The first week of February kicks off sports’ shoulder season—approximately now until tourney time/spring training. To celebrate, DPB will release its Tahoe Trilogy, three stories about the current state of Lake Tahoe’s financial outlook, environmental health and planned development. Below, part II.
By Kyle Magin
The best analogy for living in a ski town with no snow probably comes from Matthew McConaughey’s 2008 film Surfer, Dude.
In the movie, which is terrible and juvenile and worth probably one stoned viewing, McConaughey plays a California surfer suddenly cut off from his sponsor’s travel account, grounded in Malibu. No waves are headed toward the Golden State’s coast and the surfer goes into a sort of suspended animation.
Time crawls, pastimes like drinking or getting high only really exacerbate the tension, and he’s thoroughly on-edge.
Life becomes an exercise in waiting, and waiting really sucks. (I probably just saved you 83 minutes of your life, but really, if you want to see what it would be like to watch Willie Nelson, McConaughey and Woody Harrelson get high and make up a movie as they go, rent it.)
In long stretches, life has felt this way in the Sierra Nevada for the better part of the last four years. Prior to this winter, the region—which boasts an impressive collection of well-regarded ski resorts—experienced three consecutive drought winters of varying severity. The lack of snowfall restricts the resorts to operating small patches—landing strips, really—of manmade snow and the pushed-together remains of storms long forgotten. Not a flake has fallen in
January February here in the Lake Tahoe area following an at-best average December.
The resorts’ PR teams—fighting for their own jobs at this point—have taken to issuing ‘it’s not that bad’ press releases highlighting 30 percent coverage rates here in mid-January.
Even the most dedicated ski bums—the guys who rip into Headwall as soon as it opens at Squaw Valley, the people who know exactly how many no call/no shows they can get away with at their co-op job in the event of a powder day—are calling it a day after an hour or two, the freeze-thaw snow becoming bothersome to push around after a few hours in the sunshine.
Life for some people is suspended. Everyone pulls up the same weather forecaster’s site constantly to see if it’s updated. The updates, for the last four weeks now, contain only whispers of snow in the depths of its furthest range. I know a guy who moved his vasectomy up from April to this week because, shit, it’s not like he was going to ski anyway.
The waiting gets to be a bit much after four years. Even in a place where there are a million other outdoor activities to do, a big, big piece is missing. The dirty secret about mountain towns is they aren’t all that fun when it’s cold and there’s no snow.
Did you ever see Winter’s Bone? The reason the Appalachians are so thoroughly depressing after you get past the crushing poverty, exploitation of the land and lack of education is that you can’t really ski them consistently in the winter.
Flying down a mountain is a shot of life that injects its adrenaline into every other facet of life in a mountain town.
Skiers run themselves ragged and then hit the bar and order a bunch of food they shouldn’t eat and drink a bunch of a beer they don’t need, putting money in the waiter’s pocket so he can get his bindings fixed at the ski shop so it can afford to keep around a guy whose got decades of mountain town knowledge tucked under a dirty beanie and scruffy beard. That same rush from skiing causes somebody to do something stupid, landing him the ER, where his visit will justify the hiring of a new nurse, who’ll find her love and get married here and spend way too much on a wedding planner so that lady can feed her kids and get them the tutor they need to keep up their reading skills.
The cycle is endless and branches out of the economic realm into a community’s spiritual wealth—people are more creative, more open to solving problems when they’ve been sated by enjoying nature as it rushes past them on skis or a snowboard.
Snow is a ski town’s lifeblood. And right now, in the Sierra, we could use an infusion.