TUOLUMNE COUNTY — Last year, limited snowfall created a tough season for Dodge Ridge ski resort in eastern Tuolumne County and other businesses in the region that depend on wintry weather to thrive.
There's no such difficulty this year, with plenty of recent snowfall and a clear sky forecast this weekend as large crowds of travelers on holiday break are expected to head to the slopes.
Dodge Ridge received 43 inches of snow in 72 hours last weekend. That contributes to perfect snow conditions, and a sunny sky starting Thursday will draw out many skiers, said Jeff Hauff, the resort's spokesman.
"Every resort is going to be crowded," Hauff said. "Lines will be longer than they typically are."
But he said the maximum wait in ski-lift lines likely will be only 10 to 15 minutes. Every ski run and trail at Dodge Ridge is open.
"You really couldn't ask for anything more as a skier and as a resort," Hauff said.
Yosemite Valley was blanketed with snow, with several more inches expected to fall through today. Visitors to Yosemite National Park spent last weekend making snowmen and throwing snowballs at one another, taking advantage of an early white Christmas.
Lance Vetesy, owner of Leland High Sierra Snow Play on Highway 108 east of Strawberry, says his company and hotels, restaurants and other businesses hope to draw big crowds this week. They need to rebound after a terrible winter season in 2011-12.
"Last year was absolutely catastrophic," Vetesy said.
Instead of a typical four-month season, Leland was open for only six weeks last winter because of a lack of snow. The snow play area was closed last year at Christmas and had to wait until the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend to open for business.
Plenty of snow has fallen this year, and more is expected.
The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for the western slopes of the northern Sierra Nevada, which will remain in effect through this evening. Forecasters predict 5 to 10 inches of snow, with 1 to 2 feet along the crest.
The wind is expected to be 15 to 25 mph, with gusts to 35 mph. Stronger gusts are likely through mountain passes.
Travelers should expect road delays and chain requirements. Drivers should travel with water, food and safety supplies as a precaution, and they should check with the California Department of Transportation for updated road conditions.
Vetesy said the size of crowds this week will depend on road conditions. He said Caltrans workers have done a great job of clearing the snow for drivers.
Leland employees worked furiously Monday to clear snow from their parking lots. The area is designed for sledding, tubing and saucering downhill, with a sundeck for adults to watch all the action below.
"We're blessed with the snow this year," Vetesy said. "We're going to be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2394.