After several dry seasons, many Lake Tahoe ski resorts rejoiced when they were hit with an early snow that kicked off the ski season in October.
But Sierra at Tahoe was too damaged by the summer’s wildfires to open safely, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and in fact will be closed until at least early 2022. It is the first ski resort in the country to take a “direct hit” from wildfires, said Scot Rogers, district ranger with the Eldorado National Forest, where the resort is located and where the bulk of the Caldor fire damage took place.
“We’ve had some other ski runs or sides of ski areas burn,” Rogers told the Chronicle. “But getting hit by a whole flame front is new.”
The resort will be closed for the remainder of 2021 but higher-ups hope it can reopen for a shortened 2022 season if repairs to the lifts and “hazard tree” removal can be made by then. The resort’s longtime manager John Rice told the Chronicle that “at a minimum, we’re open 100% next season.”
The Caldor fire burned for nearly two months this summer, torching over 220,000 acres and leading to evacuation orders for thousands in the South Lake Tahoe area. Rice knew the fire was coming and worked with a private structure-defense crew to do what they could to protect the 75-year-old resort before they evacuated. But even aiming snow-making water hydrants at chairlift terminals was not enough to save them.
Though the terminals are still standing, safety assessments revealed that six out of nine lifts need major repair work, including Grandview Express, which runs 1,500 feet from the base area to the top of Huckleberry Mountain. Thousands of trees were burned and the “hazard trees” that remain but are in danger of toppling still need to be removed. Clean up crews have been powered by two generators as the main electrical hookup is still out.
If the resort can get that power line functioning, repair the Grandview lift and clear the hazard trees, it can reopen the majority of its groomed terrain in early 2022. Unfortunately, the resort’s West Bowl area is too damaged and will not reopen this ski season.
Even after this season has passed, bigger questions remain about how the area will be reforested and how that will change the 2,000-acre resort’s ski conditions.
“There’s really no playbook to follow so we’re making it up as we go,” Rice said. “This isn’t the last fire that’s going to hit a ski area, so the whole world is watching us.”
[San Francisco Chronicle] — Emily Landes