Outside with Charlie: Less rain needed

By From page A11 | December 07, 2012


Just when it looked like a never-ending season of snow, the pineapple express shows up. Lots of moisture coming out of the pacific straight from Hawaii, which when translated means “warm,” meeting up with the low pressure that pushes it onshore. The result is rain, lots of it. The other result is high snow levels. It’s the sort of weather pattern that drives skiers and boarders bonkers.

Most of the ski resorts have base levels right around 6,300 feet. Kirkwood and Mt. Rose have base levels at around 8,000, which means that when these warm gushes come across the pacific, they still get all day snow. Everyone else gets a combination of rain at the lower, and sometimes mid-mountain, elevations, and snow at the upper reaches of their terrain.

Think of it this way: Lake Tahoe has an average surface level of 6,225 feet. If the weather guessers on the TV are predicting snow above 7,000 feet, it means rain at lake level. Heavenly, Squaw, Alpine, Northstar, Sierra, Homewood, and so on, are around about lake level. Not too hard to figure out at all.

Rain on the lower slopes does a couple of things: melts some of the snow and causes instability problems on the slopes. It also means icy skiing for a bit.

Skiing in the rain isn’t much fun. I did it. Once.

The only way to really know what the conditions are at your favorite resort is to check their website before you start to head up the highway. You could also call them, and listen to the recording about current conditions. It’s a heartbreaker to pull into the parking lot, skis and boards locked in the rack, only to watch the rain cascading off your car.

It is especially important for back country skiers, boarders, and snowshoers — those who can’t check with a resort — to have very current information about weather. Out in the back country there isn’t a lodge to duck into when the weather closes in. If you get wet, lost, or hurt, you’re in trouble. The best way to find out about upcoming conditions is to check the NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Website,

Equally important is knowing the avalanche conditions. Sierra Avalanche Center ( has daily updates on conditions and recent slides and other avalanche events. Yes, there have already been avalanche events this season. They are a fact of life in the high country.

Patience is a virtue. Actually, there’s nothing else to do but wait graciously for the pineapple express to disappear. The weather pattern that will bring us snow comes straight down out of Alaska. Very cold air, and lots of northern moisture usually mean snow. Lots of it would be much appreciated.

When that happens, everyone who thinks snow and skiing or boarding are the reason for winter will be easily recognizable. They are the group that has a permanent mile-wide smile on their faces, and loaded ski racks on their cars.

Snow sports enthusiasts are an optimistic bunch. We all know that the snow will come, in great large batches. Sooner, rather than later, would be good. Very good.

Charlie Ferris

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