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Snow-starved Mammoth still waiting for winter. Conditions 'awful,' one skier says

Snow-starved Mammoth still waiting for winter. Conditions 'awful,' one skier says
The grim view Wednesday from Canyon Lodge at Mammoth Mountain. A year ago, the resort was buried in record January snows. (Cynthia Hayes / For The Times)

For much of California snow country, this is turning out to be the winter that wasn't. Lake Tahoe resorts reported almost 20 inches of fresh snow late last week, and skiers raved Wednesday about conditions that were spring-like, though occasionally icy.

But at Mammoth Lakes, L.A.'s winter playground farther south, it seemed more like summer. Mammoth Mountain reported 9 inches of fresh snow late last week. By Wednesday, temps reached into the low-60s, and residents shed their winter coats and compared conditions to May or June.

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One avid skier described conditions as "awful."

Mammoth Mountain reps said bases are holding at 40 inches at Main Lodge and 84 inches at the top of the mountain.

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North-facing slopes were reportedly maintaining snow the best. Meanwhile, the ice was melting fast in the lakes basin, which is usually a winter wonderland at this time of year.

Parts of the Tamarack cross-country trail were closed, and skiers were urged to get out early to beat the late-morning slush.

Northstar in Lake Tahoe on Wednesday.
Northstar in Lake Tahoe on Wednesday. (Colin Lygren / Northstar California Resort)

"What a difference a year makes," said resident Cynthia Hayes, who lived through last year's record January snowfalls. "I have yet to shovel snow this year."

"None of us has," confirmed Howard Sheckter, a Mammoth Lakes weather expert who sees the dry winter extending to late February.

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"It's a blocking pattern," Sheckter says, of the chronic high pressure that has deflected the usual Pacific storms like a warrior's shield.

Sheckter says the dry winter is the result of a much larger pattern that extends to the Hudson Bay and involves polar air dipping into the East and Midwest. When that happens, he says, the West Coast tends to lock into ridges of high pressure.

"That's the tail that wags the dog," he said.

Jan Null, adjunct professor of meteorology at San Jose State, said conditions for the next 10 days will remain warm and dry across the Sierra.

Beyond that?

"That's about as far as the weather models are reliable," he said.

"Bottom line is I have yet to find a long-range forecast I would put any money on," Null added.

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