The polar vortex may have much of the nation singing the blues, but ski areas across the country are breathing a sigh of relief after the arrival of strong snowstorms in late January.
Strong snow in midseason matters to the winter sports industry, not only because of the upcoming, crucial vacation weeks that pack the slopes, but also because good snow now tends to mean good snow later.
“Not only are conditions fantastic for people traveling in the near future, all this snow is setting things up for a very successful spring skiing season,” said Dan Sherman of Ski.com. “And remember, March is typically the snowiest month of the year in the mountains, so conditions are only going to get better.”
Vail Resorts refers to its January snowfall as the storm of the century, with all four of its Colorado resorts (Vail, Beaver Creek, Breckenridge and Keystone) recording the largest 24- and 48-hour snowfall totals since the 2000-2001 season. In fact, the more than 2 feet of snow that fell in just two days at the end of January resulted in the opening of a whopping 13,000 acres across the four resorts.
Meanwhile, at last count nearly 15 feet of snow had fallen on Aspen/Snowmass so far. With the recent storm, January snowfall jumped well past the monthly average, which bodes well for the second half of the season.
“The snow is really shaping up in our favor as we head into the heart of winter, pretty much assuring that skiers and riders will find the snow conditions they desire well into April,” said Jerry Blann, president of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. At press time Jackson Hole had received more than 21 feet of snow to date and had posted record skier days so far this season.
Farther west, Squaw Valley received some much-needed snow early this month, dropping some 6 feet of snow and allowing the resort to finally open lifts that serve some of its most popular terrain in time for Presidents Day weekend. Heavenly, Kirkwood, Northstar and Mammoth Mountain also received heavy snowfalls at the end of January. Because California resorts often stay open later than those in the rest of the country, the January snow is sparking hope that the spring season will see a turnaround in what has thus far been a disappointing season.
Despite all this recent bounty from Mother Nature, however, Sherman says comparing yearly sales can be tricky.
“For most resorts in the West, this has been a fantastic snow year since the beginning of the season, and our sales levels do confirm that snow may be a motivating factor for taking a ski trip this year,” he said. “The Alps, particularly in Italy, have also received fantastic snow this year, and our sales definitely reflect that.”
However, Sherman said it’s hard to compare this year to 2013, which he cited as “irregular,” with people waiting longer than usual to book because of the election and Hurricane Sandy.
“Also, the mountains didn’t receive big snowstorms until January,” he added.