In the final days of February 2023, 146 inches of snow fell on the slopes of Palisades Tahoe. It was our biggest storm of the season to date. It was also timed exactly with our biggest event of the season, the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup, a stop on the 2023 Audi FIS Ski World Cup tour. The Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup was set to be back on the legendary Red Dog racecourse at Palisades after a 6-year hiatus. As our teams watched the weather forecast, we had no way to guarantee that we’d be able to pull off hosting the international race. You see, while we were excited for the epic powder days to come following the storm, ski racing requires a very specific, firm surface — a surface that is in stark contrast to fresh powder.
It was a nail-biter down to the last minute as the Tahoe region got pummeled, but like magic, there was a 36-hour break in extreme winter weather in which the races were able to occur. The break in the weather wasn’t the only thing that made this event possible, though. The real story here is the incredible work of our operations, events, and ski teams, who were on the hill around the clock, slipping and clearing the racecourse until the final moments before the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup kicked off. Let’s look back at their heroic efforts:
Teams working in the early morning or late at night to “slip” the racecourse. Photos courtesy of Bill Hudson, Kyle Crezee, and Craig Patterson.
RACECOURSE PREPARATION + MAINTENANCE
So many departments were involved in developing the firm racecourse surface needed for an event like the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup. From race services to grooming, and snowmaking to our ski teams, it truly was an all-hands-on-deck effort. Plus, we enlisted hundreds of volunteers to make it all possible. Here are some neat statistics that add some color to the behind-the-scenes work:
- Our Snowmaking Department spent over 650 hours watering the racecourse and an additional 1,500 hours hauling gear such as baskets of netting, hoses, and other equipment.
- In the week leading up to the event, our Ski Teams had anywhere from 30-60 staff working up to 18 hours a day. Their duties included setting up nets and fences, shoveling, raking, slipping, pushing/removing snow, watering/injecting the course, setting up closures, wrenching, packing, carrying, and more!
- Our Grooming Department brought in 4 racecourse specialists to work on the course. Their work on the hill started the first week of February and the team put in over 1,500 hours of grooming time.
If you’re curious about how we prepared the racecourse, you can read more in our Operations Blog, or check out the story of two of the grooming leaders managing the course.
Despite very snowy weather that led to the unfortunate cancellation of one of our musical guests, Friday’s Kick-Off Parade and Public Bib Draw drew quite a crowd. Athletes, employees, families, media outlets, and more gathered to parade through The Village at Palisades Tahoe with swiss cowbells in hand. Then, the top-ranked 15 athletes from around the world selected their bib numbers for the weekend’s Giant Slalom race.
At 2 in the morning, our crews started loading up Red Dog and preparing for the day. 12 inches of snow fell in the 24 hours preceding the event’s start. Giant Slalom racing requires a firm, almost icy racecourse surface. That meant we had to clear any fresh powder off of the course. The Red Dog racecourse is not a tiny area; this is a huge run that is known for how steep and challenging it is. But despite all the cards being stacked against our ability to hold a World Cup race on a wintery weekend, we were out there, making it happen. The biggest impact the snow had on Saturday was simply a one-hour delay to the race’s start time.
Thankfully, Saturday night’s snow accumulation wasn’t nearly as high as Friday night’s, so while our teams still got an early start on slipping the course, there were no schedule delays. Visibility deteriorated throughout the morning, making for an intense and nerve-wracking series of races. As the day closed out, snowfall got much heavier and more dense.
As the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup came to a close, the snow turned back on. The brief window in which we were able to host the races closed rapidly. We received more than 3 feet of snow in 24 hours and had to close down both mountains entirely on Tuesday, February 28th due to low visibility and avalanche conditions.
THIS YEAR: THE STIFEL PALISADES TAHOE CUP RETURNS
If you’ve been paying attention to our snowfall this year, you’re probably aware that this season is practically the opposite of the 22-23 winter season so far. Instead of battling 146 inches of snow in a week, we have had less than average snowfall. That said, thanks to our significant investments in snowmaking capabilities in the areas surrounding the racecourse, we are confident in our ability to host another incredible event, even with a different set of challenges.
In the last 2 years, we have put in 21 new fan gun towers for snowmaking: 13 on Exhibition and 8 on Red Dog. These fan gun installations also came with brand new pipe: 2,500 feet on Exhibition and 1,500 feet on Red Dog Face. This project is crucial for hosting race-related events. Having the ability to make snow all the way to the top and having access to water pipes will be extremely helpful for our events staff. We cannot wait to welcome the Stifel Palisades Tahoe Cup and the world stage back to our mountains.