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It was a winter of taking stock and making plans to rebuild for Sierra-at-Tahoe, even though the 2,000-skiable-acre resort would have very much preferred spinning lifts and scanning tickets. Aside from one weekend in April when skiers were welcomed back to ride three of the undamaged lifts in honor of the resort’s 75th anniversary, the slopes remained snow-covered but sadly empty.
The Caldor Fire, which broke out on Aug. 14 of 2021 and quickly spread to the Lake Tahoe Basin, hopped highways and defied typical fire patterns due to high winds. While it was initially thought that Sierra escaped with minimal damage, that turned out not to be the case. The fire damaged five of its nine lifts, with most needing new cables as the heat from the flames compromised the existing ones. The resort also lost seven snowcats, which burned inside a concrete storage facility. But the biggest loss is the vegetation—over 80 percent of which is thought to be unsalvageable.
Now with summer on the horizon, resort General Manager John Rice says that the ski area is working closely with the U.S. Forest Service to continue restoration efforts and get the resort fully operational when the snow flies next winter.
There are challenges, to be sure. Rice said that the landscape of the resort will be different, and things such as snowmaking, trail orientation, and lifts are all affected. “We’re no longer dealing with a pristine forest,” he explained. “We’ve got a burnt landscape, so how do we utilize the terrain and the natural resources to create a ski product that will be next level for people?”
Since the resort is located on National Forest land, the restoration process will be a collaborative affair, and the plan is currently under U.S. Forest Service review. But Rice says the goal is to save every tree and piece of vegetation that can be salvaged, then replace the native plants to stabilize the soil and encourage regrowth.
“All of our energy is going toward getting all lifts and trails reopened this winter,” Rice said. “It’s an aggressive goal, but we have the support of our employees and our landlord and the El Dorado Resource Conservation District to get the resort open.”