First winter storms in the Sierra bring hopes of epic ski season |

First winter storms in the Sierra bring hopes of epic ski season

Boreal Mountain Ski Resort is open from top to bottom, operating three lifts, six runs, one jump and 10 terrain park features.
Submitted by Matt Peterson |

With the first storms of the season, snow recreationists are buzzing with excitement that winter is finally here.

With Mother Nature working in their favor, Donner Summit area ski resorts in eastern Nevada County are opening ahead of schedule to the delight of Sierra Nevada snowboarders and skiers.

Outdoor outfitters, like Mountain Recreation in Grass Valley, are seeing a flush of enthusiastic customers, gearing up for an epic year.

“The store has had a huge surge of energy after the recent storms. The weather is like a light switch for us. As soon as it starts to snow. people get in the ski and snowboard mode almost overnight,” said Jason Auld, owner of Mountain Recreation in Grass Valley.

For several years, the climate has changed dramatically in the Sierra Nevada. In April of 2015, the California Department of Water Resources reported snowpack in the Northern Sierra at five percent of historic average, the lowest since reporting began in 1950. Later in the season, a study of tree rings released in the journal, Nature Climate Change, found snowpack at its lowest level in 500 years.

“Last year we had a promising start but then the faucet turned off in January and never really fired back up,” said Auld. “We are long overdue for a good snow year. I think people have been waiting for so long that the anticipation is greater than I have seen in quite some time. All of the forecasters seem to be pointing in a very positive direction with talk of the largest El Niño ever.”

For the first time in more than a decade, Boreal Mountain Resort in Norden was able to open from “top to bottom” on opening day, Nov. 6.

“Skiers and riders have been traveling to Boreal across multiple states to see how great the conditions have been. Everyone has been trading in tickets to upgrade to a season pass. They have realized that Mother Nature has been gracious with our early season conditions and customers have faith that it will continue all season long,” said Tucker Norred, marketing and communications manager for Boreal.

So far, Boreal has received 23 inches of snowfall with 15 inches from the last storm. Midweek Boreal was operating with three lifts, six runs, one jump and 10 terrain park features.

Alpine Meadows opened Thursday with Kangaroo Chair, a month ahead of time, to be followed by Squaw Valley with Gold Coast Express this Saturday, 11 days before its original Nov. 25 scheduled opening.

Vail Resorts announced Monday that Northstar California and Heavenly Mountain Resort would also open on Saturday. According to its Facebook page, Heavenly is planning to operate the Gondola, Tamarack Express and Dipper Express to access Upper California Trail and Orion’s.

“Mother Nature is completely working in our favor this year. We have two feet of natural snow. We are definitely in a different position than we were last year or the year before that,” said Marcie Bradley, senior communications manager of Northstar California.

A Truckee resident, Bradley says these days her community is all smiles.

“People move here for the snow. The whole town is practically ecstatic,” she said.

A new re-vamped gondola awaits visitors to Northstar along with “California laid-back luxury” such as a 2 p.m. complimentary to lift mountaintop dining, local sourced cuisine and a traditional tree lighting, s’mores and sleighing in the village during Thanksgiving weekend.

At Sugar Bowl, 12-18 inches of new snow was reported, with temperatures cold enough to continue to blow snow. While no official announcements have been made yet, both Sugar Bowl and Royal Gorge are gearing up to open by Thanksgiving.

Forecasts for Saturday show mostly sunny skies followed by a 70 percent chance of snow and 2-4 inches of new snow accumulation possible for Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Mountain Recreation, located at 491 E. Main St. in Grass Valley is a full service ski and snowboard rental and tune/repair shop for alpine and cross country skis, snowboards and snowshoes. A youth season ski lease program is available.

Mountain Recreation will screen the Warren Miller ski film at 7 p.m. on Nov. 28 at Nevada Union High School Don Baggett theatre, a benefit for the NUHS Alpine Ski Team. Tickets are available in advance at Mountain Recreation for $10.

Contact freelance writer Laura Petersen at or 530-913-3067.

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