Chairlifts are up and running at most major Sierra Nevada ski resorts, boasting the earliest coverage and earliest openings since 2012. Cold temperatures have allowed for snow making and laying down a base, while early-season storms have dumped up to two feet of fresh snow on some peaks. After the disappointment of the last several seasons, the anticipation among California’s beleaguered snow sports athletes is building.
And with good reason: There’s plenty to be excited about for the 2015-2016 ski season in the Sierra Nevada (and there's more than the snow to celebrate, too!). Here, 10 reasons you’ll be psyched to get skiing and riding again soon.
1. El Niño.
While in some years the promised storms never seems to materialize, this year it’s almost a guarantee. The so-called “Godzilla El Niño,”caused in part by warmer than average ocean temperatures in the Pacific, is quite possibly the strongest event ever recorded. Scientists are reporting that the temperature off the coast of Chile, one of the indicators of the strength of the event, just surpassed the previous mark set in 1997. Regardless of the historical record, this year’s weather is likely to bring heavy precipitation across California—in Tahoe at least 33% more precipitation than an average year between January and March. This means snow. If you love to ski or ride (and were horrified that weather stations in San Francisco recorded zero precipitation in January 2015), this season stands a chance at redeeming itself.
2. The snow that has already fallen.
It’s only mid-November, and some resorts in have already been open for over weeks. In fact, some opened early, which hasn’t happened since 2012 (see reason number one above). Mt. Rose —Tahoe’s highest base at 8,260—opened November 4 th , and Mammoth Mountain green-lighted its lifts on November 5 th —a week early—after getting 30 inches in a single storm event. Following these two front-runners, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows (the largest single ski area in the U.S.) opened two weeks early, and perennial favorites Kirkwood , Heavenly , Northstar , and Boreal , were up and running by the second weekend of the month. While many of these resorts make snow in addition to relying on the fickle snow gods, early snow and cold temperatures are critical for While many make their snow, there’s a good base building! Mammoth is already reporting 42 inches up top, and the 25 inches reported at Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows is a great start.
3. The snow that is going to fall.
Do your snow dance, wear your pajamas inside out, pray to the snow gods: whatever you did as a kid to bring the snow when you didn’t want to go to school. But even without those hopeful superstitions, California could be in for a big year. Resorts in the Sierra can get some unfathomable accumulation when the conditions are right; Mammoth recorded a total snowfall during the 2010-2011 season of more than 660 inches, and the average hovers around 400 inches. To put it into perspective, last year’s tally was 176 inches. If, or should we say when, the big storms come, there’s no shame in pulling another childhood stunt and developing a sudden “sickness” so you can get fresh tracks midweek without the weekend lift lines (and score midweek ticket deals).
4. New incentive for a ski vacation.
This year, with conditions shaping up the way they are and resorts open well before Thanksgiving, holiday mountain vacations could be a viable possibility. Take advantage of your days off around Thanksgiving and Christmas and get yourself some fresh mountain air. With an amazing range of accommodation options and 15 alpine resorts, not to mention the backcountry, Lake Tahoe is an ideal vacation destination. Whether your style is crashing on a friend's couch, checking in with more friends than beds to a midrange South Lake Tahoe motel, or treating yourself to a stay at a posh place like the Resort at Squaw Creek, one of Tahoe’s premiere destination hotels that recently completed a $7 million guest room renovation, drawing inspiration from the scenery and nature of the Tahoe region. Whatever your style is, get away for the holidays, the only white Christmas you will have in San Francisco is one that is white with fog.
5. Beer tastes better after skiing.
The craft beer scene in Tahoe has exploded during the past year—the area now boasts seven breweries, giving you ample choices for your après ski hangout. In true Tahoe style, there's also a new Tahoe Ale Trail map, which explains how to go between breweries and restaurants via boat, bike, or hike. While SUP-ing for beer is out of the question for most of us during the winter, Ale Trail highlights are accessible from your favorite mountains. Northstar has Backyard Bar & BBQ, Rocker@Squaw, an extreme-skiing themed watering hole is in Squaw Village, and old favorite Tahoe Mountain Brewing Co. and newcomer Alibi Ale Works also promise delicious winter brews. In South Lake Tahoe, be sure to check out Stateline Brewery at Heavenly resort.
6. Fresh dating terrain.
If you are underwhelmed by San Francisco’s urban dating scene, your favorite data app might be a lot more exciting slope-side than in the city. Spend some time up in the mountains this winter, and just maybe, over après pints, you’ll meet a fellow powder junkie who also wants to wake up before sunrise for fresh tracks. With ample places to get cozy, good food and drink options, and tons of activities, Tahoe and Mammoth can be ideal places to find romance. Mountain towns seem to self-select for an active—and attractive—crowd. After all, beer isn’t the only thing that’s better after a day on the slopes, so strike up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on the chairlift. After all, flirting while riding Chair 22 at Mammoth is easy compared to the last line you ripped down Avalanche Chutes.
7. A burgeoning backcountry scene.
Industry experts are reporting significant growth in the backcountry skiing and boarding in California. Increasing numbers of athletes combat mediocre snow conditions and expensive lift tickets by invest in gear and training to allow them to access backcountry terrain. Backcountry skiing and boarding combines the beauty and adventure of remote terrain accessible only by foot (or ski) with the thrill of steep slopes. Resorts like Northstar are starting to cater to this crop of adventure seekers, offering services like their new “ Out of Bounds Private Guide ” program that provides coaching and access to out-of-bounds terrain. For those who prefer a DIY approach, the Sierra Avalanche Center maintains a list of avalanche safety and backcountry skills courses happening in the winter. Safe and responsible backcountry skiing and boarding requires significant formal training. Support the Sierra Avalanche Center and celebrate the return of winter at the annual Backcountry Ball , with proceeds benefitting the “Know Before You Go” program.
8. Great savings on tap via season passes.
In theory, you saved a bunch of money by skiing fewer days than normal during 2014-2015’s epically bad season. Roll over your skiing budget over from last year and consider splurging on a season pass for this year. There are a plethora of options to consider in order to optimize value depending on your schedule, how many days you are planning to ski, and where. The Cali4nia Pass offers all access and no blackout dates at Mammoth Mountain, Bear Mountain, June Mountain, and Snow Summit, as well as other perks. Epic Pass has an option that includes several Tahoe resorts as well as resorts in Colorado. Epic’s Tahoe Local Pass has unlimited skiing and riding with some blackout dates at Heavenly, Northstar and Kirkwood, as well as Ski-With-A-Friend Perks. Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows, Sierra-at-Tahoe, and Sugarbowl have partnered to offer the Tahoe Super Pass, another great choice. If you can’t swing the pass, Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows just launched #TahoePassQuest, a scavenger hunt in San Francisco. Clues will be sent via social media and the grand prize is a Gold Tahoe Super Pass.
9. Motivation to get in shape.
As the days grow shorter and the mornings darker, it becomes increasingly difficult to drag yourself out of bed for a morning run or fitness class. But now that ski season is upon us, that’s great motivation to get moving again. Fitness and strength are essential for avoiding injury and having the stamina to do run after run on the most vertical. When your alarm goes off in the morning and you feel like hitting snooze, picture yourself carving perfect turns down your favorite face without stopping to let your legs recover. Running (particularly up and downhill), hiking, other cardio, and leg strength exercises like squats are generally good for skiing and snowboarding.
10. Buying new gear (or dusting off your tried-and-true stuff).
If there's ever a reason to upgrade your setup, the promise of an epic winter is it. Don't need new stuff? Then set aside a few hours to prep your gear for the season, which is official upon us. If you live in the Bay Area, last season you probably barely got your skis or board out of your closet, out from under your bed, or from your lucky friend who has a garage. This year is a different story—track down your lost mitten, replace your moth-eaten base layers, put a fresh coat of wax on your equipment, and hit the slopes.