Several ski areas in the West are reporting that their summer operations and activities will move forward mostly as scheduled despite receiving historic snowfalls and extending their winter operating seasons late into the spring.
In many cases, hiking and biking trails may be delayed, but construction projects are underway and opening dates are being announced.
This season, ski areas in California and Utah were hit by what meteorologists described as “a barrage of storms and atmospheric rivers” beginning in late December and lasting well into spring.
More than 680 inches of snow, nearly twice its seasonal average, literally buried Bear Valley, located about 80 miles east of Sacramento. A photo showing a Bear Valley ski patroller standing eye-to-eye with a sheave assembly atop the 35-foot Tower 8 on the resort’s Koala lift went viral in the news and on social media.
Tricia Slavik, marketer for Bear Valley, said summer activities there will need time to thaw. “The start of our mountain biking season is now completely dependent on how fast the snow melts,” she said.
Boreal Mountain near Lake Tahoe received 809 inches of snow this season, more than twice its average. Senior marketing manager Tucker Norred said summer activities are scheduled to open as planned despite some damage to the resort.
“Our outdoor skate and parkour facilities are on track to open on time for summer camp and we are currently on track to open our mountain bike trails on June 23. We might not be able to open every trail on time, but most of them,” Norred said.
“There was a good deal of damage to infrastructure at our resort and around our surrounding towns this winter from the massive snowfall, so guests can expect lots of construction at resorts and around Tahoe this summer,” he added.
At Big Bear Mountain Resort, both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit received twice their average snowfall this past season. Nearby Snow Valley, also part of Big Bear after Alterra acquired it in January, extended its season by one week, and the seasons at Bear Mountain and Snow Summit were extended by three weeks.
PR director Justin Kanton said the snow presented challenges, but the bike parks at Snow Valley and Snow Summit are scheduled to open as soon as Memorial Day Weekend.
“Neither will be 100 percent open to start,” he said. “We will continue snow removal and open more trails and lifts as conditions permit.”
Kanton added that all summer construction projects have started or will start on schedule.
In Utah, Sundance VP of operations Czar Johnson estimated that this season his team removed 45 tons of snow in around the base area, not counting parking lots. The resort received 520 inches of snow this season, the most in its history, allowing it to extend the season for two additional weekends.
“Never before in resort history had Sundance offered skiing in May, so it was a historical milestone for us,” said Sundance PR and marketing manager Annie Condon. “The bonus days built good positive momentum to end the winter season moving into the summer season.”
Condon said the resort’s mountain biking and hiking trails will open later than normal due to the snowpack, but scenic lift rides and zip tours will open as planned and other on-resort construction projects are moving forward as expected.
“But we are taking things day-by-day and recognize sometimes plans need to be adjusted since Mother Nature has a mind of her own,” Condon said.
Deer Valley tallied 606 inches of snow compared to its average of 300 inches, resulting in the resort’s longest season ever. Emily Summers, senior communications manager, said she expects there will be some delay from the resort’s normal summer opening of mid-June.
“We’re evaluating daily to see what opening will look like with hopes to have chairlift operations open in some capacity by the end of June,” said Summers.
Deer Valley’s Summer Adventure Camp is set to open as scheduled on June 5 and its first outdoor concert is scheduled for June 30.
“It was an incredible season for skiers and one we will talk about for a long time. The mountain is transitioning and the crews are working hard to manage the melt and prepare for our summer season,” Summers said. “Trails will likely open a bit delayed but we will tier openings as areas dry out.”
She added that trail crews have been working to extend the resort’s trail system to the lower stretches of the mountain and those trails will open first, including a new mountain bike flow trail designed for beginner riders.
Snowbasin also topped the 600-inch mark this season, 200 inches of which fell in March, making it the resort’s snowiest month on record.
“Our teams are working very hard to clear out the snow so that some of our exciting projects, like the construction of our newest high-speed lift, the DeMoisy Express, can begin according to plan,” said communications manager Kayla McFarland. “So far, we don’t plan on having delays, however, our top-of-mountain trails might take a little longer to clear for opening than in years past.”
Solitude received 816 inches this past season, with 223 inches in March, allowing it to stay open late into May for its longest season ever.
“We were originally targeting an earlier closing day but with strong midweek visitation from locals, we made the decision to run seven days a week through May 21,” said communications manager Travis Holland.
Holland said there are several projects planned for this summer including a new lift installation, snowmaking improvements, and new downhill mountain bike trails. As Holland explained, crews there are ready to get to work as soon as Mother Nature allows.
“We’ve got a busy summer ahead of us, so it really comes down to how and when the snow melts as things warm up,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Snowbird, lifts are still spinning Friday through Sunday and holidays, including the coming Memorial Day Weekend and Father’s Day. The resort will open the rooftop balconies on its new tram cars on June 17, but communications manager Sarah Sherman said many other summer activities are likely to be delayed.
With 838 inches of snow this season, Sherman said Hwy. 210 that provides access to Snowbird was closed more than 50 times during the winter.
“There were stretches up to five days long where no one could get up or down from the mountain, where operations ceased, and real hazards were present,” she said. “Too much snow is certainly better than too little (if there even is such a thing), but challenges remain present either way.”
Extreme Weather, Extreme Effort
Back at Bear Valley, Slavik said her team is taking a broader look at their operation amid extreme weather events. The resort endured several closures during the season, including a weeklong closure of the only highway to the area from late February into early March.
It took Bear Valley staff a week-and-a-half to dig out its Kuala lift and two weeks to dig out its Grizzly lift after a series of historic storms in mid-March. The work had to be done by hand before snowcats were able to access the area and clean up the rest.
“Snow is our best friend and our worst enemy; the decision to close the resort due to safety concerns is not an easy one to make, and costs us not only loss of income, but also the disappointment of our season pass holders,” Slavik said. “As climate change continues to impact the planet and our operation, we are evaluating our mountain operations to best [respond to] extreme weather conditions, feast or famine we sally forth.”
All of the areas interviewed paid tribute to their staffs in the wake of historic snowfalls, echoing the words of Sundance’s Johnson.
“To say anything about this past winter, without first deeply and sincerely thanking our employees for the tremendous work and sacrifice, would take away from the historic nature of the past winter,” Johnson said. “What’s most impressive to me is how deep our teams dug to navigate what was also the most operationally challenging winter in history.”
Report by Troy Hawks, SAM