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SAM Magazine--South Lake Tahoe, Calif., Jan 12, 2005--Snowfall of up to 19 feet in the past two-plus weeks has left many Sierra resorts stocked with nearly a winter's worth of snow and created a publicity bonanza. But in the short run the storms have dampened travel and visits.

The snowfall total in the Tahoe area is the greatest since 1916, according to weather watchers. It has stranded Amtrak trains, grounded planes at the Reno airport, and closed Interstate 80 and U.S. 50--the main approaches to the areas--for up to a day at a time. This has, at times, kept skiers and riders from reaching the mountains.

The Sierra storms began the day after Christmas. By Jan. 4, Tahoe areas were reporting between seven and nine feet of snow. By Jan. 11, storm totals had grown to 13 to 15 feet. All of this has most operators anticipating a big MLK weekend and robust January visits. "We're thrilled," Stephanie Neff of the California Ski Industries Assn. told SAM. "The California storms are all over the news. You can't get better marketing." And while the storms have kept some visitors away, she said, "Pent-up demand is huge. This could be a great January."

Even SoCal has been getting in on the act. Mountain High has received more than five feet of snow, and the Big Bear areas are not far behind. All are on track for huge seasons, perhaps as good as 1997-98, when El Nino provided a big snow bounty.

Not all area execs have been pleased with the snow. Aside from the short-term dip in visits, dealing with the snow itself has been a chore. "The weather is wearing everyone down," said Sugar Bowl marketing vp Greg Murtha. He admitted that the task of clearing the driveway each morning was losing its novelty. "We're getting a taste of what the Donner Party went through," he said. \