updated 12/19/2011 9:35:36 AM ET 2011-12-19T14:35:36

Sierra Nevada ski resorts are heading into the traditionally busy Christmas season missing only one thing: natural snow.

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Plagued by a skimpy snowpack, most resorts have relied on snow-making machines to open with limited operations.

Kayla Anderson of the Mt. Rose-Ski Tahoe resort above Reno said her resort wouldn't have been able to open Dec. 9 without its snow-making machines.

"Luckily with cooler temperatures, we've been able to run our snow guns practically nonstop," she said.

Boreal Mountain Resort has produced more than 32 million gallons of snow this season, a record for the resort located atop Donner Summit north of Lake Tahoe, spokesman Jon Slaughter said.

While it offers top-to-bottom skiing and snowboarding, only five of Boreal's 41 trails were open Sunday. Other Tahoe-area resorts reported a similar story, with eight of 170 trails open at Squaw Valley USA and 20 of 97 trails open at Heavenly Mountain Resort.

The Tahoe basin's snowpack on Sunday was 39 percent of average for the date while the water content of its snowpack was just 18 percent of normal, according to the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The National Weather Service was calling for no chance of snow around Tahoe at least through Christmas Day.

The start of the season is in marked contrast to last season, when Boreal reported receiving about 66 feet of snow to break its record of 55 feet set in 1994-95. The snowpack at its peak was the fourth deepest since 1946 at the University of California, Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow Laboratory near Donner Summit, and well above normal across the Sierra.

As the resorts get more natural snow, more terrain will open for skiers and snowboarders.

"Winter has yet to kick into high gear, and with limited snowmaking we rely on Mother Nature," said John Rice, general manager of Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort near South Lake Tahoe, Calif. "We definitely have early-season conditions on the mountain."

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