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In search of a white winter at Tahoe

TRUCKEE – Spencer Sherman and his family trekked from Sebastopol to Lake Tahoe on Christmas Day anticipating a holiday week of cross-country skiing in the High Sierra.

Instead, they've been hiking over dirt and rocks on the area's cross-country ski trails as Mother Nature continues playing Scrooge with the snow. Northern California's favorite winter wonderland is anything but white, and also unseasonably warm.

"We're OK with no snow this week because the hiking is so beautiful," Sherman said, interrupting a snowball fight with his son, Jeremy, at Tahoe Donner Ski Area in Truckee on Wednesday.

Sierra Snowpack

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"Oh, that one hurt," Spencer Sherman said, taking a direct hit from Jeremy, 12, as the battle resumed on a patch of crusty brown snow near the clubhouse.

Tahoe Donner, noted for its gentle, beginner-friendly slopes, hosted a "Let It Snow Party" for children with an inflated bounce house, bean bag toss and making of gigantic S'mores on the clubhouse patio.

"Everybody bring a pocketful of snow?" the Tahoe Donner shuttle bus driver playfully asked arriving families.

The ski lift carried visitors to the top of Eagle Rock, at 7,350 feet, for a panoramic view of the rolling terrain, dressed in green and brown. To the south, Northstar's ski trails, coated with machine-made snow, formed white fingers down the mountain.

Big ski resorts like Northstar, Alpine Meadows, Heavenly and Boreal reported 12 to 26 inches of snow, most of it machine made, with about 20 percent of their terrain open.

Tahoe Donner, lacking the machinery for snowmaking, depends on natural snowfall to cloak its slopes, which revealed bushes and grass on Wednesday.

"We call it farming – almost," said Rob McClendon, ski area manager. "We're waiting for the water." After last winter's epic snowfalls, the Tahoe area has little relief in sight from a snow drought that has lasted since November.


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