Beyond the fire, Magic of Sierra-At-Tahoe endures

There is a reason the lift that accesses this vista is called Grandview. | Kathryn Reed

This ski season was supposed to be about celebrating 75 years of schussing down the slopes at Sierra-at-Tahoe. Unfortunately, the resort doesn’t know what lifts will spin this winter and has announced that it won’t open until 2022.

The Caldor Fire that ripped through Eldorado National Forest in late summer/early fall caused significant damage to some of the lifts and many of the trees.

“When we return to play, we want each and every one of you to be part of building the future of Sierra.”     –Sierra-at-Tahoe website

“We do know that the trails + area accessed by West Bowl Express will be inaccessible this season, as we restore that section of the mountain for seasons to come,” read a Sierra-at-Tahoe Instagram post on Oct. 24.

Even though the ski resort’s insurance company brought in private firefighters before the flames reached that section of Highway 50, fire has a way of doing what it wants. Most of the buildings were saved, but the cables on some of the 14 lifts that are scattered across 2,000 acres are the problem. So are all the damaged trees.

On the resort’s website is a Guest Frequently Asked Questions about what to expect this season. It gets updated as more information is available. Find more details in this ski guide, as well.

In part, the Nov. 1 update reads: “Holding the vision, trusting the process. As resorts are spinning their first chairs for the 2021-22 winter season, the yearning to join them in this historic, early opening runs deep here at Sierra. And while we’re stoked for our friends Mammoth Mountain, Palisades Tahoe + Boreal Mountain in this celebratory event, the daily grind to join the winter lineup continues at the place Where Play Reigns Free.

Brothers Ray and Floyd Barrett opened Sierra Ski Ranch in 1946. Vern Sprock purchased it in 1956. In 1993, Fibreboard bought it and renamed it Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. It has been owned by Booth Creek Ski Holdings since 1996. | Kathryn Reed

“We have substantial work ahead of us before we are able to announce our opening day for this season, and it is unlikely that we will open in 2021 – so we have set our sights on resuming operations in early 2022. With a delayed start to the season, the recent snow is a strong reminder of what we are working toward, and we will not stop until we are all making laps on Grandview.

“When we return to Play, we want each and every one of you to be part of building the future of Sierra. We are working on opportunities for you to leave your mark + forever be a part of our story.”

Wonderful memories remain
The fire changed a lot of things for a lot of people. And while it might be trite to mourn the damage to my favorite South Shore ski resort when whole towns, such as Grizzly Flats and Greenville, were leveled this year, the loss is wrapped up in so many wonderful memories of skiing at Sierra.

I’ve never been a huge tree skier, but I loved the trees at Sierra. I loved that I could find stashes of powder a day or two after a storm. The special events were fun. The food was good.

Sierra has always had a friendly, non-corporate vibe. It was welcoming. And all those Olympians it has produced.

I skied there with friends and family. I skied for work, I skied just to have fun.

Sierra threw a big party for, from left, Jamie Anderson, Maddie Bowman and Hannah Teeter after they competed in the 2014 Winter Olympics. | Kathryn Reed

None of those things will change as the resort repairs the fire damage. It’s possible Sierra will be even more magical for having endured this significant setback.

Sierra has weathered many storms — ownership changes, drought, rain on snow, a pandemic, short seasons, lack of personnel, road closures and so much more. Resilient is what this resort is. It takes some pretty special people — from the general manager to the lifties — to create this sense of belonging.

The fact that the resort has been honest about what is going on makes me like it even more. Transparency with guests is going to get some converts to the slopes even with limited terrain this season.

This isn’t just a ski resort: it is a community. It’s a place that will always be special to me.