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KCBS Cover Story: California Drought Severely Impacts Sierra Ski Industry

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Matt Walker of the USA competes during the ski slopestyle portion of the Alli Dew Tour on February 20th, 2009 at Northstar Resort in Truckee, California. (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

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TRUCKEE (KCBS) – The drought conditions in California and severe lack of snow has had a huge negative impact on businesses in the Sierra and Lake Tahoe area.

A lack of snow means fewer runs open for skiing, and fewer visitors to the mountains. In Truckee, some are even calling this time of year “June-uary.”

“You look around and there’s no snow on the mountains, and yet, the resort has still got snow on their runs,” said Joelle Dragheim of Sacramento. “I feel sad for them that it’s not more packed.”

Dragheim skied Northstar with her husband and 7-year-old daughter, debating how to dress in the 50 degree weather on the slopes.

“It’s a hard choice right now because, do I really need my coat? I took it yesterday,” she said.

Some smaller resorts without snowmaking have been unable to open, abandoned ski runs covered with hay-colored grass and rocks.

Northstar, owned by Vail Resorts, whose sister properties include Heavenly and Kirkwood, has one of the largest state-of-the-art snowmaking systems on the West Coast. But fewer than a third of the 97 runs are open.

“We’ve got 30 open currently and they’re all open with machine-made snow on them,” said Northstar Senior Manager of Communications Rachael Woods.

Woods said despite the limited offerings, they are still all about giving guests a great experience, aided by technology.

“You’ll see lots of different types of equipment on the snow, and they are tuned into automated systems behind the scenes that turn equipment on-and-off depending on conditions,” she said. Perfect snowmaking conditions being low temperatures and low humidity. Overnight temperatures have been in the teens.

Michael Nikodem of Incline Village said lots of ski instructors and restaurant workers have had their hours cut.

“It’s really slow. There’s not a lot of business like it was in previous years,” Nikodem said. “Even last winter, when it was really bad too.”

Robbie Stenson said he is just happy to be making some turns. “It’s a bummer that we don’t have the natural stuff,” he said. “But they’re doing the best with what we got and I love coming here.”

Amy Horton notices tracks in the mud. “Over here, you wouldn’t see ground. It’s crazy. I wonder how the animals are going to (fare), like the bears hibernating,” she said.

Horton is one of many worried about what the lack of snow will mean for water, especially in her native Reno, and she said she regularly checks the weather forecasts.

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