A little more than a year ago, Sierra-at-Tahoe general manager John Rice faced a grim prospect: More than 700 acres of his 2,000-acre ski resort had been torched by the Caldor wildfire.
In the aftermath of California’s 16th largest-ever wildfire, which consumed 221,835 acres of National Forest land southwest of Lake Tahoe between August and October of 2021, Sierra lost more than half of its vegetation, more than half of the resort’s 9 lifts were damaged and $5 million worth of equipment was destroyed when a maintenance shack burst into flames.
But Rice, even as smoke was still rising from the ruins, swore that the small resort popular with day-trippers from Sacramento and the Central Valley would eventually get back on its feet.
A Season of Discovery
He was a man of his word: On Saturday, Dec. 3, Sierra, ever the little resort than can, will spin its lifts for the first time since the conflagration, ushering in a year-delayed season-long celebration of its 75th anniversary.
But it won’t quite be the same old Sierra that regular patrons have come to know and love over the past three-quarters of a century. Some 15 million board feet of fire-damaged timber and hazardous trees have been removed from the property, greatly re-arranging the look of the resort.
“Sierra is back with a new landscape to discover,” a resort spokesperson said. “This season will be about continuous learning and discovery.
“We are thinking through the changes to grooming, patrol, trail crew, terrain parks, etc.,” the spokesperson continued. “The feedback and insight from our skiers and riders who know … this mountain will be an invaluable asset to assist us in tackling the next phase of mitigation.”
Some Closures Expected
Although a full re-opening of all 46 named trails is expected to occur as the season progresses — the amount of opening-day terrain is uncertain at the moment but should be somewhat limited due to early-season snow conditions — there will be several areas that likely will be closed for the duration of the season, including Avalanche Bowl and the off-piste tree shots between Lower Main and Chute runs, between Preacher’s Pass and Castle runs and between Tahoe King and Preacher’s Pass runs. These areas still need some mitigation, which can’t be done until the spring.
But despite the on-going cleanup and assessment problems, Sierra will be able to give its loyal clientele something special this winter: A return to something like normalcy … albeit with a little twist.
As Rice is fond of saying: “The Sierra-at-Tahoe spirit is alive and well.”