Timely snowstorms have made this a season to remember for Tahoe resorts

By: Jeffrey Weidel/Special to Gold Country News Service
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In the advertising world, identifying the appropriate product and developing a marketing scheme behind it is standard procedure.

In some respects, ski resorts are like any other business. They are selling products and services to their customer base and promoting them through advertising to further enhance sales.

However, the guessing game for the ski industry is that their main commodity – snow – can derail even the best marketing plan if it rarely makes an appearance. Of course, on the flip side, snowy weather is by far the industry’s greatest advertising tool.

At Lake Tahoe resorts this season, marketing reps can’t stop smiling. Their job has been rather simple, thanks to timely snowstorms that arrived before their three main holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas and Presidents Day weekend.
“Fresh snow really makes all of us look good,” laughs Steven Hemphill, the communications manager at Sierra-at-Tahoe.

No one has looked any better of late than Kirkwood ski resort. Due to its higher elevation than many other Tahoe-area resorts, snowstorms can be epic, which has certainly been the case. Heading into Presidents Day weekend, Michael Dalzell, Kirkwood’s director of sales and marketing, was proudly reporting a whopping 12 feet of fresh snow.

“We could not have come up with a better marketing plan. We got 12 feet of snow in five days,” Dalzell said, adding that another three feet fell the week after. “Our conditions right now are unreal. There is just such a buzz around town. We have bottomless powder. People who have been coming here for a long time are saying they’ve never skied conditions like this. It’s a skier’s paradise.”

Desperate for snow, the delivery in mid-February was perfectly executed. Days before Presidents Day weekend, a wet and heavy snow put down a quick base on the existing hard pack, then the temperature dropped, and some of the year’s lightest snow came in bunches. The storm gave all of Tahoe’s resorts at least six feet of new snow, and most resorts were reporting more.

The siren went out: Lake Tahoe resorts have a ton of fresh powder.

“We had sunshine and over 100 inches of fresh snow. We couldn’t have come up with a better marketing plan than this,” said John Monson, Sugar Bowl’s director of sales and marketing.

But Monson and all his ski industry contemporaries were greatly concerned when the bluebird days began appearing all too regularly in January. Temperatures were unseasonably high, snow was beginning to disappear, and skiing and snowboarding slick hard-pack runs were becoming the rule, not the exception.

In hindsight, no snow for nearly six weeks wasn’t so bad, Monson said.

“We had an incredible amount of early snow for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Monson said. “Then we had a mid-season break with a lot of groomer days and sunny weather, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Now we’ve returned to winter and have an abundance of new snow.”

Recent additional snow pushed Sierra over the 500-inch mark for the season and had Hemphill and his staff scrambling to see if that was approaching a record season. The previous five-year average was 480 inches.

Kirkwood eclipsed 500 inches as well and was looking into its archives at the possibility of a record-breaking season.

So what does all this snow accumulation mean for the rest of the season? More good news, of course. Monson was predicting most of Lake Tahoe’s resorts would remain open through Easter, which this year arrives quite late – April 24.

“Who knows what’s coming next? But even if California turns on the sunshine now, we’ll have quality skiing conditions regardless,” Monson said. “We all have deep-enough snow that will take us into late April. Overall, it’s been a fantastic season.”

Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area freelance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.