Squaw tinkers with extreme ski season

Squaw Valley had received more than 700 inches of snow for the season, with no end in sight. Photo/Squaw Valley

Enough snow at Squaw to last until July 4th? Or into the next season?

Does global warming help explain this winter’s snow?

by Allen Best

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Continuing snowfall in the Sierra Nevada has Andy Wirth, the chief executive of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, musing about an improbable ski season.

“I’m actually considering staying open through the summer and fall so it becomes the 16-17-18 season,” Wirth said on Truckee Tahoe Radio over Easter weekend. “We’re taking a hard look at that. There’s so much snow up there.”

On Monday, a Squaw spokesman, Sam Kieckhefer was less robust in his description of snow conditions, unable to confirm steady skiing to a July 4th closing much less a ski season that spans two winters.

“It’s weather dependent,” he told Mountain Town News. “You never know what will happen over the next few months, whether there’s rain, snow or a hot spell.”

If hot weather arrives, he suggested, Squaw might curtail mid-week skiing to hoard snow for weekend crowds in order to make a July 4th closing. It has reached July 4 four times since records began in the 1961-62 season. The longest season, in 1992-93, lasted 230 days. Last year, if improved over several prior years of drought, Squaw only made it to Memorial Day.

The west shore of Lake Tahoe. 2016 photo/Allen Best

A few miles away, water from Lake Tahoe began spilling over its artificial rim into the Truckee River. It was the first time since 2006 that water was deliberately spilled from the lake, reported the Sierra Sun.

With so much snow in the surrounding mountains, streams feeding into the lake will continue to be full for months to come. Typically, inflow peaks in June or July, but this year the peak isn’t expected to occur until August, the newspaper said.

In mid-April, water officials in California reported that the northern Sierra Nevada has had the wettest winter in recorded history. It has several times been snowier, but this year was the wettest, both rain and snow falling from what were called atmospheric rivers from the Pacific Ocean. See the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s explanation of atmosphere rivers.

Kevin Trenberth

In Denver, climate scientist Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research last week said he believes that the atmospheric rivers were enhanced by 15 percent or so by global warming.

He had said the same thing soon after Hurricane Sandy battered New York City and New Jersey in 2013. In that case, some other climate scientists were more hesitant to link global warming with the extreme weather.

Such weather events are normal, said Trenberth at his talk at the Denver Public Library, but are given greater strength because of the greater warming in the ocean and atmosphere.

Weather, he said, has shown the influence of greenhouse gas emissions since about the 1970s. ”That’s when global warming really rears its head,” he said.


About Allen Best

Allen Best is a Colorado-based journalist. He publishes a subscription-based e-zine called Mountain Town News, portions of which are published on the website of the same name, and also writes for a variety of newspapers and magazines.
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3 Responses to Squaw tinkers with extreme ski season

  1. Joan Clayburgh says:

    I really enjoyed how you illustrated with this story the relationship of climate change to extreme weather. I think the majority of people are still unaware of this element of climate warming adding more ‘energy’ behind storm events. Thanks for all your good reporting Allen!

  2. Tom Fitch says:

    Not sure of the accepted terminology these days, but isn’t “climate change” a bit more accurate than “global warming”? GW kind of conveys that the entire planet is warming, and I’m pretty sure that has never been the message. As far as I know, scientists have always maintained that there will be areas which are colder than the historic norms.

    • Allen Best says:

      True enough, but he used the phrase global warming, and it’s the operative element in the increased energy in the events he was talking about. And he’s one of the world’s most prominent climate scientists. So, that’s why I did it that way, Tom. But thanks for bringing this up!

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