High and Dry: Low snow means ski deals, early closings for resorts
The snow gods must have been preoccupied this year.
March, the month often heralded as the saving grace after a slow winter, is coming to a decisive close and it looks more like Cancun, Mexico or MTV’s Spring Break around the basin than a haven for snow lovers.
With the promise of January and February storms now just a faint memory and the number of optimists chanting “it will snow again” beginning to wane, locals must finally take a long, hard look around.
The mountains are turning brown, the sun has moved into Tahoe Donner and the ski season just ain’t getting better.
Despite the warm temperatures and lack of snow, most local resorts are planning on staying open until the end of April. Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows are even hoping to make it until the end of May.
“It’s all up to Mother Nature at this point. She is dealing the cards and we’ll keep playing as long as we can,” said Sugar Bowl’s Marketing Director Greg Murtha.
Sugar Bowl, Squaw Valley, Northstar, Boreal and Soda Springs will all continue to operate until Easter before making any decisions about premature closing. Diamond Peak Ski Resort in Incline Village and Tahoe Donner ski area will be closing as early as this Sunday.
“There is no need for panic,” said Squaw Valley Public Relations Director Katja Dahl. “March has been good for us, people are getting out and having a great time in the sun.”
As far as event planning, resorts like Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows that have scheduled races and competitions until the end of April and into May will continue to hold these events at the mountain.
“We can always move them [events] other places if the snow is too thin, but right now we are just assessing it week by week,” said Dahl.
Squaw, Northstar, Alpine Meadows and other larger mountains will slowly close sections of the mountain as the conditions necessitate. With more terrain and larger staffs, these resorts have the luxury of pushing snow around and filling in spaces where needed.
Smaller resorts like Tahoe Donner, on the other hand, are closing prematurely on April 1, unable to continue operations amidst the sun and rain that has graced the region over the last few weeks.
“If we can’t provide a quality surface, then we won’t stay open – it’s that simple,” said Tahoe Donner Winter Marketing Coordinator Bob Bush. “We are not going to stay open just for the sake of being open.”
Although the snow has not been ideal for spring skiing, the warm temperatures and spring lift ticket bargains have kept people on the mountains. Nearly every resort is offering initiatives to continue hitting the slopes with discounts for students, locals, pass holders to local mountains and employees of other mountains. Pass deals for the 2001/2002 season are also being offered immediately that include skiing for the rest of this season.
“We are still packed. People love the sunshine and the spring,” Sugar Bowl’s Murtha added. Area resorts like Sugar Bowl are continuing to maintain their entire staff base and are optimistic about lasting through the month of April.
The statistics regarding snowfall are even more discouraging. The snow water content readings at Squaw Valley and other sites in the area are as low as 44 percent of the average at the end of March, according to engineer and water supply forecaster for the California Department of Water Resources John-Pierre Stephens.
“Given how fast the melt is going, it will be even less by April 1,” Stephens added. Weather forecasts are not calling for snow in the next few weeks either, forcing resorts to accept that the end is near.
This epidemic is not limited to the Truckee/Tahoe area. Resorts in Colorado are also experiencing the onslaught of early spring. While Vail Resorts continues to keep 100 percent of the mountain open to visitors, the snow is slowly softening up.
“It is spring skiing conditions for sure, but visitor numbers are still meeting expectations,” said Kristin Yantis, Communications Manager at Vail.
Warm weather has danced around the Rocky Mountain Range, leaving the region at approximately 60 percent of its annual snowfall there, according to the National Weather Service.
In the meantime, resorts will continue to work diligently to keep visitors on the mountain until the last patch of snow has melted, with deals that will allow skiers to hit the slopes for less than $10 at some places.
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High school snowboarding continued this week with a pair of giant slalom races at Boreal Mountain California and Alpine Meadows.