SOUTH LAKE TAHOE - Though it's unable to open this week because of dry conditions and warm temperatures, Heavenly Mountain Resort is banking on its $1.5 million snowmaking equipment to save the ski season.
"We're glad we made the investment," spokesman Russ Pecoraro said, surveying the Nevada side of the ski resort.
None of Lake Tahoe's ski resorts will be open for Thanksgiving.
If the forecast from the National Weather Service remains dry into next week, this month could turn out to be the fifth November in the last 15 years to have no recorded moisture. The long-term average is 3.7 inches of snow and rain.
For now, all eyes of the 15-member snowmaking crew are on the runs off the Dipper and Comet express chairlifts. Orion's, Big Dipper and Comet are covered with 2 feet of snow. The Orion's run alone spans 3,500 feet in length at a 1,400-foot elevation drop.
"As you can see, it's no patch," said Jim Larmore, Heavenly's director of snow surfaces. Surrounded by manmade snow on Orion's, Larmore stepped off the snowmobile to look over the result of 120 hours of snowmaking operations over the mountain.
A fifth of Heavenly's snowmaking investment has gone into a seven additional snow guns on East Bowl and Upper Gunbarrel.
Heavenly blew snow on the Nevada side for about six hours Monday night and hopes to spray more over Orion's, Dipper, Comet and Von Schmidt near the gondola. The six Cats, added to the fleet of 17, smoothed the surface. Larmore estimated it could take four days to get those runs groomed well enough to open.
"We thought we'd be open by now. What came down has melted already," Larmore said, pointing to brown areas next to Orion's, which is Heavenly's signature run on the Nevada side.
The weather has turned out to be a stubborn partner for Heavenly. The ski resort has the equipment and science to make dense snow - a compressed mixture of air and water it gets from its East Peak and Sky Meadows reservoirs.
The only thing missing is the cold. Larmore would like to see nights in which the temperature runs below 28 degrees for longer periods of time. He would also like a break in the inversion layer that has kept cooler temperatures low and warmer ones up high where people ski and board.
Heavenly may get its wish by Friday. Meteorologist Rudy Cruz said the weather service predicts a break by Friday in the high pressure causing the inversion - but no moisture. Overnight lows are predicted to be in the 20s.
Cruz said he's amazed by the level to which weather balloons launched in Reno rise before finding freezing temperatures - 13,000 feet.
"In the 13 years of launching balloons, I've never seen them go that high (for winter). That's pretty high. Those are more like summer readings," he said.
With limited snowmaking-capacity, Sierra-at-Tahoe and Kirkwood Mountain Resort reported a few inches of snow in October.
Lake Tahoe November snows
n 1934 - 21.8 inches
n 1990 - none
n 1991 - none
n 1992 - none
n 1995 - none
n 1999 - 5 inches
n 2000 - 12.5 inches
n 2001 - 12.5 inches
n 2002 - 11.5 inches
n 2003 - 22.5 inches
n 2004 - 14 inches
Source: National Weather Service