CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. - Nobody expected a gangbuster Christmas week this year in ski towns. And, from all available evidence, that's just the way it turned out.
Here and there have been crowds, but people continue to count nickels, unlike the days of old.
Consider Crested Butte, where skier days, spending and occupancy were somewhat on par with the previous year - when the dimensions of the Great Recession were being understood.
Still, the Crested Butte News ominously tells about one shuttle plane to Denver that had only four passengers. The passengers had to sit in the back rows of the plane, to balance the crew in the front.
Meanwhile, room rates continue to slide. One hotelier at Snowmass Village reports that even after discounts, tour operators now return wanting further discounts. The new normal is still in flux.
Snowpacks notoriously unstable
KETCHUM, Idaho - As had been predicted, the La Niña ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean have not blessed many ski areas in the West with snow this year. The sporadic snowstorms, combined with the cold, have resulted in the layers of snow found in many locations being very weak and more susceptible to avalanches.
At Sun Valley's marquee Bald Mountain, that has resulted in the bowls not being opened as of mid-January. "Right now, the natural snowpack in the bowls is as weak as I've ever seen it in all the years I've been here," said Rich Bingham, the snow safety director of Sun Valley Ski Patrol and a veteran of 43 years at the resort.
At Vail, a snowboarder left the ski area and ventured into backcountry area called Miller Cliffs. The Vail Daily reports that authorities found the man in an avalanche area, with no reason to suspect foul play.
Those out skiing in the backcountry have been advised to hew to moderate slope angles.
Snowpacks in the Rocky Mountains are notoriously fickle. Heat from the earth works through the snow to the cold atmosphere, in the process recreating the snowflakes into a sugary substance that in phases might resemble marbles.
Thermometers aren't liberals
VAIL, Colo. - Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and the other talkathon right-wingers of radio and TV probably didn't take notice, but Don Rogers, editor and publisher of the Vail Daily , threw some spears their way.
"There's no longstanding downward trend, unless you follow a certain ideology beyond the bounds of evidence and even common sense," he says, responding to their argument that the world's climate is actually cooling.