Following an epic series of winter snowstorms, skiers and riders at Sierra-at-Tahoe have been carving turns and grinning wide this season. But the biggest story isn’t the snow blanketing the South Lake Tahoe ski area’s 8,852-foot summit. It’s Sierra’s triumphant revival after August 2021’s Caldor Fire scorched the mountain.
“It's been a pretty emotional journey for Sierra-at-Tahoe,” says Shelby Dunlap, the resort’s communications manager. “After the Caldor Fire came through, it was a pretty grim sight. There were a lot of people, including us, who didn't know what the future would be for our mountain. But there was also an immediate call to action to get Sierra back on her feet.”
That required 16 months of painstaking repairs and restoration. Despite firefighters’ efforts to protect the resort, the Caldor Fire burned 80 percent of Sierra’s 2,000 acres and damaged five lifts, a maintenance shed, and snow-grooming equipment.
“When the fire started coming, we put all of the heavy machinery we had—including five brand-new snow cats that had never been used before—in our upper shop, which was made of concrete and steel. We thought there was no way that would burn, but it did,” Dunlap says.
The fire also killed more than 14,000 trees, primarily old-growth pines, creating “tree hazards” that had to be removed for skiers’ safety. Sierra-at-Tahoe was closed for the entire 2021–22 ski reason. A major recovery effort began in summer 2022.
“There was an incredible amount of labor every single hour of the day. We had crews that were camping here to help get all of the restoration and mitigation done,” she says.
Workers removed five million board feet of lumber from the mountain, which dramatically altered the resort’s landscape.
What to Expect at the New Sierra-at-Tahoe
“Sierra-at-Tahoe is almost a new resort,” Dunlap says. “It’s rare for a ski resort to have this opportunity to reinvent itself. We’re building terrain parks and playgrounds in areas that wouldn't have been possible before.”
The most obvious change is in West Bowl, where skiers and riders used to weave through dense tree glades. “Now that the trees are gone, it’s an actual open bowl. You can go out there and do those big hero turns. You have all this wide-open space, and you can hit so many fresh lines.”
Dunlap says the novelty of the changed terrain combined with January’s record-breaking snowfall is driving skier traffic. “People are curious and interested. There's this mystery to Sierra right now and people are saying, ‘Hey, we want to go check it out and see the new views.’”
Reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, she adds. “People are excited to be back. We have this culture and history of people who grew up skiing at Sierra-at-Tahoe. We have fifth-generation skiers who call Sierra their home mountain. A lot of our guests are saying, ‘Wow, it's different, but it's awesome.’ Sierra is more than a mountain; it's really a community.”