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Tahoe’s New Normal

We all know that California has suffered through one of worst droughts in state history. Last winter was warmer and dryer that what we’re used to, as was this summer. Dealing with this drought makes you wonder if this is the new norm, and if so, what does that mean? As someone who loves winter and all winter sports, I was upset this past winter when most ski resorts closed early. I became worried that this would be the new norm. With this concern in mind, I was happy to catch Andy Wirth’s interview on KCRW’s Press Play with Madeleine Brand.

Andy Wirth is CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings in Olympic Valley, CA. If I’m going to listen to anyone talk about what to expect in Tahoe this winter, it would this guy. Andy is a self-proclaimed natural resource manager. He sees this as his legacy to the area. He talks about his successful work reducing carbon footprints, helping move the area off of coal energy and invest in renewables. Prior to working in Tahoe, he worked for some of the largest ski resorts in Colorado.

So what did he have to say? Andy starts off by saying that ski trips to his resort were down 20% last year as compared to the previous year. A figure like that could concern ski enthusiasts because you’d think that resorts wouldn’t be able to continue to operate like that for extended amounts of time. But Andy dispels those concerns by explaining that he wasn’t alarmed, and because of changes made to their business model, the resort could actually sustain numbers like that for long periods of time. He says they’ve taken measures to help mitigate this loss. For example, of the 6,000 acres available to ski, they only had 4,000 open. Also, Andy says, they got very good at making snow.

While Andy thinks this coming winter will be colder than the previous four, he stresses his belief that we face increased volatility in our weather. This volatility, Andy says has made him make some changes to his business model and generate more summertime revenue. He says they were sold out basically the whole summer. He adjusted his model to include more summer events like weddings and races like the Ironman. This interview made me realize that Tahoe will always be open year-round.

P.S. They expect ski season to start the weekend before Thanksgiving.

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