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'You can't see anything': Blizzard closes most Tahoe ski resorts and Yosemite National Park as winds hit 143 mph

Paul Rogers and Ethan Baron, The Mercury News on

Published in News & Features

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Jeremy Fuentes and Jarad Baldwin packed up their Ford Explorer and left the San Francisco Bay Area Friday morning as the blizzard in the Sierra Nevada was taking hold. With winds howling and snow blowing sideways, they hit white-out conditions near Donner Summit on Interstate 80. But the white-knuckle payoff was sweet.

When they finally arrived, the snowboarding friends were rewarded with a crowd-free experience at Northstar ski resort, where the heavy snowfall that plagued them on their trip up meant epic powder conditions.

“It’s amazing,” Fuentes said, after a run Friday afternoon. “I don’t think I’ve ever ridden like that before. It’s perfect.”

But Fuentes was one of the few to make that treacherous journey. Of the 15 largest ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area, 11 were closed on Friday, citing heavy winds, low visibility and dangerous conditions.

“Our team gave it their all, the weather won in the end,” officials at Sugar Bowl resort posted on their website. “Will try again tomorrow.”

Other closed resorts included Palisades, Alpine, Kirkwood, Homewood, Boreal, Sugar Bowl, Mt. Rose, Donner Ski Ranch, and Sierra-at-Tahoe. Heavenly was open, but its gondola was closed. Northstar had only 5 of 19 lifts open Friday afternoon.

 

Ski resorts rarely close because of winter storms. It happens in the Tahoe area only once or twice every few years, usually because fierce winds make ski lifts unsafe to operate.

The reason this week: The biggest winter storm in the past 12 months continued to batter the Sierra Nevada, crashing in from Alaska and dumping 1 to 2 feet of snow on the Sierra Thursday night, with heavier amounts forecast for Friday night and Saturday morning. A blizzard warning remained in effect until 10 a.m. Sunday, with another 3 to 7 feet of snow expected by Monday.

“The heaviest snow is yet to come,” said Craig Shoemaker, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “People should not be traveling. There’s a good chance the roads will be closed Friday night and they will be turned around.”

Winds Friday and Saturday were forecast to hit 60- to 80-mph at higher elevations. One gauge at the highest elevations of Alpine Meadows ski resort recorded a gust of 143 mph Thursday night.

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