Snow is thin at Sierra ski areas, but riders are making do

The Fresno BeeJanuary 8, 2014 

Since the start of the winter sports season in November, China Peak has received less than two feet of snow and has just four of seven lifts serving limited runs — about 12% of its total operations — and is making snow at every opportunity.

MARK CROSSE — Fresno Bee Staff Photo Buy Photo

Options for snowboarders and skiers seeking fresh powder in the Sierra are running dry, literally, but that hasn't discouraged some local riders.

Since the start of the winter sports season last November, China Peak has received less than two feet of snow and has just four of seven lifts serving limited runs -- about 12% of its total operations.

"It hasn't prevented me from going up," said Colby Juarez, a 26-year-old Fresno State student. "Snowboarding is something I love to do, rain or sunshine, I go to (China Peak) almost every weekend."

In Yosemite, Badger Pass Ski Area opened its Nordic Center on Dec. 20 for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing but closed it a week later due to lack of snow, resort spokesperson Lisa Cesaro said.

"It's extremely unusual for January. We had enough snow coverage for the road that leads to Glacier Point, but the snow melted and we closed it. It's definitely been a dry winter for us," Cesaro said.

It's been so dry that Yosemite has bike rentals available as an alternative, an option that's normally closed during the winter due to snow and ice.

"It almost feels like its spring here," Cesaro said.

And the forecast is looking grim, with no wet weather expected over the next several days, according to the National Weather service.

At China Peak, owner Tim Cohee has been snowmaking when conditions allow to groom the open runs with about 8-10 inches. Cohee said he's planning to make snow at every opportunity to meet riders' needs.

On Saturday, Nestor Leyva went snowboarding at the Huntington Lake resort and still had a good time, albeit on machine-made snow: "It's definitely still fun but it's just a little harder and not the same feel. Powder is so much softer," said Leyva, 23 of Fresno. "The terrain park is noticeably worse, too."

For some skiers, however, the conditions were more on the upside due thanks to the machines and staffers at China Peak.

"The grooming has been done really well given that Mother Nature hasn't been cooperating," Brenna Blagg said. "There are several good runs available and it's still a good time to get out of the Valley air."

Juarez said he generally arrives early in the day for fresh runs, but now he's waiting a few hours for the snow to soften for the best conditions: "If you can ride these conditions," Juarez said, "when it does snow you're going to ride so much better."

As for Blagg, she's set on doing her snow dance, even if the results are still weeks away.

"Everyone's praying for snow," she said. "The machine-made snow is still good to ski on, but it'll be nice once we're dumped with some powder. I think it'll just be later in the season."

The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6401, or @anhelllll on Twitter.

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