LAKE TAHOE -- The dusting of snow that appeared atop Tahoe's highest peaks was inaccessible to most who saw it Friday morning, short-lived and good for little more than a few fistfuls of snowballs, but resort operators said that first flurry serves as a psychological ping alerting people that the white season is approaching.
"It's one of those things that gets everyone excited about the season," said Sally Gunter, spokeswoman for Heavenly Mountain Resort. "It's been so warm, and it just shows that seasons are changing and winter is coming back."
Heavenly staff wasted no time assembling the first little snowman of the year, then plopped a season ski pass around its neck and tweeted the image out to followers.
"Lifts aren't open right now and no one could get to the snow, but there's a lot of social media chatter," Gunter said. "Lots of likes and shares and comments. People are thinking about it."
A chance of snow was predicted, and it's not particularly early for a debut appearance, said Jessica Kielhorn, a Reno meteorologist with the National Weather Service. She said they often see measurable snow in late October or early November, adding that the earliest recorded arrival was an inch that fell on Sept. 11, 1952. Annual snowfall at the ski resorts on Lake Tahoe averages between 300 and 500 inches.
Kielhorn said that with temperatures expected to be unseasonably high in the coming week, a repeat snowing isn't expected until a storm system possibly moves through Oct. 22 -- and even that is unlikely.
"Confidence is very low at this time," she said, adding that there are other sights to see than snow.
"I was up there last weekend; the colors are turning, everything's beautiful," she said. "It should be gorgeous."
But resort operators aren't thinking about colors and are prepared to whitewash their slopes themselves if conditions are uncooperative.
"Hopefully Mother Nature will give us some of her love," said Squaw Valley spokeswoman Amelia Richmond, "but we will start making snow as soon as it gets cold enough."
Gunter said Heavenly has similar plans.
"No matter what, we'll make it snow here," she said.
Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him Twitter.com/erickurhi.