Talk about going from 0 to 60 in nothing flat!
The month of December 2021 dawned in the Sierra Nevada range with a less-than-minimal snow coverage at most ski resorts — the big exception being Mammoth Mountain, which was carefully husbanding the remnants of a huge pre-Halloween storm — and conditions stayed that way for more than a week as snow-making opportunities proved fruitless due to unusually warm weather.
The traditional season-opening Thanksgiving weekend was a bust, and skiers, snowboarders and local water boards were furiously doing their snow dances.
Waves of Storms
Then all hell broke loose around the 10th.
Storm after storm came crashing into the Sierra out of the Gulf of Alaska, piling up the goods and causing a mixture of relief and angst — relief that wishes were granted and winter had arrived in time for the holidays and angst that maybe too much was asked for.
Because when the dust had settled and the sun rose on 2022, a record had been officially set for the most snow ever in the month of December at the Central Sierra Snow Lab at Donner Pass: 214 inches. That’s 17.8 feet of snow, folks, and ‘21 ended with more snow on the ground in the Sierra at the conclusion of December than it had in a decade.
The massive three-week window of dumpage, a.k.a. DEEPcember, which broke the previous record of 179 inches set in 1970, allowed just about every Sierra and Tahoe area resorts to get going for the season, albeit somewhat slowly.
The Bad … and the Good
The storms — with their associated high winds and blowing snow — wreaked a lot of havoc: Around 60,000 people were without power, some for several days; the two major highways crossing the Sierra, Interstate 80 over Donner Summit and U.S. Highway 50 over Echo Summit, were closed off and on for three days, causing shortages at supermarkets and gas stations in Truckee, Tahoe City and South Lake Tahoe, among other communities, and many Tahoe area ski resorts were shut down the Monday and Tuesday following Christmas because of too much of a good thing.
But after getting the lifts, parking lots and outbuildings dug out dug out by the first of year, the Sierra ski resorts found themselves with an abundance of product and an eager customer base ready to sample the goods:
- Bear Valley reports a base depth of 82 inches with 46 of 56 runs open
- Boreal reports a base depth of 135 inches with 18 of 34 runs open
- Dodge Ridge reports a base depth of 45-66 inches with 67 of 67 runs open
- Heavenly reports a base depth of 63-89 inches with 62 of 97 runs open
- Homewood reports a base depth of 66-109 inches with 61 of 67 runs open
- June Mountain reports a base depth of 65 inches with 43 of 43 runs open
- Kirkwood reports a base depth of 79-92 inches and 85 of 85 runs open
- Mammoth reports a base depth of 98-170 inches with 150 of 15 runs open
- Northstar reports a base depth of 62-114 inches with 99 of 100 runs open
- Palisades Tahoe (formerly Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows) reports a base depth of 76 inches with 97 of 245 runs open
- Sugar Bowl reports a base depth of 84-127 inches with 78 of 105 runs open
Down the Line
And with 160 percent of the average snow depth for this time of year on the ground, the Sierra skiing and snowboarding season — barring any drastic and unseasonable warming trend in the next few weeks — is looking to be pretty set until early spring.
Still, we should throw out a word of caution: At the end of December 2012, the snowpack at the Central Sierra Snow Lab was 137 of average; by the end of the snow season in mid-April the snowpack was at 47 percent of average.
And that season, as this one is, was a La Niña winter.