Dreaming of a white New Year’s celebration — but not so sure about braving 17 feet of snow?
The prospect of a Lake Tahoe vacation has improved dramatically in the days since a record-breaking snowstorm closed roads and stranded tourists earlier this week. But if you’re planning to go, experts say you should be prepared to sit in traffic, and potentially even get stuck.
A massive snowstorm paralyzed the Sierras this week, shattering a 50-year snowfall record for December, shutting down all major roads in and out of the Tahoe area and creating nightmare travel conditions for Bay Area residents trying to return home after a holiday weekend away. Now, the snow has stopped falling, Interstates 80 and 50 have re-opened, and Tahoe businesses say they’re waiting with open arms to welcome tourists for New Year’s.
Officials, who urged travelers to stay away earlier this week, say anyone interested in braving the trip to the mountains should be careful and plan ahead. But many Bay Area residents already have canceled their winter wonderland plans, deciding a trip to Tahoe would be too stressful and risky.
“The biggest thing is if people are still interested in coming to Tahoe, expect travel delays and be prepared,” said Lindsey Baker, a spokeswoman for the city of South Lake Tahoe. “So make sure you have chains in your vehicle, especially if you don’t have snow tires, make sure you have food and water and blankets, flares, things like that in your vehicle in the event you get stuck or stranded.”
Gas stations ran out of gas and grocery stores ran low on food this week, as supply trucks couldn’t get through closed roads and snarled traffic. By Thursday, most gas stations and grocery stores had been restocked, Baker said.
But though the trip up may be safe, that doesn’t mean it will be pleasant, said Raquel Borrayo, a public information officer for Caltrans in Placer, Nevada and Sierra counties.
“You should be prepared for extremely heavy traffic and to sit in your car for a very, very, very long time,” she said, advising the adventurous to fill up their gas tank and pack snacks before making the trip. “We’re expecting that there’s going to be some very heavy ski traffic to the region, especially after all the fresh snow that we’ve received up there.”
The region continues to grapple with lingering effects of the storm, including power outages. PG&E on Thursday reported about 9,000 customers without power in Placer County, 20,000 in El Dorado County and 18,000 in Nevada County.
“PG&E is doing everything we can to get the power back on for customers, but the weather has and continues to present a challenge, along with access issues due to snow, downed trees and other hazards,” spokeswoman Megan McFarland wrote in an emailed statement.
Those who do brave the journey can expect sunny, clear and cold weather when they arrive — low temperatures are expected to drop into the single-digits or below this weekend. No more snow is expected until Monday afternoon.
“The roads have cleared up and it’s going to be nice weather, and I believe our businesses are all prepared and ready to welcome visitors on this holiday weekend,” said Andy Chapman, president and CEO of the Incline Village Crystal Bay Visitors Bureau. “The fresh snow is amazing to come and play in.”
But for Chloe Meyere, the trip up no longer seems worth it. The 26-year-old, who is from the Bay Area but moved to Seattle during the COVID-19 pandemic, had been planning to travel to Truckee with her fiancé and meet up with friends at their vacation house. They intended to drive, but without a four-wheel drive vehicle or much experience driving in the snow, they decided to play it safe and book flights to Reno. But after the major snowstorm hit this week, they worried about finding transportation from Reno to Truckee.
“There was just too much uncertainty,” Meyere said, “and it wasn’t worth the risk.”
The massive storm also meant a financial hit for some Tahoe businesses forced to close because their employees couldn’t get to work. For businesses that suffered last summer and fall when the Caldor Fire crept to the edge of South Lake Tahoe, it felt like jumping from one extreme to the other. But the large, early snowfall is a promising start to the winter tourist season, providing prime conditions for skiing, snowboarding, sledding and more.
On Thursday, the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in South Lake Tahoe was readying for its New Year’s Eve fireworks show — shoveling eight feet of snow from the roof, where the fireworks will launch. Heavenly Village also planned to move ahead with a concert Thursday night.
“If you have the right vehicle, you take the right precautions, and you plan ahead, it is totally safe to come to Tahoe,” said Dreu Murin, spokesman for Heavenly Village. “A lot of people are doing so already.”