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Mountain News: Snow finally arrives, but groomers praised

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SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Praise be the groomers and snowmakers. That was the message in many ski resorts as a broad swath of the West continued to have marginal snow this past week.

"I've never seen a crew do so much with so little," wrote a reader in the Idaho Mountain Express, describing the grooming of Sun Valley's Bald Mountain.

On Monday, a storm rolled in across Park City and then into Colorado in what at least one meteorologist says is likely the harbinger of more to come.

"It wasn't a dump, by any means, but it was a great pick-me-up," reports Nan Chalat-Noaker, editor of The Park Record.

"It looks like we're in for a pattern change," said Mike Chamberlain, who is with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, Colo. Chamberlain told the Steamboat Pilot of evidence that the ridge of high pressure that has kept snow mostly out of the forecast for Steamboat — and many other resorts from Tahoe to Breckenridge — is starting to break down.

In Park City on Saturday, dancers from the Northern Ute Nation, which is headquartered nearby in Utah, conducted a snow-blessing ceremony. This came several days after the town council passed a resolution declaring teams from the Deer Valley and Park City ski areas the "greatest snowmakers and groomers on Earth." It was, noted The Park Record, a play on the Utah ski industry's marketing slogan of "The Greatest Snow on Earth."

Idaho's Bogus Basin remains closed — the latest ever in the 62-year history of the ski area just outside of Boise.

In California, there was so little snow in the Tahoe Basin that the Forest Service issued a distinctly unseasonal warning: fire danger.

"We are essentially back in fire season," said Kit Bailey, fire chief of the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

The Tahoe Daily Tribune noted that lack of snow had done tourism numbers no favors. One rental firm told the newspaper that only 40 per cent of units were booked, compared with 60 to 70 per cent of units more typically.

In something of a related note, the Forest Service in the Lake Tahoe Basin approved thinning of trees and removal of bushes on more than 10,000 acres. Forest officials said the fuel reduction was needed to protect communities from the dangers of wildfire. No specific timetable was reported, although presumably the work will take many months, possibly several years.

Comparisons continue to be drawn to two prior drought years of note, 1976-'77 and 1980-'81. A former ski patroller remembers that in the first season, patrollers went through two or three pairs of skis because of all the rocks. Since then, Vail has invested heavily in snowmaking — although not in the Back Bowls®, which remain closed.

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