Summer tourists normally pack swimsuits and sunscreen to visit California's sandy beaches, but many may be loading ski coats and snow boots this year.

Ski resorts across Central and Northern California are now extending their season late into the summer months in the wake of historic winter snowfall.

Many locations in the Sierra Nevada range have now accumulated over 700 inches of snow this season - cementing this year as one of the top two snowiest winters on record.


Mammoth Mountain, a resort in the eastern Sierra Nevada, has been continuously blanketed by heaps of heavy snow. Some homes near the mountain are completely buried - only the tops of basketball hoops visible. The resort had its snowiest season on record, beating the previous record set in 2010, after receiving 704 inches this season. And the snow is still piling up.

When Lauren Burke looks out of her third-story office window, the Mammoth Mountain communications director can just see over the mound of snow.

"This means that we're going to have the best spring skiing that we've ever seen," Burke said.

The ski resort, which is open until at least the end of May each year, plans to keep its slopes open until the end of July. It has been six years since the slopes stayed open at least that late. In 2017, Mammoth stayed open until early August after a seasonal total of 617 inches.

"It is the Mammoth way to stay open as long as conditions allow," Burke said. "If we can be skiing in the summer every year, that's what we're going to do."

Some years, mild temperature in January and February bring sun that eats away at the snowpack. But this year has been "the exact opposite," Burke said.

Last winter, a much milder season, produced only 260 inches at Mammoth, which then closed in early June. The resort's average seasonal snowfall is about 400 inches.


At Palisades Tahoe ski area, about 130 miles to the northwest of Mammoth, slopes will stay open through Independence Day, its longest season in four years.

The resort, which calls itself "the spring skiing capital," has received 698 inches, or about 58 feet - its second-most snowfall on record. Palisades Tahoe public relations manager Patrick Lacey believes this year is on track to surpass the record of 707 inches.

"We're buried out here but at the same time, we're loving it," Lacey said.

Last year, Palisades Tahoe saw below-average snowfall, which forced it to close doors on Memorial Day. The year before that, the mountain got only 281 inches - a little more than half of its average.

"It's insane how much snowfall we've gotten this year," Lacey said.

The snow has kept coming as spring has overtaken winter - and it started on the early side, too.


Across Lake Tahoe, Heavenly Mountain Resort and Northstar California - all a part of Vail resorts - opened weeks early. Kirkwood Mountain Resort, on the south side of the lake, opened nearly a month ahead of schedule.

Now, Heavenly and Northstar are both close to surpassing their all-time snowfall records; Heavenly is just 2 inches away from its record of 564 inches.

Heavenly has already doubled its season average, and added three extra weeks to its calendar, while Northstar - with 649 inches - is close. Northstar extended its season by two weekends. After more snow this week, Kirkwood's seasonal total is now 704 inches. Kirkwood was scheduled to close at the end of April, but the resort extended its season until mid-May.

While the wild winter has delighted skiers and stretched the season, it comes with a cost.

On many days, crews at Mammoth have been outside rescuing chairlifts buried by snow.

"The amount of shoveling that's been required almost every day here is monumental," said Burke, who has worked at Mammoth for 12 years. "To say that we've gotten a lot of snow this season is an understatement. It's definitely been a really challenging season."

In some instances, the snow has just been too much. Palisades Tahoe had to close three times this year because of excessive amounts.

"We have just been getting dumped on storm after storm so it has just been a lot of work for our team," Lacey said.

Staff members at Palisades Tahoe have been forced to come to work early or stay late to remove snow. At times, two staff members have needed to run the chairlifts at night to prevent them from freezing. The snow has piled so high that crews have also been forced to dig out some of the chairlifts, up to 40 feet off the ground.

But the upshot of the closures and added labor is that the season is now extended 10 extra days, Lacey said.

Other winter weather can add additional obstacles for crews at ski resorts.

Heavy snow is often accompanied by wind gusts over 100 mph, resulting in rime ice on the lifts - which forms when supercooled water droplets freeze on impact with an object - and power outages, said Cole Zimmerman, communications manager at Heavenly Mountain Resorts. Teams across resorts have to manually chop off lumps of ice from equipment.

"Our teams have been true heroes in a season that has felt relentless at times," Zimmerman said.