Don’t Count Us Out Yet — A Dry Start to the Sierra Winter

As I step outside on what I would expect to be a brisk, snowy January morning in the Sierras, I am greeted by a near blinding sun. The temperatures are hovering around 50 degrees. Is this is a winter? Or should I break out my bathing suit and pack a picnic for the beach? As I reach for my towel and sandals, I shake my head in disgust. This is winter! What am I doing? This isn’t a time for stand up paddle boards and margaritas on the beach, this is time for skiing! Where is the snow? What is going on here? The snow guns on the mountains in the Tahoe area are on full blast as resorts scramble to meet demand. The conditions are nearly perfect considering the lack of natural snowfall. A spring day in January can’t be all that bad when the Polar Vortex” (as terrifying as that sounds) is dropping temps into ‑40s around the country. Eh, could be worse, I think to myself.

(Donner Pass Road)

So, where is this legendary Tahoe snow we have been hearing so much about? Well, sometimes Tahoe is what we would call, a late bloomer”. Allow me to shed some light and stoke the excitement a bit here.

Let’s start with some history…

-In 1999, it dumped 168 inches of snow on Donner Pass at Sugar Bowl Ski Resort. This happened from February 6 to the 9th. Let’s do a little bit of simple math, shall we? That is 14 feet of snow, IN 3 DAYS! I nearly fainted when I read this.

-In 1880 (a little bit dated, I am aware), Donner Summit recorded the snowiest April in U.S. history, weighing in at 298 inches of snow in one month. That’s almost 25 feet of snow! In one month!! That’s more snow than most resorts average in an entire SEASON. One month! (my mouth ran a bit dry as I was reading these stats)

-The Central Sierra Snow Laboratory ranked their top three snowstorm totals and to top the list was March 27th-April 8th, 1989, where snowfall totals exploded to 15.5 feet of snow. Quickly slamming my fingers on the calculator, we chalk it up to a staggering 186 inches of snow in less than two weeks. Put that on your snow report and commence bragging.

(20102011 season)

Let’s put some of these numbers into context. Maybe some of you remember the 2010 – 2011 season. For those of us who do, we nearly wilt under the pressure of our memories. It was, in one word, EPIC. The snow just kept coming and coming and coming. By the end of the season, resorts across the west were frantically totaling record snowfall numbers. For the Sierras, it was a banner year. Squaw finished with around 800 inches of snow (perspective: Breckenridge in Colorado averages around 350). However, this season did not start off this way. The snow stake in South Lake Tahoe came up empty in January. However, in March alone, Squaw Valley tallied enough snow to bring sight to the blind: 240 inches. Let me write that in another way: two hundred forty. That is how much snow fell in the month of March! Staggering! That’s 20 feet of beautiful snow in one month! Ski on that.

(There’s a house there somewhere)

As I bask in the beautiful January sun, tanning mirror in hand, I toss aside worries of a lack of snow and brace myself for what is to come. While it may not snow every day in Tahoe, when it does, it is absolutely, unequivocally, mind-bogglingly incredible. Have patience my friends and stay positive – I have a feeling that we are in for a treat.

For more fun photos, check out this photo blog I found:


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