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Huge Storm Headed to California Could Be Awful for Skiing

UPDATED, Friday at 7:45 pm MT: Final prediction from Open Snow is that snow levels will fluctuate between 7500-9000 feet, but should be int he 8000-8500 foot range during the heaviest precipitation. Above 8000-8500 feet Open Snow predicts 8-16 inches on the East side of the basin and 16-32 inches on the West side.

Everyone knows that California is in the midst of a four-year drought that doesn't show any signs of stopping. Several California ski areas have already closed due to the unseasonably warm weather (Badger Pass, Dodge Ridge, and Mt. Shasta to name a few), and even larger resorts like Homewood and Squaw Valley are just doing their best to manage the dwindling snowpack. For the past few days, meteorologists have been talking about a big storm headed to the West Coast, which should mean cries of joy from snow lovers everywhere, right? Wrong. Yes, a big storm is coming, but ski areas are going to be dealing with low snow levels and what we like to call "undeveloped snow."

According to our friends at Open Snow, the storm begins on Thursday with clouds and wind, but California won't see moisture until Friday. Lake Tahoe can expect the heaviest precipitation Friday night into Saturday, with snow levels at about 8,000 feet (if we're lucky). Some precipitation might continue Saturday into Sunday with rising snow levels (that's a bad thing), before another storm moves in Sunday night with much colder temperatures.

So what does all this mean? The warm temperatures could mean that much of Tahoe will see rain at some point this weekend below 9,000 feet. Most skiers and resort officials don't think that the snowpack will be improved much by this storm and it could actually make things worse. While ski areas can manage a dearth of snow by making new snow and using snow farming techniques, rain destroys base areas. And while some mountains can operate using only their upper terrain, others cannot. Here's a look at some of the base and peak elevations of Tahoe's most popular ski areas:

· Squaw Valley: Base Elevation: 6,200'/Peak Elevation: 9,050'
· Alpine Meadows: Base Elevation: 6,835'/Peak Elevation: 8,637'
· Heavenly: Base Elevation: 6,540'/Peak Elevation: 10,067'
· Homewood: Base Elevation: 6,230'/Peak Elevation: 8,740'
· Kirkwood: Base Elevation: 7,800'/Peak Elevation 9,800'
· Northstar: Base Elevation: 6,330'/Peak Elevation: 8,610'

See the problem? Still, the Tahoe basin needs all the moisture it can get, as the entire Sierra is sitting around 22% of average for this date. Still, we wish it would get just a little bit colder for all our snow-starved Tahoe friends out there. Keep the faith guys. Or just meet us in Jackson.

· The Tahoe Daily Snow [Open Snow]
· That big storm is getting pretty official [Unofficial Alpine]
· Colorado Boosts Vail Resorts' Profits, Tahoe Lags Behind [Curbed Ski]
· NYT Writes Incredibly Depressing Article on California Drought [Curbed Ski]
· All California Drought Coverage [Curbed Ski]