Palisades Tahoe
(Photo: E_C_Pelletier/iStock/Getty)

One California Ski Resort Is Projected to Lose 70 Percent of Its Snowpack by 2100

Ironically, stronger, wetter, and warmer storms will shrink the snow line at many of the state’s most popular ski areas

Palisades Tahoe
Samantha Berman

from Ski

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While it seems unlikely news after the winter that California’s ski resorts just enjoyed, a new study reports that some of the state’s ski areas are poised to see a massive amount of its snowpack disappear over the next several decades.

The study came out of UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and surmises that the increased rainfall resulting from climate change will wash out the snowpack at ski resorts between 5,000 and 10,000 feet—which is most of them—by 2100. If nothing is done to stop it, the  effects will begin to be seen as early as 2050, less than 30 years from now.

Without getting too meteorologically complicated, atmospheric rivers are at the heart of the crisis. Atmospheric rivers cause massive storm systems originating from the Pacific Ocean that tend to be warmer, producing snow that starts at higher elevations, and rain at lower elevations. The Scripps study basically says that these storms will continue to get warmer, pushing the snowline higher and higher.

snowmaking in California
More and more California resorts will rely on snowmaking as snow lines recede due to wetter and warmer storms. (Photo: Getty)

Unfortunately, only three California resorts have summits over 10,000 feet: Mammoth, Kirkwood, and Heavenly.

How much snow loss are we looking at? The researchers predict that the snowline will be pushed back between 1,300 to 1,600 feet between 2050 and 2100 across the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades mountain ranges. The most heavily impacted resorts could be Palisades Tahoe, Sierra at Tahoe, and Northstar, which could lose up to 70 percent of its snowpack.

Interestingly, the report also says that we can expect more snow at the summits of the highest resorts, including Mammoth, as these atmospheric rivers become stronger and warmer, depositing more moisture at the highest elevations.

The researchers studied 70 years of snow data to come to their conclusions, and did stipulate that there might still be more epic snow years like this past season’s snowmageddon, but they will be fewer and farther between.

“If we look towards the end of the century, the snow will be confined to much higher elevations in most years,” said lead researcher Alexander Gershunov. “Low elevation mountains will be more and more likely to be snow-free.”

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