S nowpack accumulation in the Central Sierra has been dismal so far this winter for snow recreation businesses that rely on snowfall and temperatures cold enough to make snow.
State water scientists are planning their first snow survey of the winter season next week about 90 miles northeast of Sonora, but they’re unlikely to find much.
Snow water content data for the Central Sierra updated Wednesday showed 33 percent of normal for the date Dec. 27, and 11 percent of the average for April 1, when snowpack levels typically peak.
Tom Haglund, general manager for the Tuolumne Utilities District that provides water for more than 44,000 Tuolumne County residents, said Wednesday there are about 7.6 inches of snow water equivalent at Lower Relief Valley, where measurements are made to assess the South Fork Stanislaus watershed. That 7.6 inches represents about 18 percent of the April 1 average.
The first survey of the winter is planned at Phillips Station off Highway 50 on Jan. 3. Phillips is one of hundreds of locations that will be measured this winter and early spring to measure snowpack and snow water equivalents up and down the Sierra Nevada, the state’s most vital water source.
Snow water content measurements can help Golden State water managers anticipate runoff during spring snowmelt.
In the meantime, some businesses are open along highways 4 and 108, but they are still waiting for full-on winter conditions. Some businesses have yet to open for the season due to lack of snow and sustained winter weather.
Lance Vetesy, owner of Leland’s Snow Play off Highway 108 for 27 years, said this is the driest December he can remember.
Vetesy opened on Friday last week when conditions were suitable for 30 st raight hours of snowmaking. But on Wednesday this week he said temperatures have risen, and the current spring-like weather is no longer conducive for making snow with machines. Leland’s Snow Play is still open, but Vetesy and his staff are telling people the overall conditions are not ideal.
“We are open,” Vetesy said in a phone interview. “We’re telling people we wish the conditions were better. If you’re coming long distances it’s probably not worth it, so we hope to see you in 2018.”
Vetesy said he has a crew of 40 employees and he’s keeping everyone working on rotating shifts for now. He said he’s grateful he hasn’t had to lay anyone off, but it’s already shaping up to be a low-revenue winter due to the lack of significant snow through the holiday season.
“It’s hard to do, because this is the season we try to make it,” Vetesy said. “We always hope we get some Christmas business. It looks like this December is shaping up to be one of the driest Decembers of all time.”
Vetesy emphasized that, in order to break even and make a profit, a business like Leland’s Snow Play has to open early and stay open late.
“I’ve seen good years and I’ve seen bad years,” Vetesy said. “We had the four-year drought and we survived it, and now we’re seeing it again and it’s hard so far. Our crews have done a fantastic job to make this hill fun, safe and appealing. But it’s imperative we have snow. We are 90 percent snowmaking right now.”
Vetesy said that on a normal second day after Christmas he sees 200 to 300 cars in the parking lot. On this Dec. 27, he said there were 20 to 30 cars instead.
“Already this season is a bust because we didn’t get Christmas in,” Vetesy said. “This is not a normal revenue year.”
Dodge Ridge off Highway 108 above Pinecrest has yet to open this season.
The ski area’s website states, “Opening day coming soon: Stay tuned for an opening day announcement: Check back for updates.”
Dodge Ridge staff also say on the website that “forecasts are strengthening regarding more significant snowfall as we approach the end of 2017 and kick-off the New Year. We’re ready to go on a moment’s notice as soon as we get that winter storm.”
There are no upcoming events posted on the Dodge Ridge events page.
Bear Valley Resort on Highway 4 is open with concessions, sledding and limited terrain, Marc Gendron, a spokesman for Bear Valley, said Wednesday.
Asked for specifics, Gendron said snow conditions right now are groomed, with a base of 7 inches. Three of 75 trails are open, four lifts are open, five lifts are closed, five acres of the resort’s 1,680 acres are open, the terrain parks are open, tubing is open, there are limited offerings for cross-country skiing and avalanche danger is low.
“The rest is contingent on weather,” Gendron said. “Mother Nature is unpredictable from year to year.”
Mattly Trent, director of guest safety and ski patrol at Bear Valley, said Wednesday in a weather update, “It’s a great time to take a lesson or just bring the family up for some tubing or a try at the climbing wall we have set up off the Lower Breezeway deck.”
Bear Valley Resort was recently named a top West Coast Family Friendly Ski Area in the 2017-18 Best in Snow Awards by Liftopia.
Yosemite Ski and
Supervisors for the ski area in Yosemite National Park hoped to open Dec. 15, but two weeks later that hasn’t happened.
Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area is operated by the Aramark concessioner Yosemite Hospitality.
“We just haven’t had that weather recently,” Ryan Britt with Yosemite Hospitality said Wednesday in Yosemite Valley. “So we did not meet the Dec. 15 opening date. There is some snow on the ground. There’s just not enough to open it up.”
No specific date for opening Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area has been set yet. But Britt said Yosemite Hospitality staff are optimistic about weather forecasts and they are hoping for a mid-January opening.
“Keep doing your snow dances,” Britt said in a phone interview. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Yosemite Hospitality staff opened the Half Dome Village ice rink Dec. 16. It’s open noon to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends. Night skating will be available once lights are installed. Britt said Wednesday light installations were “in motion” and staff were “working on finalizing it.”