One of tenets of weekly newspapers is if you write about the weather youve been experiencing for some time its bound to change the day your piece is published. I apologize for not writing about the weather sooner.
Last Sunday evening marked two weeks since temperatures jumped from double digits below zero to well above freezing. And rain. The above-zero temperatures are supposed to finally end, after 19 days, on Saturday.
For those of us who have had to go to work in the valley every day and look up at the clouds obscuring the mountains, it has been depressing. For those whose hours have been cut back or who have been laid off, its much more serious than that. Some, like those who make their living from cross-country skiing, have seen their winter earning period begin and end in less than a month.
Conversely, the municipalitys village maintenance crews have had an early start on raking up last falls leaves.
The full brunt of 19 days of October weather in January and February wont be known until the winter season ends but the fear is that the momentum may be lost. For regional skiers and boarders, from the Lower Mainland and Seattle, its been a long period of uninspiring weather. Even though there is good skiing at the tops of the mountains and Whistler-Blackcomb has gone to extraordinary lengths to maintain runs, including right to the valley, some peoples enthusiasm for skiing this year has been crushed.
Whistler is not alone in enduring this mid-winter Hawaiian curse from Kamehameha. Indeed, we are much better off than many. Mount Washington on Vancouver Island has been closed for a few weeks. The ski areas on Vancouvers north shore have been closed for much of the last three weeks. Most of the Interior mountains have had above-zero temperatures for long periods lately. In the East Kootenays, Fernie is desperate for snow, and in Alberta the ski areas near Banff have lost a lot of snow.
South of us, there was one chair servicing ski runs at Crystal Mountain last week. The rest of Washington state was shut down. The snowpack at Sun Valley, in Idaho, went from more than 100 inches to about 50 in the last couple of weeks. Even the Sierra Nevada range, which had been experiencing an incredibly snowy winter, was hit with a temperature inversion when the warm air mass moved south last week.
But back to us, where the big weather story this week seemed to be Jacques Rogges visit and how Vancouver didnt look very wintery, Cypress was closed and Whistler didnt have any snow in the valley for the IOC president. To quote one CBC Radio report Wednesday, " the skiing is lousy ." The implied message seemed to be that somehow this winters freaky weather would have an impact on the Olympics in five years time. While that made for easy speculation it ignores at least two bigger, more complex stories.
1) If a huge if this type of weather ever becomes the norm for this part of North America in January and February it is going to affect a lot more than the Olympics.
2) The warm weather has lasted long enough that its going to have a significant economic impact on a lot of people at mountain resorts across the province.
For many businesses in Whistler, and other mountain resorts, there are still only about four profitable months in the year: December to March. Summers are becoming profitable for some but for others they are still just break-even months. Spring and fall business is improving through conferences but its the winter that makes or breaks a year. So if this 19-day Hawaiian invasion knocks the stuffing out of peoples interest in skiing and boarding and they dont come back this winter some businesses are going to be hurting, which means more people are going to be laid off. If thats the case, it would be the fourth consecutive winter where some phenomena avian flu, SARS, the Iraq war, 9/11 has affected tourism.
All of which makes the next two months critical. But it is not just a matter of sitting back and waiting for snow. Whistler-Blackcomb has led the response by cutting prices and snow farming, including using helicopters to move snow around. Hotels are also offering discounts and incentives for people to return when conditions improve which they will.
But we can also help ourselves. Over the last month people in the Sea to Sky corridor have shown extraordinary compassion for people on the other side of the world affected by the Dec. 26 tsunami. A little bit of that compassion should be shared with neighbours and colleagues. Shop locally. Invite a friend to dinner. Throw a party. Offer encouragement.
Winter is just around the corner.