El Nino Winter at California Ski Resorts

You guys, there has been SO much snow in California. I know, you may be asking yourself, "But Spencer, is there really real snow? Isn't it 80 degrees this week in Los Angeles?" Yes, there is snow, as in fresh powder. So much so that some of California ski resorts surpassed their total snowfalls from last year before 2016 even started. Winter isn't coming, it's already come. Thank you El Niño. It's no secret that Lake Tahoe is one of my favorite places to visit in America. And that's saying a lot since any destination that doesn't border an ocean has an uphill battle when appealing to me (though Lake Tahoe does have beaches). 

But my recent trip to Lake Tahoe was my favorite, largely in part because there was so much fresh snow. Just how much? Well I arrived at the tail-end of a snowstorm that dumped several feet of snow, and left during the middle of a storm dumping an additional foot.

I've been lucky enough to visit Lake Tahoe the last couple years during the few snowfalls they've received. Actually, every time I've visited Lake Tahoe in the winter it has snowed (true story). However, on this trip, I found a different sentiment among both locals and travelers. It'd be an understatement to say that morale is high in Lake Tahoe after many ski resorts opened weeks early this season because of November snowfalls, followed by several snowstorms that brought snowfall totals that equaled or exceeded last year's totals. It's almost like the inverse of typical seasonal affective disorder.

In South Lake Tahoe, Heavenly surpassed last year's snowfall totals by the first of the year. Meanwhile, on the north side of Lake Tahoe, ski resorts, such as Northstar, reached their average winter snowfall totals weeks ago. The last couple years when I'd visit Lake Tahoe in winter, I'd get questioned about if there was any snow in Lake Tahoe. This year, however, I don't think there's any question. And with El Niño typically peaking in California later in winter, this trend could continue. (Read more in my Travel + Leisure story about how El Niño has affected Lake Tahoe.)

You hear and see that high morale and sentiment from locals who call Lake Tahoe home. Even Winter Olympic gold medalist Hannah Teter remarked, “Lake Tahoe is finally getting back to normal, and back to the reason why I moved here 10 years ago.”

And that trend continues throughout California ski resorts. When I was at Mammoth Mountain in mid-January, it had surpassed its snowfall totals of all of last year by a foot! And it was evident. My days on Mammoth Mountain were some of my favorite days snowboarding to date. And I even rode my first black diamond, in part because I knew falling on that much fresh powder would feel so much better then anything I had fallen on the last couple winters (I didn't fall).

Southern California ski resorts, also, has enjoyed the rewards of El Niño. Local ski resorts, like Bear Mountain, were enjoying their best winter in a decade (at least before the warmer, drier climate of the last couple weeks). I experienced this first-hand a couple weeks ago, when a weekday of snowboarding Bear Mountain had the vibes and crowds of a weekend. Even Mt. Waterman, located just northeast of Pasadena, has opened this year for the first time in several years (though currently waiting for more snow before reopening).

However, February has been unusually dry throughout California, with record-breaking temperatures across parts of the state in recent weeks. But that's not unusual for an El Niño year. Past El Niño years have seen three or four weeks of consecutive dry days. Not to mention that it's currently snowing atop Mammoth Mountain and many ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. In your face February.

Meanwhile, below are a few of my photos from across California's ski resorts this winter.