News and culture through the lens of Southern California.
Hosted by
Environment & Science

California ski resorts battle drought with snow machines

Skiers and snowboarders come back from the slopes at Bear Mountain Lodge.
Skiers and snowboarders come back from the slopes at Bear Mountain Lodge.
Grant Slater/KPCC

Listen to story

Download this story 0MB

The drought here in California has meant a lot of mud, sweat and tears at the ski resorts in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

The snowpack is at a meager 20 percent of normal and many ski resorts have had to turn to mechanical snow makers or close down for lack of powder.

RELATED: Warm weather a mixed bag for local skiing

We called up the family-owned Donner Ski Ranch on Friday and this is the message we got: 

Thank you for calling Donner Ski Ranch. Unfortunately we've had to close again because there's just not enough snow. Thank you again for calling Donner Ski Ranch and please remember to pray for more snow.

The ranch has only been open two weekends this winter, both in the early part of December for bunny slopes and their tubing hill.

Donner Ski Ranch general manager Lincoln Kauffman has worked at Donner Ski Ranch nine years and has been skiing in the Sierras since he was a kid.

"I do remember seeing something like this back in the middle-late 70s but, of course, that's reaching way back in the archives," Kauffman says of the snow shortage. "I haven't seen anything just like this ever."

Some bigger ski resorts use snow makers but Kauffman said that would be tough for Donner Ski Ranch.

"We have snow making ability but it's pretty small and you have to look at the return on investment," said Kauffman. "Our slopes are facing to the south for the bunny hill, the one that supports snow making and really the temperatures are so warm that it would be hard to maintain any of that."

What does this mean for jobs?

"For us it's really rough," said Kauffman. "Normally over 100 people would be working on a weekend like Martin Luther King's every day and there was no one."

The ski ranch's employees, mostly seasonal, are out looking for other jobs but Kauffman said snow helps support the whole Truckee area so the shortage has a trickle down effect.

"The weather on the flip side is beautiful...and that has brought up mountain bikers and hikers but definitely not the numbers we're used to up here."

Can Kauffman and Donner Ski Ranch survive?

"There's ups and downs," said Kauffman. "It's like farming and you have to prepare for the bad years and really make hay when the good years are here. This is part of the game and it's the tough part."