sunsets look better when seen from the Snowmass
gondola, in Colorado's Rocky Mountains.
Colo. — Winter was still in charge when we spotted them,
raggedy brown patches staining the snow at Snowmass Ski
Resort, in central Colorado’s Pritkin County. In any
other year we might have been greeted by mounds of powder
on the Cirque, with a generous swath under Sheer Bliss,
our favorite chairlift. The basics, indeed, for a
we need is a couple of days skiing the summit,"
moaned Dillon, the teenager, who’d skipped a school day
to make the trip. "Is that too much to ask?"
by annual trips to Park City Mountain Resort, in Utah,
where a decade of February snowfalls have been as
predictable as a ham sandwich, he stumped away toward
Fanny Hill to "inspect the snow melt."
as the sun glared down, the growing puddles of water and
dripping icicles confirmed the worst: Spring had invaded
shortly before midnight I heard muffled whooping outside
and opened the door to find the skiers from the adjacent
condo celebrating the unexpected: an icy wind whirling a
cloud of snowflakes over the mountain.
what a difference a day makes. By 6 a.m. we were up and
dressed and by 6:30 I was online, blogging the news on the
Huffington Post, to wit:
blizzard that began late Tuesday night, on March 23rd, was
sheer bliss for skiers at Snowmass and Aspen ski resorts
who awoke to the best of all possible worlds:
feathery-soft powder snow blanketing mountain peaks,
valley trails, forest glades and ski lifts.
storm, which blew in just before midnight, was still
swirling over Snowmass Village at dawn on the 24th, laying
down 4 to 5 inches of new snow on the base area runs
before noon, and more — as yet unmeasured by early
afternoon — on the two resorts’ upper slopes.
‘It’s paradise,’ exulted Glenn, a resident from
Denver, who said he’d spent the earlier part of the week
skiing on hard-packed trails, ‘groomed at night …but
mushy by late afternoon.’ Joining another group of other
early risers who’d seen the snow and jumped into their
gear, he snapped on his skis and followed them down to the
lifts, hoping to ‘ski first tracks off the top.’
storm was the latest of several small snowfalls, adding a
total of 9 inches to a previous 66-inch base. The last big
storm here in the Roaring Fork Valley fell a month ago, in
late February, dumping a season-saving 43 inches.
snowfall promises to be a winner for once-a-year skiers
— families with kids — who come during the annual
spring break holiday and for whom good snow can make or
break a vacation."
much for blogging. If you lived in Connecticut or Florida,
you could read it and weep. I, however, was lucky enough
to catch a brief reprieve in a succession of fickle years
at some of my favorite ski mountains.
was when mild breezes turned the snow at Santa Fe Ski
Resort to slush; weird was when a succession of storms at
Breckinridge, near Dillon, dropped 100 or more inches; and
frustration was the result when scarce snow in some of
California’s Sierra Nevada resorts mountains, including
Heavenly in South Lake Tahoe and Squaw Valley-Alpine
Meadows (now merged) on the north shore, spoiled the
early March of this year (2016), the winter season seemed
to be over. Until late March, when a series of blizzards
dumped record-setting snowfalls up and down the West
Coast, at 12 resorts in California, seven in Washington
and five in Oregon. And in Colorado? Only Winter Park and
Steamboat got the love.
now, weather extremes are the new norm. But they don’t
have to torpedo your ski vacations. Instead of booking
lodging and lift tickets months in advance and hoping you’ve
guessed right, you can find everything you want, updated
daily, weekly and monthly, on ski resort and snow report
resort managers realized they could engage skiers in the
moment and on the internet, pricing and advertising
changed overnight. No longer are lift ticket prices,
multi-resort lift passes and pre-season promotions set in
stone. Once posted, they’re easy to change or to modify
as needed, or to include in discounts and ski-and-stay
skier numbers are down, resort managers can offer new
promotions or discounts and add kids-ski-free programs. If
skier numbers are trending up, the resorts can stay ahead
of the rush by hiring additional staff, booking more
ski-related events and planning a longer season.
too have benefitted. Resort websites post far more detail
than we used to get. Skip around and you’ll find trail
maps, daily snow levels, numbers of lifts and runs, peak
elevations, incredible videos of high-risk skiers flying
off the summit, and actual views of the slopes via
web-cams. You can shop around, compare one resort with
another or look for the best combination of prices,
lodging options and airfares.
what few anticipated was that instant internet access
would inspire some bigger ski resorts to expand their
mission to offer a bounty of non-ski entertainment:
Valentine’s Day weekends and beer festivals led to rock
concerts, hot-air ballooning, professional and amateur
downhill races, first-class dining at better restaurants,
and a virtual cornucopia of other winter sports. In a
word, a theme park.
no, I don’t ski," said fellow journalist Barbara
Beckley when I asked about her winter trip to
Breckinridge, in Summit County, Colo. "I went to see
what it was all about, and I wound up having a wonderful
trip. I snowshoed through the most beautiful snowy woods,
and I had a lovely spa treatment, and I tried dog mushing
and Nordic skiing. I went ice skating — they rent
skates, of course, and tubing, and really, it was the best
in particular, has embraced the theme park concept,
offering or arranging most of the above, plus snow machine
tours, trout fishing, horseback riding and parasailing.
Many of these don’t depend on good snow, or even on any
snow, an asset for a big family reunion.
for snow forecasts, some resort websites provide limited
details, mostly offering past snowfalls as a guide to the
future. For current, informed snow forecasts, it’s best
to go elsewhere.
a look at www.opensnow.com," suggested former Olympic
snowboarder Erica Mueller, at Crested Butte ski resort, 26
miles north of Gunnison, in Colorado. "Joel Gratz, a
meteorologist and a skier created it a couple of years
ago. That’s where we go to look ahead. I think most
resorts use it."
to Gratz, a Boulder resident, his search for the best
powder snow began as a hobby, then evolved into a website,
and eventually took off. "After testing it for a
year, we went online in November 2011; so far it’s a
success," he says.
team of four full-time and three part-time meteorologists
crunch all kinds of publicly available data, including
some from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, in Boulder. But they create their own
graphics, maps and reports.
separates us from other sites is that we know what powder
skiers like," he says. "We don’t report on
regional storms, but instead focus on which resorts are
likely to get the next powder storm."
Snow is available for anyone to use (and I do) but it
reserves some detailed reports for members who sign up and
pay a modest fee. See it at www.opensnow.com. I also like
On the Snow, a general information website, one which
provides not just data like historic snow reports but a
range of ski topics. See it at www.onthesnow.com.
a day makes a difference, it’s usually fate deciding.
But give yourself a month, and you’ll be in charge.
NITTY GRITTY: Find some of my favorite ski resorts at
websites as follows:
Ski Resort at www.snowmass.com, or at
City Mountain Resort at www.parkcitymountain.com.
Resort at www.keystoneresort.com.
Ski Resort at www.breckinridge.com.
Resort at www.skiheavenly.com and at www.skilaketahoe.com.
Valley & Alpine Meadows at www.squawalpine.com.
quality snow forecasts and reports, go to www.opensnow.com