sierra.  You will also pass some steep chutes along way that are known as the 4th of July Chutes.  They got their name from skiers who trek to them in the spring (4th of July obviously).  The round trip took me a total of 3 hours.

I did not visit the lake and did not spend much time on the peak.  My hiking pace was also not on fire, but steady.  The round trip can be done in less time, but standing, or sitting on top is a treat.  Take lunch and spend some time admiring the views.

Enjoy your day.

Andy Wertheim

OpenSnow: Part 2 Of The El Niño Series Is Encouraging

El Niño is certainly the talk of the town lately and there’s been a couple of developments this week to report on. Joel Gratz of posted the second in his series on El Niño events today. The latest piece studies the actual effect on US rain & snowfall from past events. In general terms, the warmer the water gets during an El Niño, the more hope there is that the year will be wetter than average. The two closest analog years to the upcoming season are indeed 82-83 and 97-98, which were years that were quite wet for the Sierra. Surprising to me is that Gratz also shows that contrary to what we generally think, that temps may actually end up cooler than average in the southern portion of the country…not to say that we won’t see some rain events. We’re not trying to steal Gratz’s thunder, you absolutely should follow the link to read the entire post.

Looking at all events over history, we still end up with a very good chance of a better than average season.

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

As has been said here often, even a “normal” season would be amazing compared to what we have endured over the last three years.

Over at the, Paul Grady mentions that the most recent Kelvin wave in the Pacific has pushed even more warm water into the El Niño 3.4 region, which could result in this being the strongest El Niño event on record. We also are looking forward to Daniel Swain’s next post at, where he is planning to take a look at how The Blob may actually enhance the effects of El Niño. That could get very interesting…

NOAA: 90% Chance Of El Niño…But We’re Not Sure What That Means For Tahoe

Earlier this week, we posted our thoughts about the possibilities for an El Niño year in the Sierra. As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones that are just a bit reserved in trying to guess what will happen during the upcoming ski season. In general, it is just a bit early to see how things are going to play out.

As an example, it was easy to jump on the El Niño bandwagon in July, when we saw a lot of monsoonal moisture into Tahoe. But it’s been a while since we’ve seen any rain and it’s been a long, hot and dry August. Does that mean they same thing could happen this season? Absolutely maybe is the best we could say. We’re all going to have to be patient and wait for the signals to become a bit more clear. The Reno office of NOAA released this video explaining their thoughts:


Who Will Win? Godzilla Versus The Blob


The weather blogs are starting to go crazy this week and so is the mainstream media. Once the National Weather Service proclaimed that a strong El Niño is pretty much a sure bet for the upcoming season, the hype machine has been picking up momentum. Even SquAlpine got into the hype this week, releasing this entertaining video.

Consequently, people have been stopping me on the street and asking what my thoughts are about the possibilities for the upcoming winter. There are no real easy answers, as we’re really heading into uncharted territory. Today, we’re just going to point out the two major players that will impacting us as we turn the corner from summer into autumn.

The Godzilla El Niño

There’s not much doubt left that we are headed into an El Niño pattern for the upcoming season. In fact, we’re really already there. Most of last season was in the category of weak El Niño, which means that ocean temperatures in the mid-Pacific were just a bit over 0.5 °C warmer than normal. A weak El Niño does not necessarily lead to a wet scenario, as any skier, snowboarder or Central Valley farmer can tell you. But this year is different, as this week those mid-Pacific temperatures reached more than 2.0 °C warmer than normal. That would put this year’s El Niño event into the “exceptionally strong” category. You don’t have to be a weather scientist to know we’re already seeing the effects of El Niño, based on the large number of monsoonal flow events this summer. Here’s the NOAA graphic that shows the usual effect of El Niño in the summer months. See that green blob over Tahoe? Yes, that happened.

Image via NOAA

Image via NOAA

You’re likely to be familiar with the next graphic, as it portrays what we typically see for El Niño events during the winter months. The jet stream shifts to a southern position, bringing the potential for a lot of rain in Southern California and leaving the Pacific Northwest potentially drier than normal. Here’s the graphic from NOAA:

Image via NOAA

Image via NOAA

But as with all previous El Niño events, there is one big question. Where will the dividing line be between wet and dry? Not only does that affect how much moisture lands in Tahoe, it also impacts how warm those storms might be. The “Godzilla El Niño” seems to quite comparable to the ’86-’87 and ’97-98 events. In both cases, we saw a lot of snow during those years, but we also saw some very intense atmospheric river events that brought heavy rain on snow, causing flooding and numerous other problems.

There is almost certainly going to be a dividing line, and it’s possible that dividing line could occur somewhere in Northern California. – Daniel Swain,

If Godzilla was the only beast in town, it’s a sure bet that he would be ruling the weather as we head into the next ski season. Unfortunately he’s not alone.

The Blob

We’ve had plenty of opportunities to write about The Blob over the last three seasons. The Blob actually refers to a large pool of warmer than expected water that has existed in the Gulf Of Alaska during our last three seasons. We know there seems to be some connection between The Blob and the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, which resulted in storms being steered well north of Tahoe, and even the Pacific Northwest. Those storms dove into the eastern US, bringing them a snow-filled winter.

There’s some very mixed opinions about which came first. Was it The Blob or the RRR? The reality is that it’s not that simple. Weather is complex on earth and we spend a lot of time talking about the various “teleconnections” that help us forecast our weather during ski season, such as the Madden-Julian Oscillation, or MJO. It doesn’t matter that much, as we already know the outcome of the RRR Blob. This graphic is all too familiar from the last few seasons:

Image via KQED Science

Image via KQED Science

But once again, it’s not all that simple. In recent years, there really was just one blob. Over the last 6 months though, near shore waters have continued to warm, resulting in three different blobs of warm water off of the Pacific Coast. While the sea surface temperatures have started to get a bit lower, there is no mechanism that scientists expect will eliminate The Blob entirely before next winter. Those warm waters offshore could actually enhance precipitation, assuming that the RRR does not block storms again.

So What Will Happen For The Upcoming Season?

So far, most weather bloggers and media outlets have focused only on the El Niño side of the equation. But who will win the battle between The Blob and Godzilla? One suggestion is that the rotation of the high pressure system associated with The Blob could steer the southern jet directly to the north, sending even more moisture to the east.

Source image via Robert Scribbler

Source image via Robert Scribbler

That scenario would not be a good one for the west coast, where we don’t just need the snow, we also need the water. Hopefully Howard Shekter at will be correct in stating that The Blob is cooling and we can get a good dose of much needed snow and rain into Tahoe for this season. We’re going to have to wait a bit longer and see how things play out in the battle of the two monsters in weather.

Although we are currently enduring a very warm spell in Tahoe, the models are trying bring a colder Gulf of Alaska storm typical of fall weather near the end of the month, and Joel Gratz at OpenSnow is suggesting that Colorado may get some snow by tomorrow. I know I’ve started having ski dreams again. How about you?

Placer LAFCO Agrees To Send CFA Out For Review By The State Controller

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It’s been quite a battle over the incorporation of Olympic Valley. It seems as if every week there is some new twist to the plot. Most recently, we reported that Squaw Valley had contributed nearly $700,000 to defeat the move to incorporate the town of Olympic Valley. Those funds were contributed to the “Save Olympic Valley” campaign to create a campaign of fear amongst local voters.

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of banter back and forth between the factions about the validity of the draft Certified Fiscal Analysis for the proposed town. Earlier this year, financial analyst RSG released a draft CFA that seemed to show that the town may not be financially viable. Officials from Incorporate Olympic Valley (IOV) cried foul, noting a number of parts of the review that seemed inaccurate or potentially biased. While some of the numbers were adjusted, IOV has suggested that there are still errors in the report. Here are their top four remaining concerns:

  • Revising the proposed 10% contingency expense to be included as part of an annual reserve.
  • Calculating the general fund reserve as a percentage of the town’s operating expenses rather as a percentage of the total general fund revenues.
  • Revising the estimated property tax revenue calculations to include indirect costs and be based on realistic Olympic valley real estate values.
  • Adjusting the estimated cost of law enforcement to reflect the actual existing level of service in Olympic Valley.

Last week, the Placer County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) decided to send the draft of the CFA to the Sate of California Controller’s Office for review. While the incorporation of new cities in California is a rare event, the review of a certified fiscal analysis for a LAFCO action is even more rare. It’s interesting to note that the vote by the LAFCO commission was 6-1 in favor of sending the document for review. Previous decisions by the commission regarding the incorporation movement seem like they have more commonly gone in the opposite direction. It certainly seems prudent to let the State Controller make the final call on the validity of the document.

We are very pleased that the commissioners agreed 6 – 1 with our concerns, recognizing the need for the draft CFA to be reviewed and corrected.   We are confident that the State Controller will confirm and resolve errors made by RSG.  Once corrected, we firmly believe the CFA will show the proposed town of Olympic Valley to be financially viable. – Fred Ilfeld, Chairperson IOV Foundation

The LAFCO board also voted to delay the beginning of the preparation of an environmental impact report until after the  review of the CFA is final. Previously, IOV had been notified that they would need to pay for the cost of the environmental review before the CFA determined if the town was financially viable. The estimated cost of the review is expected to be near $200,000. While that seems to be a drop in the bucket, compared to Squaw Valley’s $700,000 expenditure, it is certainly not chump change for Incorporate Olympic Valley.

While we are not municipal finance experts, we can’t help but wonder how the town of Olympic Valley can’t be viable.  The proposed town has very little service area yet has enormous tax revenues. By implying the town is not viable means that Placer County actually supports the Olympic Valley area, though we have heard that “Squaw Valley” is Placer County’s cash cow. Which is it?
​The Save Olympic Valley campaign, funded entirely by Squaw Valley, has now spent over $700,000 adamantly claiming that the town is not viable, and we expect those numbers to jump when the new campaign reports are filed next week. We’re glad that an ​independent review by the State Controller’s Office will determine the town’s viability, not a smear campaign.