Snow daze – In high Sierra, residents adjust to one colossus of a winter |

Snow daze – In high Sierra, residents adjust to one colossus of a winter

The snow that drifted into the downtown areas of Grass Valley and Nevada City earlier this week disappeared almost as quickly as it fell, with the day warm and the skies clear by nightfall.

But in the higher elevations of the county, the snow from recent winter storms has stuck. And fallen again. And stuck.

In many spots, it has little place left to go, and piles have reached the height of small mountains – a sight that has become a familiar part of life for residents who live there.

“My house is pretty buried. It looks like an igloo,” said Isaac Villalobos, an employee at Tait’s Boardshop in Truckee.

As one drives east along Highway 20 from Nevada City, the texture of the snow changes – mud and slush turns into a solid corridor of white snow. Hitting Interstate 80, the walls of white have grown even more, carved sharply by the Caltrans machines that move through after each storm, clearing the way for skiers, commuters, and other travelers.

The job of clearing roads during winter storms is tough, and reinforcements are called in from around the state to fill in for the 12-hour shifts.

During the last storm, 21 employees from the Central Valley and the Bay Area were called from the Caltrans “snow list” to help out the 10 workers in the Truckee area, said Caltrans supervisor Gary Wasson. He said the storms of the past few weeks were the worst he’s seen during his 10 years of living in Truckee.

Local resident Sue Simpson said she lives about 15 minutes from her retail shop, Molly’s Cupboard, in downtown Truckee, and that it can be difficult to navigate a path to work when the snow won’t stop.

“Sometimes the roads are blocked, but as a local you have to find different ways to get into town,” she said.

Only once has it gotten so bad that the store had to close since she has been a co-owner, Simpson said.

But for motorists passing through, roads full of snow can leave them stranded in the whitewashed expanse of the high Sierra.

Simpson said she has witnessed several visitors end up desperate because the roads both into and out of town are closed and all the hotels are full. She said she has tried to help some people find places to stay, calling friends who may be willing to house strangers.

While many of the tourist-oriented shops in the Truckee area rely on the snow to bring in visitors during the winter sport season, heavy snowfall can even threaten those businesses that depend on it.

“It’s not good for the business,” Villalobos said at the boardshop. He moved from Southern California to the high Sierra five years ago and said he likes to go snowboarding when the roads aren’t closed.

Firefighters responding to emergencies are equipped to handle the snow-laden roads. When they respond to fire calls, the Truckee Fire Department loads all its gear into a “front-end loader,” a piece of heavy machinery capable of managing the roads, said Lin Crowell, who is a paramedic-firefighter with the department.

“It’s for digging out hydrants,” he said, adding that the weather “tends to (make it) take longer, but nothing else can get there faster.”

During snow season, Crowell said the most common accidents are people getting trapped by snow falling from rooftops, ski injuries, and vehicle wrecks.

For the most part, Truckee area residents seem to be prepared to handle heavy snowfall, with the road closures and daily grueling task of blowing snow just a fact of life.

Mary Bibler, a new resident in Truckee, said she moved from the coastal town of Arcata for “a change of scenery.” While this has been her first intense winter, Bibler is not anxious to split town, admitting that the snow can be “frustrating, but cool.”

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