Fun In A Storm

Today was a day to show up at Alpine Meadows with no expectations. The mountain reported 14 inches of new snow since yesterday, and it was coming down fast throughout the day. A quick check of the remote sensors in the morning showed that winds were running at 80 to 100 mph overnight and continued to blow this morning.

Standing around at the base area, it was often quite calm for a bit. That caused many to question why even Roundhouse was on wind hold. But then one of those big gusts would come along, swirling the snow into a whiteout and knocking skis off of racks, and it was easy to understand the wind holds. Even with the holds, mountain ops was busy preparing the mountain as much as possible, on the slim chance they might open. Bombs kept flying well after 9 AM, reminding guests of just how much work it takes to open the mountain on a storm day. Meadow and Subway did open at 9:00, with Hot Wheels opening just before 10. We started our day on Meadow with Andy Wertheim. Here’s his report on ski conditions:

We received another foot of snow overnight that was driven in circles by the high winds.  This covered the mountain with a dense layer of new snow that breaks away in slabs and slides easily.  Skiing in this type of snow can be a little difficult, especially once the fresh is tracked out.  Fresh lines, however were fun.

The issue at Alpine again was the distance up the mountain available to skiers and the timing of the opening.  High winds put most lifts on hold at the beginning of the day.  Desperate to get out into the storm, we started with a ride up Meadow Chair and followed it with a number of trips up Hot Wheels.  We went in to the lodge to warm up and dry out about noon.  A few minutes later Roundhouse began accepting skiers and we headed out once again.  There were not many people on the hill so we were able to find some fresh tracks in various areas. Today reminded us that skiing in a storm can be a lot of fun.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

There was definitely a big mismatch between what some skiers and riders thought what would be open today, and what the mountain was actually able to get open. The official app and that other ski blog, the official one, suggested that all lifts at Alpine Meadows would be open today. That same blog post indicated that upper mountain lifts at Squaw would be subject to wind holds today. Here’s the reasoning that was used:

We’re expecting high winds tomorrow (in excess of 120mph), so we anticipate limited operations at Squaw Valley due to upper mountain lifts being exposed on the Sierra Crest. – Mountain Ops Blog for 1/19

So Alpine Meadows is not on the crest as well? Wasn’t it Squaw Valley marketing that insisted on renaming High T as the “Pacific Crest Bowls”? The logic does not stand up at all, especially if you ever spend time comparing the slight differences in wind speeds between the Ward Peak sensor (at Alpine Meadows) and Sierra Crest sensor (at Squaw Valley). It was sad to see all of those guests showing up early this morning thinking this would be an epic world class powder day on Summit, Scott and Sherwood

Looking ahead at the next three days, here’s the infographic released by NOAA today:

What does that means for ski area operations? Here’s our best honest assessment of what to expect:

Saturday: Although the official blog again indicates the entire mountain is on the schedule, we would expect another day of limited operations due to high winds and potentially dangerous snow conditions.

Sunday: Conditions could be downright chaotic for resorts. NOAA calls for snowfall rates greater than we have seen anytime this season. Very high winds are also expected. If the forecast pans out, we expect few resorts will open on Sunday.

Monday: Things should slow down by Monday, but based on the last big storm cycles, resorts may need a day to assess their mountains and deal with large amounts of new snow. It could be iffy for actual resort operations.

We’re already at record territory for the most snowfall during the month of January. By Monday, we will likely be in record territory for monthly snowfall during any month since 1970 at Alpine Meadows. While it’s great to have all of that snow available as a base and water storage, it’s bound to present big challenges for those workers that try to keep the mountain open.



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