Late snow helps bookings climb in Tahoe area in March

A surge in snowfall at the end of February gave many western ski resorts a boost in bookings, but it probably won't be enough to recover from a slow start to the winter season for some lodging establishments.

Bookings made in February for arrivals in the same month climbed 15.6 percent when compared with the same period last year.

At the same time, aggregated occupancy among participating destinations was down 2.9 percent. That marked an improvement from the start of the month when occupancy was off 4.4 percent.

Also, total revenue increased 2.1 percent in February, largely because average daily rates jumped more than 5 percent in the same period.

The data reflects occupancy and revenue among 20 participating destination communities in eight western states, which consist of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Wyoming.

Innotopia, a Vermont-based business intelligence company, which acquired DestiMetrics last year, released the results in its monthly market briefing.

"The booking pace during February was a complete 180-degree turnaround from the beginning of the month," said Tom Foley, vice president of business intelligence for Innotopia.

"Although the significant snowfall clearly drove considerably more bookings and occupancy during the month, a few weeks of strong snowfall does not make a season. And, while the fresh snow was great for February, it isn't having much impact on the remainder of the season."

The scenario seems to be different in the Truckee area, where lodging establishments and ski resorts benefitted mightily from the late February snowfall.

"While we were mostly booked up on weekends to begin with, the heavy snowfall definitely put lodging over the top and drove a lot of additional midweek bookings as well," said Liesl Hepburn, public relations director for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows.

Looking ahead, bookings made in February for arrivals through July were up 6 percent. Bookings for May were up 8.5 percent, while July was up 8.7 percent as of Feb. 28.

"Different segments of the mountain destination market will have varying degrees of success in these conditions and although low snowfall is hardest on slope operations, such as lift tickets, rentals, and lessons, other businesses may be less negatively impacted from the low snow," Foley said.

"Retailers, bars, restaurants, and non-ski activities may remain flat or in some case, post some gains."

Truckee inches closer to allowing commercial cannabis delivery services

A proposal to allow commercial cannabis delivery services in the town of Truckee inched closer to reality Tuesday, March 27, after some headway was made on the issue.

The Truckee Planning Commission agreed on a number of conditions for delivery services that should help shape how each would operate.

Those conditions, which will eventually be forwarded to the Town Council, ranged from the issuance of business licenses to security standards.

"It should follow the same process we have in town for other business," said Planning Commission Chairman Seth Kielas on the license issue.

The planning commission, which held a roughly three-hour hearing on the delivery services issue at its Tuesday meeting, also agreed that the market should determine how many of the businesses would exist.

Town Planning Manager Jenna Endres, who is handling the cannabis issue, said there are probably four to five illegal delivery services in town. Those delivery services are probably operating out of houses.

While the planning commission made progress on the delivery services issue, the five-member group is likely to take up the topic again at a meeting in April.

One sticking point centered on setbacks, as it relates to where the businesses would be located. The idea heading into the meeting was that the businesses would be located no closer than 1,000 feet from each other.

But because of a lack of commercial space in town, and the limited number of zones the businesses could be located, the planning commission wants to examine an overlay map with proposed narrower separating standards.

That was a key point for some local cannabis business owners, who objected to proposed zoning requirements.

"It really is a de facto ban," said Brad Farmer, who is the co-owner of High Altitude Healing in Truckee, which provides medical cannabis to patients in the area.

He added, "The zoning map is not an opportunity to be successful for any of us."

But the idea of commercial delivery services did not resonate with everyone at the hearing.

Caroline Ford, chairman of Tahoe Truckee Future Without Drug Dependence, said the group had some concerns with the commercial delivery services proposal.

She said the number of delivery services should be limited to one, and that the business should be located 1,000 feet from sensitive areas, such as schools.

The commercial delivery services issue stems from the passage of Proposition 64 in November 2016. Proposition 64 authorized adults, 21 years and older, to use marijuana on a recreational basis, as well as the personal cultivation of up to six cannabis plants per household.

As a result, the town embarked on a public outreach process throughout most of last year that came to be known as the "Cannabis Dialogue."

There were a number of objectives, including broad community discussion on the issue, before coming up with a plan to address the legalization of recreational marijuana use.

"Really what we saw was a high level of interest in this topic," Endres said.

Squaw Valley employee recalls being swept up in avalanche

A big, overnight snowstorm created a lot of work for Marty Boline on March 2 at Squaw Valley. But after he spent a good chunk of the morning clearing a road on the upper mountain with a Sno-Cat, it was time to take a break.

So the 16-year employee of Squaw Valley, who is married with two children, eventually parked the machine and rode a lift down the mountain to take a break and go eat lunch.

After lunch, he headed to his lift maintenance shop. His job generally consists of working on chairlifts, doing pre-operational checks, looking at machinery, ramp conditions, and addressing any issues he comes across.

As part of his job, he skis down the mountain in order to examine equipment and conditions along the way. So in the early afternoon, he booted up and headed down the mountain.

He took one lap on KT-22, and then figured he might as well take another lap before attending to other duties. He went to the east side of Olympic (Oly) Lady chairlift.

Boline said he wanted to check everything out, and examine the lift because it was subject to heavy wind. He then came across three lift operations supervisors, who were skiing together.

So Boline decided to see where they were going.

'I saw the whole face just bubble and break up'

"We continued down and we got underneath Oly Lady, and I was the first one to drop in. You know, this one main chute that goes down into there off the shoulder, and I went right a little bit," he said.

There were tracks from other skiers, so Boline wasn't worried about his line. But then everything changed for the man who has been skiing at Squaw Valley for 20 years.

Boline said he came in to ski his line "and I saw the whole face just bubble and break up. I knew it was a big avalanche at that point."

He said he didn't have any speed, so he couldn't shoot across and get to a safe point.

"I knew that option wasn't available for me, so there's two pine trees like 10 feet below me; at that point I have not moved yet. I was just watching everything start to break apart, and then when it took me I had to go about 10 feet and put my skis sideways and braced myself across these two little pine trees. And it stopped me," Boline said.

But the snow was thick and heavy, and just took off in front of him. He said suddenly one of the trees bent down, and he got shot out.

The weight of the snow on his shoulders forced him to his chest "and that's when I realized how deep it really was. It was so much snow moving down," he said.

Boline said he then started to think about his family, as he was carried down the mountain at a rate of speed he estimated at 25 mph.

"I thought about my kids and my wife. 'Am I never going to seem them again? … I'm not going to die here,'" he said.

'I didn't want to pass out'

As he was riding down a layer of ice, Boline said he felt a hard impact on his right leg and knew at that moment his femur had been broken.

He eventually ended up buried in a basin. After he stopped moving, Boline said he did body checks. He knew his leg was broken, but said he could feel his toes, spine, neck and head.

"I know where I am at this point. So I start thrashing around a little bit … I didn't want to freak out because I knew I only had so much oxygen and I'm not sure if my left leg was buried or if I broke it free," Boline said.

"But I realized I was able to move it, so I did like circles with my leg. I realized my left leg was full out … and it hurt."

Boline was wearing orange boots, so his hope was that maybe patrollers would find him that way and dig him out. While buried in the snow, he was able to control his breathing and wrestle one of his arms free from a ski pole strap

He then started to claw at the snow around his head, which was fully buried.

"But I knew I wasn't that deep, so that was a good thing … so I just scratched away. It was hard, obviously … I was pretty close, so I took a break. I was getting a little bit better air … I didn't want to pass out. That was my biggest fear," Boline said.

He also was wearing a beacon, so Boline was hopeful somebody was going to find him. So as his breathing became easier, he was then able to move snow around his head and finally get it free.

"I could see exactly where I was," he said.

'I was so glad someone was there'

Boline then tried to claw at his radio in his chest pocket. He got it to the point where he could hear radio chatter, but as he was messing with the device he saw ski patrol coming down the mountain doing an avalanche beacon sweep.

So he started yelling for help as loud as he could. He'd wait a few seconds, and then yell again.

"And I'm like 'Oh my god. These guys are going to pass me and they're not going to see me.' Because they're coming down on the other side of the clump of trees I was in and I was like … 'damn it they're not going to pass me.'"

But then his circumstances took a turn for the better. One of the patrollers heard him, and said to keep yelling so he could be located.

"He came around. I saw him and I was so glad someone was there," Boline said.

He then let a patroller know that he was with three other people, all of whom he identified, at the time the avalanche occurred around 1:40 p.m. As it turned out, they were all fine.

Boline said it seemed like forever for his body to be wrested from the snow by rescuers. His spine, neck and other areas of his body were checked out before he was moved and put on a sled.

He realized how badly his leg was broken when someone was digging around his face and saw his boot.

"I'm like, 'What?' And I look, and my boot's like right here just above my shoulder here and … I swear I wiggled my toes and it felt like they were down underneath me … that was the weirdest feeling," Boline said.

He said when he was moved he was grabbed by the shoulders and pulled back onto the sled. At that point, he said his right leg went back to where it wanted to be.

"It was so much pain. I've never felt something like that before. And they put me in traction at that point, and it definitely helped," Boline said.

He was then taken down the mountain, and transported by ambulance to Tahoe Forest Hospital in Truckee. He underwent multiple surgeries, and spent nearly a week in the hospital before he was released.

Boline's road to recovery is going to be long. He must spend the next 6-8 weeks in a wheelchair, and cannot put any weight on his left leg, which suffered multiple fractures.

His wife, Christine, said her husband likely survived the ordeal because of his physical condition and the training he's undergone while an employee at Squaw Valley.

"It is honestly a true miracle," she said.

Staff writer Wyatt Haupt Jr. can be reached at 530-550-2652 or via email at whaupt@truckeesun.com.

Martis Valley West housing project suffers legal setback

A proposed 760-unit housing development near Brockway Summit suffered a setback after a judge took issue with emergency evacuation procedures for wildfires.

Placer County Superior Court Judge Michael W. Jones ruled earlier this month, in a lawsuit filed by petitioners Sierra Watch, League to Save Lake Tahoe, Mountain Area Preservation Foundation.

The residential and commercial project, which is being developed by Moutainside Partners, is earmarked for an area off California Route 267 between Northstar California Resort and Tahoe Basin boundary.

Jones ruled in favor of the respondents on every issue, except one, that was raised in the lawsuit. He found fault with "emergency evacuation procedures for wildfires and other emergencies."

He also issued a writ of mandate that directs the county to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act as it pertains to those procedures.

Sierra Watch, Mountain Area Preservation, and the League to Save Lake Tahoe hailed the decision.

"This is great news for anybody who cares about the future of North Lake Tahoe. It's another great example of how we can work together to protect the places we love," said Tom Mooers, executive director of Sierra Watch.

"The county and the developers can, if they want, appeal this decision but we don't think they would be making that appeal on solid ground. The judge's ruling is clear, especially on the issue of fire danger. It's difficult to imagine an appellate court not seeing that logic."

Mountainside Partners took the ruling in stride.

"The court issued a decision on March 12, 2018, whereby it ruled in the favor of Martis Valley West Project on 11 of 12 issues raised in the lawsuit," said Blake Riva, managing partner of Mountainside Partners, in a statement.

"Moutainside Partners and Sierra Pacific Industries are generally pleased with the ruling. It affirms the thoroughness and adequacy of the Environmental Impact Report. The court would like to see additional information related to the emergency evacuation plan. We will work closely with Placer County to comply with this requirement."

The Placer County Board of Supervisors approved the Martis Valley West project in October 2016. The lawsuit was filed in November 2016. A trial was held on Dec. 14, 2017.

"The Martis Valley West Project will proceed in accordance with the Placer County approvals as set forth in the Certified Environmental Impact Report and Development Agreement," Riva said.

"The timing of the commencement of development work on the project is to be determined by the project developer."

Placer County struck a similar tone.

"Overall, we believe the ruling largely affirms Placer county's thorough and diligent preparation of the project's Environmental Impact Report," said deputy county counsel Clayton Cook in a statement.

"We will continue to work with the community and the applicant on the remaining legal issue and the project as it moves forward."

The residential and commercial project, as identified in Jones' ruling, is situated on land owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, which were the respondents in the lawsuit along with Placer County.

The development would span both sides of California Route 267.

"It is located in an area Jones described as a 'fire environment' with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) designating the area as a Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone," Jones wrote.

The project is situated on two main parcels — east and west of California Route 267.

"The West Parcel is located on the west side of SR 267 within Placer County and involves 1,052 acres of undeveloped coniferous forest land designated as Forest under the Martis Valley Community Plan. The area is also zoned as Timberland Production Zone (TPZ)," Jones wrote.

"Under the Project, 662 acres of the West Parcel would be rezoned for residential and commercial development. This would allow for up to 60 residential units and 6.6 acres of retail stores, restaurants, offices, and sports equipment rentals."

The commercial and retail area is capped at 34,500 square feet.

"The East Parcel is located on the east side of SR 267. The 6,376 acres fall within both Placer County and Nevada County. The majority of the acreage — 6,030 acres — is located in Placer County. The final 130 acres are within Placer County but are also located in Nevada County," Jones wrote.

"Approximately 5,706 acres is designated Forest and zoned TPZ. The other 670 acres are designated Low Density Residential and General Commercial with zoning for Single-Family Residential and Neighborhood Commercial. The East Parcel was the original site for residential and commercial development."

He later added, "The Project calls for the entire East Parcel to be permanently conserved so that no development will occur on the parcel. The mechanism for conservation will be through either the sale of the East Parcel to a land trust type organization or the recording of a conservation easement that restricts the use of the parcel."

Placer County Superior Court judge halts Martis Valley West development

A Placer County Superior Court judge issued a ruling on Monday, March 12, that halts the controversial Martis Valley West project.

The project called for 760 single-family homes in an area located off Highway 267 between Northstar California Resort and Tahoe Basin boundary.

“Simply put, the EIR (environmental impact report) … fails to adequately address the Project’s impacts on emergency evacuations in the area — especially in light of its high fire hazard status — so as to leave the analysis incomplete and failing to properly disclose to the public the actual impacts of the Project ,” wrote Judge Michael W. Jones in a 15-page ruling.

This story will be updated.