OPINIONInsight

Early snowfall at U.S. resorts an encouraging start to season

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Felicity Long
Felicity Long

Santa came early this year at many of the nation’s ski areas, with November snowstorms that ignited optimism about how this year will pan out on the slopes.

Of course, we all know how fickle Mother Nature can be, but even if these early snowfalls don’t remain consistent, the very fact that snow has arrived in abundance in so many locations is enough to start hearts racing among winter sports enthusiasts.

“We’re pleased to have over 500 acres of skiable terrain ready for guests,” Gary Shimanowitz, Breckenridge vice president of mountain operations, said late last month. “With over 54 inches of new snow in our opening week alone and extremely favorable temperatures for snowmaking, we’re having one of the better early seasons in years.”

Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone reported hefty snowfalls in mid-November, with 33-plus inches at Breckenridge alone, while Colorado Ski Country USA ski resorts benefited from widespread snowfalls.

Copper Mountain, for example, about five miles west of Denver, has already received a whopping 60 inches of snow, just in time for visitors to celebrate the season with a 12 Days of Copper celebration that will run from Dec. 20 to 31. Activities will include torchlight parades on the mountain, fireworks, discounts and holiday themed restaurant specials.

Aspen Mountain opened five days early for the season on Nov. 22 with top-to-bottom skiing and riding across 120 acres of terrain, thanks to an early-season storm that dumped 21 inches of snow on the mountain.

Whistler, originally scheduled to open for the 2014-15 season Nov. 27, also opened five days early, thanks to early snowfalls and robust snowmaking, while Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, which opened Nov. 27, is reporting more than 100 inches of snow so far and all terrain open.

“Jackson Hole has been getting hit by storm after storm [and] the mountains received over 80 inches of snow in the last three weeks,” said Tim Mason, vice president of operations, adding that midmountain skiing is already offering midwinter conditions.

Angel Fire Resort in New Mexico had already received 13 inches of snow by mid-November, and the low temperatures made for favorable snowmaking as the resort readies for its Dec. 12 opening.

What’s interesting is that the snow is arriving not just in the West but also from the Northeast to the mid-Atlantic.

“So far, top meteorologists are forecasting an earlier start to winter and more snow than usual heading our way,” said Frank DeBerry, COO and president of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia.  The 11,000-acre Intrawest resort is located in the Appalachian Mountain Range. “For those of us in the ski business, that’s exactly what we’re hoping to hear. We’ve enjoyed two decent snow seasons in a row, but we’re excited by models for this winter which point to as much as 167% of the average annual snow totals.”

Snowshoe opened for the 2014-15 winter ski and snowboard season Nov. 26 and will remain open through April 5, its longest announced season schedule in a decade.

On the East Coast, Ski Vermon opened 13 ski, snowboard and cross country ski resorts before Thanksgiving, thanks to good conditions. This good news comes on the heels of two near record-breaking seasons with more 4.5 million skier visits in the last two years.

Vermont’s Killington Resort, which traditionally boasts the longest season in the East, has been open since Nov. 3, and Sugarbush Resort, which invested $1.8 million in new snowmaking equipment for the season, opened Nov. 22 with limited top-to-bottom skiing.

Early snowfalls aside, long-term forecasts have been complicated by the fact that this will be an El Nino winter, which makes it tricky to anticipate overall snowfalls. That said, if tentative predictions that El Nino will be weak or at least moderate, we could see a decent season with even a few spectacular snowstorms on both coasts.

Here’s hoping.

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