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The Relative Calm Before The Storm

It was another lower mountain storm day at Alpine Meadows, as well as another day where crowds and traffic were beyond what should be acceptable. Once again, the message was put out that there was a lot of new snow in Tahoe through countless media reports and marketing efforts. Once again, the mountain ops blog predicted that all of Alpine Meadows was scheduled to opened today, even though it was quite unlikely. That resulted in full parking lots, big lift lines and an uncomfortable amount of crowding on the limited terrain that actually opened for the day.

The weather was relatively quiet for much of the day though, with about 4 inches of new snow falling and variable winds on the lower mountain. The last of the current trio of storms will be making its way into Tahoe overnight. Alpine Meadows has already tweeted that they will be closed tomorrow due to high winds and avalanche danger. We already told you this would happen in yesterday’s post.

A voluntary evacuation order was issued for the Alpine Meadows area due to increasing avalanche danger. The order may be made mandatory by tomorrow. Several employees have reported that they have been told to not report to work tomorrow, unless they are essential employees for snow safety and snow removal. It is expected that Alpine Meadows Road will be closed for much of the day Sunday.

As far as today goes, Roundhouse was the top of the mountain, as we predicted in yesterday’s post. Also in the mix was the Chair To Nowhere, the Roo, Meadow and Subway. Curiously absent from the mix was Yellow, which would have alleviated the oppressive wait times at Roundhouse. So yeah, that happened. Squaw also saw limited operations today. In comparison here’s what some comparable resorts offered today:

  • Sugar Bowl: Opened all main lifts except for Crow’s Nest
  • Mount Rose: Opened all main lifts except for Chuter
  • Kirkwood: Opened all main lifts on the frontside of the mountain

We’re not bothering comparing small resorts in protected areas like Homewood or Northstar. Each of the three resorts above shares commonalities with Alpine Meadows: Exposure to high winds, abundant avalanche terrain, plenty of snowfall, and cheap passes. Why they manage to get more terrain open through pretty much every storm cycle…well, you tell me.

Yesterday, SnowBrains ran an extensive “educational piece” about operational delays at SquAlpine. We’re not saying that none of that is true – but as you read that article, remember that SnowBrains seems to have some back-scratching deal with SquAlpine this season. SnowBrains writes nice articles about everything Squaw Valley, and Squaw Valley is happy to cross promote SnowBrains’ posts in their social media. Update: It looks like Snowbrains pulled the piece, which is too bad as the commentary on it was pretty fun. Somebody posted a PDF of the article in the comments below.

The facts are, the three resorts above face identical issues: high winds, heavy snowfall, rime ice build up….yadda yadda yadda. The new and popular hashtag around SquAlpine? #weclosewhenitsnows

Point of clarification: The mountain closure for Sunday 1/22 based on the potential for avalanche concerns is justified and we totally get it. The rant here applies to the more typical Tahoe storm days like Saturday.

Moving on to a positive close…there was good skiing all over the lower mountain today. You just had to know where to look, and be willing to beat a horde of people to it. The 11th Annual Alpenglow Backcountry Demo also happened at Alpine Meadows today. The free demo gives participants a chance to try out the latest in backcountry boots, skis, bindings and snowboards. As usual, there was a very strong presence for DPS and Moment Skis today. With nearly unlimited opportunities to stand in line today, it was easy to notice those brands on many feet.

Our pick of the day for new equipment was the skis and snowboards offered by a new local company, Coalition Snow. Coalition focuses on gear that is designed and built specifically for women. Their goal is to eliminate the “shrink it and pink it” approach taken by the major brands. We loved the energy these ladies brought to the mountain today. My wife, and ski partner, took out the all mountain SOS model on for a few pow laps on Kangaroo, just as that lift opened. An order will be placed soon at the Coalition Snow site.

Here’s the Winter Storm Warning, as issued from the Reno office of NOAA:

GREATER LAKE TAHOE AREA-
INCLUDING THE CITIES OF SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, TRUCKEE, STATELINE,
AND INCLINE VILLAGE
334 PM PST SAT JAN 21 2017

...WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 4 AM PST MONDAY...

* TIMING: MODERATE TO HEAVY SNOW WILL RETURN BY AROUND MIDNIGHT
  AND CONTINUE INTO EARLY MONDAY MORNING.

* ADDITIONAL SNOWFALL THROUGH MONDAY MORNING: WEST OF HIGHWAY
  89...3 TO 4 FEET WITH LOCALLY HIGHER AMOUNTS. EAST OF HIGHWAY
  89...2 TO 3 FEET WITH HIGHER AMOUNTS POSSIBLE NEAR MOUNT ROSE.

* WINDS: SIERRA RIDGE WINDS INCREASING FROM 70 MPH TO WELL OVER
  100 MPH ON SUNDAY. GUSTS 30 TO 40 MPH POSSIBLE IN THE LOWER
  ELEVATIONS. WINDS MAY DAMAGE TREES AND POWER LINES.

* IMPACTS: DANGEROUS CONDITIONS FOR OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES AND TRAVEL
  WITH PERIODS OF WHITEOUT CONDITIONS FROM TONIGHT TO MONDAY
  MORNING. AVALANCHE DANGER WILL INCREASE. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO
  TRAVEL AROUND THE TAHOE BASIN ON SUNDAY. STAY HOME...STAY SAFE.

So enjoy some quality time with your snow blower and snow shovels tomorrow. We’ll remind you now that operations for Monday…we think it’s questionable at Alpine Meadows. I wonder whether my street will even be plowed by that time…

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.

 

 

A Thursday Redux

I wasn’t even going to write a report today as it would be almost identical to last Thursday’s report, titled A-L-L-T-I-M-E! It was really, really, really fun out there today. Sure there was limited terrain…who cares? The wind was blowing hard and getting even Scott into operations was not an expectation for me.

So summarizing…

• The usual lower mountain lifts opened shortly after 9 AM.

• Very few people beat the Alpine Meadows Road closure for avalanche control work this morning, even though fair warning was tweeted out and plenty early. So it was pretty much a private mountain for the first hour of skiing.

• There was 16 inches of new snow and that did a pretty good job of covering all but the biggest ice moguls. I managed to find a couple on Sunday School. About 6 additional inches fell through 2 pm.

• Nothing else ever opened beyond Scott for the remainder of the day.

The next storm will be moving in tonight and another on Saturday night. NOAA just decided to cover their bases and issue a Winter Storm Warning extending from this afternoon until 4 AM Monday. It would be reasonable to expect that 4-6 feet of snow will fall at the ski resort levels by Monday. Winds will be a little bit calmer into Saturday, but for Saturday night into Sunday, the winds could be very problematic. Ridge gusts are expected up to 125 mph. Sunday could be a blowout, literally.

I only took one picture today as I was skiing mostly by myself. It’s one more picture than Andy took; if you need more, refer back to last Thursday’s post. Andy’s report follows the picture.

Chairs were full on the first lap, this was the second lap…
Andy Wertheim: Clean Lines For Those That Showed Up

Hello Skiers and Riders,

High winds kept a number of lifts on hold again today.  Summit Six, Lakeview, and Sherwood did not turn for skiers on this snow showery day.  Alpine Bowl Chair appears to have been damaged (at least the structure that houses the upper station) which is most likely why it has not been operating.  After waiting for avalanche safety on the main road to be complete we headed up to the mountain.  Roundhouse was again the only game in town until later in the morning when Scott opened, but the lack of participants on Roundhouse made skiing the foot of powder that landed overnight dreamy.  We found some clean lines in the Deer Camp area as well as on The Face and beyond.  Conditions did vary in from nice foot deep powder to a sprinkling of new snow over more firm avalanche debris.  Once Scott Chair opened we did find a clear line in the trees in Seldom Slides, in the trees between Ridge and Bobbies Trails, and in Gentian Gully.

Even the cut up powder was good although it firmed up quickly as if became packed out.

At times winds whipped around us and at other moments the air was still.  Snow fell heavily at times and disappeared at others.  Today was one of those excellent storm days when the hill was not crowded and the skiing was sweet.

I did get one or two shoulder shots, but no face shots on this day.  I was too busy trying to keep up with my friends to stop and take pictures, but I assume you can imagine what the mountain looked like this morning.

Enjoy your day,

Andy Wertheim

Storm Day Skiing, Second Shift

Arriving for the snowy part of the day was a good strategy…

The next series of storms has begun. My strategy for the day was to wait for some new snow to accumulate before going skiing today, as yesterday was pretty firm off piste. The blue skies finally clouded over in Truckee around 10, indicating it was time to depart for the mountain. There was a sinking feeling in my stomach as I got half way to Squaw Valley and the temperature climbed to 37° with a steady rain. As I turned up Alpine Meadows Road, there was heavy rain and a steady stream of cars making a hasty departure.

The rain turned to heavy sleet in the parking lot and I contemplated turning around for a moment, but instead slogged on to the locker room. Everybody that was just coming in was drenched and said “good luck”. But a couple of other late arrivals were around, and together we dawdled just long enough for the sleet to turn into snow while we booted up.

I managed to get in 4 laps on Roundhouse before the plug was pulled, reportedly due to wind. While visibility was poor, my body was managing to stay dry. The ski surface was like crushed velvet, soft but slightly unpredictable. But it got better and better with each lap, especially knowing the end was near for Roundhouse.

After a short break to have lunch and assess options, it was back to laps on Hot Wheels and Yellow. Both chairs were in slow motion due to the wind – but the turns in the fresh snow were addictive. In hindsight, Sherwood may have offered some of the best skiing today, except for the long slog required to get there from Hot Wheels and the lack of any sort of indoor area to take a warming break. Sometime around 2:30, operations of the rest of the lifts were curtailed. I was happy to have chosen to ski the drier and snowier second shift today.

I’m not sure how to interpret lift operations and how they were reported to the public today. As late as 7:17 this morning, both the app and the SkiAlpine.com website were indicating that all lifts were closed. When that was finally updated later in morning, I am guessing I was not the only one scratching my head. I am really curious what combinations of winds puts Scott, Lakeview and Kangaroo on wind hold, while Summit and Sherwood are not. I have put in a lot of days at Alpine and have never seen that combination of lifts start on hold. Oh, and in case you did not notice, Summit was put on wind hold almost immediately today…definitely blowing there!

So, looking ahead at the next 7 days…why 7 days you ask? It looks like this storm series may carry all of the way into next Tuesday based on the latest model runs.

There is a lot of precipitin headed to California between now and Monday!

The first wave of the storm, currently ongoing, will continue into tomorrow. Snow should taper to showers by mid-day and 15 to 20 inches of new snow seems like a pretty reasonable expectation. Temperatures will be cold overnight and into tomorrow, with winds still gusting. Expect both the potential for upper mountain wind holds and delayed openings…although we hear Squaw Valley will have everything open right away.

Update: As snowfall slowed a bit this evening, snow levels crept up a bit. Temperatures are at 31 near the base. Theoretically there is one more cold band coming through tonight to cool things down again.

There’s not much of any break as on Friday, the next wave does roll in and carries into Saturday morning. Currently this looks to be the weakest of the three waves.

The wave for Sunday into Monday, and even Tuesday, continues to grow. Remember how the last cycle ended with a blizzard? We could be headed that way again. The big caveat will be the snow levels. A couple of model runs have tried to paint a picture of rapidly rising snow levels for the third event….possibly into that double digit place we don’t like. Most of the models try to keep it at a more reasonable “lake level” scenario – you know, that snow that is so awesome for shoveling! By Sunday, it is a very safe bet to say that large parts of California will be having issues with flooding, all of the way into Southern California. It’s still several days away and we’ll look for updates.

Commentary: Can Tahoe Really Handle More?

The following is commentary. You’re not obligated to read it. There are other blogs out there…

It was another pleasant and awesome day ripping groomers at Alpine Meadows. Once you found your personal line, it was possible that you could not only set the first tracks, but also the second, third and fourth tracks. It was a similar experience last Thursday, except that it was an amazing powder day. Just. Sublime.

Pick any day in between though and it was a far different story.

Fortunately, Alpine Meadows was blessed by the fact that coverage on the mountain was far better than it has been at any time over the past few years, allowing crowds to spread out and keeping smiles on people’s faces. But it wasn’t all grins last weekend. There was a fair share of commentary on various social media sites about long lift lines, long food lines, long shuttle times, lack of parking and traffic on Highway 89. This picture, taken somewhere along the road on the Sherwood side summed up many people’s feelings.

You really can’t just say that it was just because of the holiday weekend, because the weekend before that, there were similar traffic jams, lift lines and parking issues. The “KCRA effect” is already there with another storm cycle in place for the upcoming weekend as well. We expect more of the same will be happening by Friday morning.

The Friends of Squaw Valley group called attention to the issue with this picture posted last week. Squaw Valley and KSL Capital received entitlements to build nearly 1500 more bed spaces, an indoor waterpark, countless square feet of new commercial construction and more over a 25 year period. While the EIR estimated that travel times would increase only a minute or two due to the increase development, it’s clear that is not going to be the case. The addition of the proposed gondola, the multiple new housing projects in the planning stages around Alpine Meadows and Olympic Valley will only continue to ensure that more crowds will be here, more often.

It’s not just the proposed development. Several different sources have reported that SquAlpine sold about 30% more season passes this year than last year. It shows.

Do we really want to be in a place where there are crushing crowds every weekend, during every season throughout the year? Let’s remember that although the current new snowfall makes everyone giddy with delight, we have to remember to protect what we love…from being over-loved.

Another Three Storm Series Takes Aim At The West Coast

There’s one more day of bluebird skiing for Tuesday, and likely with nowhere near the crowds that were around for the four day weekend. By Wednesday, another series of storms is set to bring more rain and snow into the Pacific Northwest and all of California. The impacts from the series of storms will likely be not quite as big as the last series, but still, for those that just regained power or had your road returned to normal driving width…

The tropical jet stream stretches well beyond Hawaii and will eventually hose down most of the Western US.

You can see that a long fetch of moisture extends far past Hawaii carried by the tropical jet stream. Currently, that jet is pointed toward the Pacific Northwest for the beginning of the week. That keeps us on the warm side of jet as the first wave rolls in on Wednesday. Technically this storm isn’t a typical atmospheric river event, as there is no stalling of the jet over any one area. No, this will be more like a young boy sending his “jet stream” all over the bathroom stall at school. Southern California could set some snowfall records by the time the third wave is done Monday.

For Wednesday into Thursday, a Winter Storm Watch has been issued for the west slope of the Sierra. It has not been issued yet for the Tahoe Basin. Snow levels may run above the base level at Alpine Meadows on Wednesday morning. The real problem for Wednesday is the possibility for some very strong ridge gusts, again exceeding 100 mph. That will likely lead to more tree issues and power issues…in addition to keeping upper mountain lifts closed. The point forecast for Wednesday is only showing a few inches of snow. It will likely not be a good day for your next “doctor’s appointment.”

For Thursday into Friday, another wave moves in and we will be on the colder northern part of the jet. Snow levels are expected to drop to near 3500 feet by Friday. That will certainly cause some headaches for the Tahoe commute. Somewhere between 1-2 feet of snow is expected during this timeframe.

Over the weekend, the temperatures stay cold and the third wave moves in but may be directed farther south. If the current forecast holds, another 1-2 feet should fall during this portion of the storm. By that time, many of us will be scratching our heads and wondering just where to put that snow.

96 Hour accumulations through Sunday support several more feet of snow or more. Image via Twisterdata.com