Powerful winter storms slammed the Tahoe Sierra this January and the region is just recovering from overwhelming snowfall, frequent avalanches, resort closures, power outages and deadly tree falls. The region is now experiencing an extended break from harsh weather with the next potential surge of Pacific moisture about a week away. It’s the perfect time to hit the slopes with Tahoe resorts at full operation again.
The recent series of winter storms set monthly snowfall records at many Sierra resorts. Squaw Valley, Alpine Meadows, Heavenly Valley, Kirkwood Mountain Resort and Mammoth Mountain all picked up more than 23 feet of snow during the first three weeks of January.
Although many Tahoe Sierra resorts set their all-time monthly snowfall totals this January, they didn’t come close to the California record of 32.5 feet measured in January 1911 at Tamarack, California. Click here to see all Sierra Nevada snowfall records.
Big winters often provide much drama and risk for residents and visitors in the mountains. On Jan. 12, while crawling along in slow, southbound traffic on Highway 89 just north of the Squaw Valley intersection, a 43-year-old Tahoe City woman was killed when a snow-loaded tree fell on her Subaru. The weather was relatively calm with light wind and variable snowfall when Emmanuelle Delavoye’s car was crushed by the large pine. The tree also hit a Cadillac Escalade, but the sole male occupant in that vehicle escaped injury.
Tragedy struck Squaw Valley on Jan. 24 when 42-year-old Squaw Valley ski patrolman Joe Zuiches was killed while deploying hand charges during avalanche control. Zuiches was a highly trained member of Squaw’s professional ski patrol and a resident of Olympic Valley. The incident is under investigation, but apparently while conducting AC on Gold Coast Ridge there was a premature detonation of one or more of the explosive charges that he was carrying. A GoFundMe memorial was established for Joe’s surviving wife and infant son, which has raised nearly $200,000 in less than two days.
To help protect the men and women on its ski patrol, KSL, the parent company of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows recently installed $1.5 million worth of new Gazex Inertia Exploders on avalanche prone zones of their mountains. The so-called Dragons concuss unstable snow into releasing slides without risk to ski patrol and can be activated remotely day or night. A mixture of gases fills a steel reservoir embedded in the mountain with an angled barrel about 15 feet above ground. A spark is introduced into the reservoir and the controlled explosion blasts the snow with a concussive sound wave to trigger slides. One Dragon was installed on Gold Coast Ridge so we’ll have to wait the results of the investigation to find out why ski patrol was in the area with traditional hand charges.
This winter is still on a near record-setting pace as the wettest starting for the Northern Sierra 8-Station Index. Reservoirs in Northern California and Western Nevada are filling fast and some early storage releases are already in progress. Based on a July 1 thru Jan. 31 time frame, the only winters that have had a wetter start in the Northern Sierra since 1922 are 1996-97 & 1955-56.
Lake Tahoe’s water level has been on the rise since the first Atmospheric Rivers arrived last October. Currently Big Blue’s level is at 6,225.08 ft Mean Sea Level, well above its natural rim where it had languished during the extended drought conditions of the past few years. It is a tremendous increase in storage for this vital reservoir. This winter’s heavy precipitation has also dramatically eliminated many regions in the Golden State suffering from extreme and exceptional drought, including all of Northern California.
Despite its snowbound appearance, the Tahoe North Shore Lodge is still open for business in Carnelian Bay.
On a lighter note, during the morning of Jan. 24 two young men traveling on Highway 89 near Alpine Meadows Road were hit by an avalanche and trapped in their car. The vehicle was suddenly buried under 6 feet of snow and David Ortiz and his roommate Neale were initially panic stricken. But after calling 911 and learning that rescuers were on their way the lucky pair decided to enjoy the moment and began taking selfies of themselves inside the snowbound vehicle. They were freed about 30 minutes later by first responders.
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