The picture this year is equally telling -- bare ground and mountains with broken snow on one flank, raw granite on the other.
On Monday, the remnants of an overnight dusting already vanished. A few skiers came off slopes where machines spewed flumes of the snow to half-empty parking lots.
It was enough snow for Lana Hamilton of Alta, Calif., to bring out her 2-year-old daughter, strapped into pink ski boots, but her husband didn't even bother.
"It's been abominable," Hamilton said. While downhill resorts remain open, making their own snow, the cross-country business in the Tahoe basin is struggling.
Before this week's storm, temperatures around Truckee, near Lake Tahoe, have hit the mid- to upper 50s -- way above normal for this time of year and more of what's expected in April.
Royal Gorge, Tahoe Donner, TahoeXC and other Nordic trails were closed to skiers, in hibernation until the next storm. Fat tire biking instead was in order.
"Think snowy thoughts," said the recorded line at Royal Gorge.
The only significant snowstorm of the season was an "atmospheric river" event before Thanksgiving. But the skies haven't been kind since then, leaving statewide snowpack accumulations at 21 percent of average for this time of year.
There have been so many clear days with bright sun that the rays have burnt snow off the south slopes, leaving them rocky and brown. Researchers at the Central Sierra Snow Lab in Soda Springs reported the lowest water equivalent yet recorded for a Feb. 11, below even the drought years of 2012 through 2015.
A year ago, the Sierra snowpack was 182 percent of the historical average, and residents complained they had run out of room to put the snow they were clearing from their decks and driveways.