(Photo by Jeff Hehlen, Courtesy of Sierra at Tahoe Ski Resort)
By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer
El Nino means snow, and lots of it, for local skiers. We’re talking snowfall measured in feet rather than inches.
If Big Bear received more than three feet of the pure white stuff in one weekend, just think what the mountains in the northern part of the state are getting.
And as it turns out, parts of the Sierra Nevada range did indeed get more than seven feet of snow just a couple weeks ago.
So it was with some trepidation that we took a weeklong ski vacation to Lake Tahoe. Call it luck, or call it great planning, but there were tons of snow at the ski resorts ringing this beautiful alpine lake.
Indeed, Lake Tahoe offers many different ski options within a short drive of each other. From the biggies like Heavenly and Squaw Valley to smaller areas such as Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe, there’s lots of skiable terrain to enjoy.
I like to start small and work my way up. It gives me the chance to me to brush up on my ski techniques as well as build my stamina.
Sierra at Tahoe is a great place to strap on the boards. It offers lots of tree skiing as well as wide-open slopes.
Even better, beginning skiers (or skiers just beginning to ski this season) can ride all the way to the top of the mountain for an easy cruise back to the bottom. In fact, the Sugar and Spice is a two-and-a-half-mile run down the hill. The well-groomed green offers beginners a chance to practice all the techniques they learn in a ski lesson.
Located just 12 miles west of South Lake Tahoe, Sierra at Tahoe catches the winter storms as they come in off the Pacific and hit the 10,000 foot peaks around the lake.
The resort averages 480 inches of snow every year, but during an El Nino it’s much, much more. The last El Nino winters in 2005-06 and 1997-98 dumped more than 650 inches of snow.
Sierra grooms all its beginners’ runs every night, so youngsters or young-at-heart but old-in-the-legs have smooth, carvable surfaces to enjoy every morning.
In fact, Sierra tries to groom 70 percent of the trails every night, including two black diamond trails.
Soon my ski buddies were scattered all over the mountain. Some liked to ski through the old-growth Red Fir, while others dropped into the steep and deep in Jack’s Bowl and Avalanche Bowl.
Didn’t get there myself, but I understand the new experts only Huckleberry Canyon offers lots of cornice drops, rock chutes and gladed runs.
Sierra at Tahoe boasts 2,000 acres with a vertical of 2,212 feet. The resort tops out at 8,852 feet, starting at a base elevation of 7,300 feet.
The resort offers 46 trails, with 25 percent marked easy, 50 percent more difficult and the remaining quarter most difficult.
Servicing the slopes are three express quads, a triple chairlift, five doubles and three surface lifts.
The laid-back resort has six terrain parks scattered around the mountain. It also has a 17-foot Zaugg Superpipe, the only one on the south shore. A full-time crew keeps the rail lines fresh and the take-offs and landings manicured.
After a great day on the slopes, skiers can enjoy the new 1,800-square-foot deck at the Baja Bar and Grill in West Bowl. Kick back in the Adirondack chairs with a Mexican lunch and a cold beer.
If you’re staying in South Lake Tahoe, the resort’s shuttle offers daily service from three hubs. Lift and lodging packages are available through www.SierraAtTahoe.com.
Lift tickets are $69 for adults, 23 years old and up, $59 for young adults, 13-22, and $17 for children 5-12 years old.
So while the rest of Los Angeles may be grumbling about El Nino and all the rain, area skiers will be grinning from ear to ear as they make their way down the powdery slopes.