Blessed are those with snow, this year



As one of the few ski areas in North America blessed with plentiful snow this winter, Whistler continues to enjoy nearly holiday-like visitor numbers well into the second week of the New Year. Californians, Brits and eastern Canadians are following the snow and joining regional visitors to make January 2012 one of the strongest in recent years.

For most other North American resorts, however, this winter has not been nearly so good. According to the New York Times, the snowpack in the Lake Tahoe basin was just 9 per cent of normal on Jan. 1. Squaw Valley had a base of 12 inches as of this morning.

In Colorado, for the first time in 30 years a lack of snow has prevented Vail from opening its Back Bowls, although investment in snowmaking has paid off. As of Tuesday, Vail had 21 of 31 lifts operating and 111 of 193 runs open despite a base of just 22 inches.

In New England, colder temperatures this week are offering some salvation but the snow drought has now made the number of snowmaking machines a resort owns one of the vital statistics. Weather reports now refer to “snowmaking conditions,” i.e. freezing temperatures.

Some of the bigger resorts are scrambling but still finding ways to stay in business despite the lack of snow. “Even in what has been a very, very difficult situation in terms of national snowfall, our total revenue is actually up,” Robert A. Katz, chief executive for Vail Resorts, told the Times. Vail Resorts reported that season-to-date lift-ticket revenue increased 0.6 per cent and ski school revenue was up 0.9 per cent compared with last season, when record snowfall was reported across its resorts.

Inevitably, the disparity in snowfall has led to the “haves” trying to attract customers from this winter’s “have nots.” Big Sky in Montana, for example, claims to have the most snow in the U.S. Rocky Mountains and is offering Vail Resorts’ Epic Pass holders free skiing this month if they book lodging through Big Sky Central Reservations.

Closer to home, at Red Mountain Resort in Rossland where all 88 runs are open and there is a 110 cm base of natural snow, they are offering 30 days of free lift passes to U.S. visitors who book through Red Mountain Resort lodging using the booking code RedsGotSnow, according to the Times.

Of course, every ski area offers deals in January, particularly in these economically uncertain times. But weather is becoming as hard to predict as the economy, and ski areas — like Whistler — that have snow this year may find the situation quite different next year.