Area ski resorts relish the snow

Sierra turning into a winter wonderland

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comDecember 27, 2012 

Possible snowy conditions are predicted to continue in the Sierra over the weekend, with national parks officials and regional ski destinations preparing for the much-anticipated winter weather.

The snow accumulation in the Sierra Nevada is almost as high as it was at last year's peak in mid-April, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources.

As the central Sierra region enjoys a snowpack around 150 percent of the average for this time of year, Yosemite National Park saw visitors file in Dec. 14 for the opening of the Badger Pass Ski Area.

This is a welcome change from last year's "challenging" winter season, said Lisa Cesaro, spokeswoman for DNC Parks & Resorts, which runs the park's ski facility and hotels.

"We have a lot of families that go to the park, so it's great to be able to offer skiing and other winter sports during this time," she said. "There's a lot of people in the local communities that come out and love to play in the fresh snow."

At the same time, Glacier Point Road has been opened for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, according to park officials. From the groomed trail, visitors can access trails leading to backcountry areas, such as Ostrander Lake and Dewey Point.

While many flock to the park to enjoy the winter aesthetic, snow and ice on the road mean less overall wintertime traffic, with December usually drawing about 120,000 visitors, according to park officials.

"When it snows heavy, like it did the last couple of days, we see less people just because people are less willing to drive in mountainous roads," said Kari Cobb, park spokeswoman.

Drivers in the park are required to have chains or four-wheel drive with snow tires on Highways 120, 140 and 41, as well as on Badger Pass Road. Hetch Hetchy, Mariposa, Glacier Point and Tioga roads are closed to vehicle traffic.

While travelers can find winter conditions precarious, robust snowfall helps maintain the park's natural ecosystem, Cobb said. "Usually the winter is a chance to refresh and reset."

More snow accumulation in the high country likely means more springtime wild flowers, greener meadows, healthier soil and longer running waterfalls, she said.

Snowy conditions provide a good opportunity to see some of the park's wildlife, she added. "The best time to see bobcats are in the winter. They're fairly shy, so in the winter when there not a lot of people and it's quiet, you see them fairly often."

Up in eastern Tuolumne County, Dodge Ridge ski resort and other businesses in the region welcomed to the recent snowfall, as they depend on wintry weather to thrive.

Dodge Ridge received 43 inches of snow in 72 hours last weekend, said Jeff Hauff, the resort's spokesman. "Every resort is going to be crowded. Lines will be longer than they typically are."

He said the maximum wait in ski-lift lines likely will be only 10 to 15 minutes. Every ski run and trail at Dodge Ridge is open. "You really couldn't ask for anything more as a skier and as a resort."

Lance Vetesy, owner of Leland High Sierra Snow Play on Highway 108, said he hopes to draw big crowds this week after a terrible winter season in 2011-12.

"Last year was absolutely catastrophic," he said. "Instead of a typical four-month season, Leland was open for only six weeks last winter because of a lack of snow."

Modesto Bee reporter Rosalio Ahumada contributed to this report.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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