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Mountain News: Snow-haves try to steal market share

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MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — In the first days of 2012, ski resorts with snow smelled opportunity to carve a larger slice of market share.

Those resorts blessed with snow were either far north or far south, but leaving a large band of resorts across the middle of the United States looking woefully over their shoulders for precedent. Usually in La Niña winters, the line cleaves more cleanly across the nation's middle between the haves and the have-nots.

Among the haves was Montana's Big Sky Resort. It announced a special "Epic Package," available to holders of the Vail Resorts Epic Pass. Pass-holders booking lodging with the Big Sky Central Reservations during January could ski free.

"Colorado and Tahoe skiing not so epic this season? We'd like to help," said Big Sky on its website.

Grand Targhee, located on the flanks of the Tetons in Wyoming, more broadly offered free lift tickets to anybody with a season pass to a U.S. or Canadian ski resort for as many nights lodging as were booked through Targhee's lodging division.

Whistler-Blackcomb couldn't help but gloat. It posted a bar chart on its Facebook page. As of Jan. 5, it had 517 centimeters (204 inches) of snow, almost twice as much as the next in line, Snowbird and Alta, then Vail and Breckenridge, with poor Heavenly looking like a child's stool in this row of bars.

In the Tahoe Basin, Homewood Mountain Resort announced it would be closed Mondays through Thursdays "until snow conditions permit ... or further notice." It had just a handful of trails open.

Truckee's Sierra Sun also reported rumors — dismissed speedily by resort representatives — of other resorts closing down.

"If anyone hears rumors like that, they should question the intellect, the judgment and the motivations of the people who are forwarding those rumors along," Andy Wirth, chief executive of Squaw and Alpine, told the newspaper.

But ski areas were closing. Mt. Ashland Ski Area in Oregon was one.

Bogus Basin, outside Boise, never opened. The latest opening ever before for the Idaho ski area was Jan. 6 one year. It has been operating 69 years. Ski area representatives told the Idaho Statesman they could open the runs with as little as 41 centimetres, but last week they had only 8 to 25.

"We are confident in the fact that it's going to snow," general manager Mike Shirley told the newspaper. "If it didn't, that would be breathtaking."

Shirley was foregoing pay during a time when the ski area takes in as much as $100,000 in revenue. Other year-round employees are getting 10 per cent pay cuts and in some cases reduced hours.

Bogus season pass-holders were extended discounts at other Idaho resorts, including Brundage. That resort opened late, but has snow — and warm weather. "I've never seen so many people willing to ski in the rain and actually smiling about it," spokeswoman April Russell told the Statesman.

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