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For Tahoe resorts, white Christmas arrives just in time

By: Jeffrey Weidel, Special to The Press-Tribune
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There’s no doubt the Lake Tahoe economy depends heavily on the ski season to help fill its hotels, visit its restaurants, spend money at its casinos, and in general leave behind a trail of cash that gets spread around throughout the region’s business community. And there is no more important time than right now during the holiday season. Experience a poor one and the ramifications are felt all through the year. That explains why the amount of gifts under the Christmas tree may be deemed less important than the amount of accumulated snow. In fact, there’s a good chance in many households the two are quite interrelated – minimal snow equals a minimal amount of gifts. Thanks to a number of recent storm systems that generously dropped snow by the foot, the Tahoe region is definitely enjoying a merry Christmas. In early December, the few resorts that were opened were measuring snow by the inches and crossing their fingers that much more was on the way. “Oh yeah, that was quite a Christmas present we’ve gotten over the past week and there is much more on the way,” said Rachael Woods, a spokesperson for both Alpine Meadows and Homewood Mountain Resort. “It seems like Mother Nature really gave us a great present. It’s been snowing like crazy up here.” On Tahoe’s south shore, business was taking off so quickly that Heavenly communications director Russ Pecoraro had no time to sample the product on the Saturday before Christmas, where a break in the weather resulted in sun-drenched day with good snow. Heavenly had 15 lifts open for the weekend and was anticipating all 30 to be operating by Christmas Day. “Absolutely, it’s good times right now, we keep opening more and more terrain each day,” Pecoraro said. Not only does the holiday snow bring business prosperity to the region, it means many of the area’s residents can regularly hit the slopes and begin utilizing their season passes. That’s the case for snowboarder Hilary Randall, who moved to Tahoe four years ago from Santa Cruz. “It’s perfect right now, this is what we’ve been waiting for,” said Randall, 22. “It seems like the snow has been coming later and later each year. But it’s here now and it brings a great feeling. Everyone has their Christmas lights up and now there’s lots of snow on the ground. Everyone is up here for the same reason this time of year – to have fun.” While many resorts depend on high hotel occupancy to fill its slopes, Sugar Bowl receives a lot of one-day visitors due to location, situated off Interstate 80 as the nearest resort to Sacramento and the Bay Area. Of course, Sugar Bowl is still in the same situation as all resorts. Poor snow means its parking lot remains relatively empty during the biggest boom time of the season. “Thanksgiving was a wash this year, so this recent snow is absolutely huge for us,” said John Monson, Sugar Bowl’s director of sales and marketing. “We need the business this time of year, it really sets the tone for the rest of the season. Everyone is concerned about the economy and how that will affect the ski industry. But we’ve learned in the past if the snow is good people are going to come out and enjoy it.” At Squaw Valley, the enjoyment takes on a different meaning during the holidays. Thanks to the recent snow, a Christmas Eve tradition continued with the picturesque Torchlight Parade scheduled to take place before a sea of onlookers an hour after the lifts close. Other traditions include Santa sightings on skis, Christmas carolers and a base area decorated to the hilt. “With all the snow we’ve received and the number of things we have going on this week it really is a winter wonderland right now,” Squaw spokesperson Savannah Cowley said. The holidays provide some different experiences at Heavenly as well. Lifts open a half hour early each day (8:30 a.m.), free hot chocolate is served to people awaiting busses, and the number of helpful greeters and hosts has been increased. “This is a lot of people’s big vacation for the year, so we want to make sure we step it up for the holidays and help people out anyway we can,” Pecoraro said. “We want everything running, every run groomed well so that people have a great time and want to come back.” Jeffrey Weidel is a Sacramento-area free-lance writer with more than 25 years of skiing experience.