Friday, November 13, 2015

HIGH HOPES AND OPEN SLOPES

Courtesy of Heavenly Mountain via Facebook
There is a buzz in the ski shops this week in Northern California. The smell of wax, the clatter of skis and exhilaration of people looking to find the right ski, boot or snowboard. A series of autumn rains and snows this past week have brought high hopes for an exceptional ski season and a much-needed replenishment of the snowpack to the Sierra Nevada mountains. Instead of last year's dry mountainsides, skiers and snow boarders are finding the slopes in a shimmering white. So much snow,  that ski resorts shut down most of last winter during California's drought are kicking off the season with an early pre-Thanksgiving start.
“This is the third storm that’s rolled through and we’re in early November, so this is fantastic,”  Michael Reitzell, president of the California Ski Industry Association, told the Guardian  “Everyone in California is excited to see rain, but the fact that it is also falling in the form of snow in the mountains is fantastic.”
The area has been blanket with as much as two feet of power with another foot expected this weekend prompting Tahoe’s ski giants Alpine Meadows, Squaw Valley, Heavenly and Northstar to open this weekend. This is the earliest the resorts have opened since 2012, and the first time opening six days ahead of schedule since at least 2009.

"Welcome El Niño!" said Lake Tahoe area ski rep, Adrienne Schneider, "You can stay as long as you like! Stoked!" El Nino is being echoed by skiers from Mammoth near Yosemite to Mount Rose near Reno. El Niño is the strong warm-water mass in the Pacific that can sometimes yield strong winter snow totals, especially in the southern half of the western United States. The snow enthusiasts have had a long wait hoping it materializes. “I’m telling people to be a cautiously optimist,” told Bryan Allegretto to the San Francisco Chronicle “Don’t run around in the streets jumping up and down yet." Allegretto is an OpenSnow forecaster in the Sierra. OpenSnow, a partnership of forecasters living in U.S. ski towns.  He estimates that resorts in the Tahoe area stand a 98% to 134% percent chance of seeing above-average snowfall this winter.

Other forecasters, though, are cautioning against putting too much faith in El Niño especially this early on. Reno-based National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Tolby told the Tahoe Daily Tribune ""I think it's important to understand that every El Niño is different. The correlation with receiving above average precipitation is highest in January through March." So even though there is a chance for a strong El Niño, it just hasn't gotten here yet.  Allegretto credits an active early snow pattern that has just been missing in the Sierra in the last few years. He wrote in his Daily Snow Forecast last week, "We are in a great pattern right now with the ridge staying North of Hawaii keeping the storm door open."

Strong El Niños of the past have yielded winters that are only slightly snowier than average,  so while the outlook remains anything but certain, one thing is abundantly clear, the ski industry could use the snow along with the rest of California. Snowpack is a key factor in California's water supply. Scientists say, in a normal year, melting Sierra Nevada snow provides the state with one-third of its water. Another third is pumped from aquifers, and the rest comes from rivers and reservoirs.

"I think it's been nice having these small storms the past couple weeks. I hope they are indicative of what is to come." said Pete DeLosa, a Northern California based kayaker with Team Pryanha,  "If we continue this pattern of a foot of snow each week I think we will be in good shape by spring time. The rains we have been getting down low haven't really amounted to anything yet as far as boat-able flows. We are supposed to get another two day rain and snow next week and I'm hoping that it will lead to some rain fed paddling."
Like the ski season, much of California's kayaking and rafting season suffered during last year's long hot summer. Low flows on some of its rivers and dried up reservoirs, are common place in the fourth year of extreme drought. Delosa knows more snow means more to water in next year's rivers. "I have no real idea what we will get for water this winter but I am a believer in the power of positive thinking and I am determined to believe that these small storms we've had are the beginning of great things to come."