More ski resorts open early as snow blankets the Sierra

Forecasters are hoping that a strong El Nino winter will bring above-average precipitation to California this season.

Some ski resorts already opened after fresh powder blanketed parts of the Sierra following a winter-like storm in early November. The wet weather did not end the state's four-year drought, but it was a welcome change from the past few dismal seasons.

The larger California resorts that opened earlier this month have large snow-making operations, but even the smaller resorts, such as China Peak Mountain Resort in Lakeshore, California, are optimistic about a good snow season. Tim Cohee, owner of China Peak, said they had more than a foot of snow the first week of November and 7 inches the second week.

"It's certainly a lot better than it has been," said Cohee. Last year, the Central California resort closed early for the season for lack of snow.

"The last couple years have been beyond anyone's imagination for how bad it could be. It's already way better. It's been such a rough ride for skiers and snowboarders that everyone in the state feels an obligation to open early," he said.

Skier and snowboarder visitor numbers in California and Nevada last season were down to 4.4 million because of the lack of snow, almost half what they'd been a decade earlier, according to the Kottke National End of Season Survey for the ski industry. For the first time in decades, Vermont edged California and Nevada out of second place in visitor numbers in the 2014-15 season, with 4.6 million visitors, according to Ski Vermont.

Colorado's ski areas typically lead the nation in visitor numbers, with an estimated 12.7 million visits last season. Utah's numbers were 3.8 million.

Boreal Mountain Resort was the first ski resort in Northern California to open for the season when lifts started running Nov. 6.

"After a long summer of preparations, we're more ready than we have ever been to kick off the winter season," said Boreal Mountain Resort vice president Matt Peterson.

Others operating lifts before Thanksgiving included Heavenly Mountain Resort, Northstar California, Mt. Rose Ski Tahoe, Mammoth Mountain, Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley Ski Resort. Additionally, Sugar Bowl will open on the weekend of Nov. 21-22 for 2 days only, but will then will reopen for the season on Thanksgiving Day.