BOSTON -- The weather phenomenon El Nino has taken its share of
the blame for various peculiarities the world over, but in the
U.S., ski areas are betting that it will deliver just what the
winter vacationer ordered: plenty of snow.
"We anticipate a record-breaking ski season," said Barbara
Jennings, communications director for Colorado Ski Country, a
nonprofit trade association for 24 Colorado ski resorts. "The last
time Denver got an October blizzard was in 1992, which was an El
Nino year and a great year for skiing," she said.
While cautioning that El Nino is a wild card, forecasting
services generally agree. "Trends in the West indicate warmer and
snowier winters in the Sierra Nevadas [during El Nino years]," said
Russ Murley, meteorologist for Precision Weather Service, a private
firm based in Casco, Maine. "Storm tracks favor those areas also,"
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also said
southern Colorado has a more than 50% likelihood of seeing greater
than average snowfalls.
But exactly which resorts are we talking about?
"It is like rolling dice to predict where the snow will be
good," said Bruce Rosard, president of Moguls/Tours de Sport in
Boulder, Colo., a tour operator that sells ski packages to resorts
in the U.S. and Canadian Rockies. "But this year the dice seem to
be loaded toward the southern Rockies," he said.
Telluride and Purgatory ski resorts, both in southern Colorado,
may be sitting in the cat bird seat this year, as is Taos, N.M.,
and resort officials are eagerly anticipating a great season.
Taos Ski Valley has received more than 77 inches of snow since
mid-October, prompting the resort to move its official opening date
to Nov. 22 -- its earliest ever. "If the El Nino weather patterns
continue, this should be an exceptional year to ski Taos," said
Chris Stagg, vice president of marketing at Taos.
As to the rest of the Rocky Mountain resorts, "they are on the
cusp," said Rosard. "It might be a normal year or it could be
extraordinary." There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest
that heavy snowfalls, if they occur, will not be restricted to the
East Coast resorts are predicting a great year, based on records
of snow conditions during previous El Nino years. Sunday River Ski
Resort in Maine, for example, posted record attendance numbers
every El Nino winter since 1980.
And during the 1986-87 ski season, also an El Nino year,
Vermont's Mount Snow and Killington resorts broke their own
attendance records, thanks to heavy snowfalls.
Sources agree that the precipitation will probably be
concentrated heavily on the second half of the season. If this
holds true, it could be a boon for spring skiing, with a
longer-than-usual season extending well into April.
For skiers, the advantages of spring skiing are warmer
temperatures, uncrowded slopes and late-season specials. For the
industry, a longer season means more time to sell the product.
According to Colorado Ski Country's Jennings, recent storms have
put skiers in the mood for the sport sooner than otherwise might be
"It's a sure bet that everyone in the U.S. knows there is snow
in Colorado," Jennings said. "That kind of awareness at this time
of year is good for us in terms of boosting reservations."
As to El Nino's effects on ski conditions in other parts of the
world, the evidence is much more ambiguous. Since El Nino is a
disruption in the ocean atmospheric system in the tropical Pacific,
Asian countries such as Indonesia could be affected because they
are close to the equator, according to Murley.
Forecasters are predicting a warm, dry winter in Japan, however,
fueling speculation that the ripples from El Nino may be wider than
expected. Japan will host the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano
For continually updated, if somewhat technical, information
about El Nino, visit the U.S. Department of Commerce El Nino home
page at http://www.pmel.moaa.gov/toga-tao/el-nino.