Winter Sports

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Ski Resorts Open Early, Providing a Great Omen for Winter Sports

29 Nov, 2021

By: Michael Popke

An early-season snowstorm in the Sierra Nevada moved up the opening date of ski resorts along the eastern edge of California — boding well for operators hoping the 2021-22 season will be bountiful on and off the slopes.

Mammoth Mountain in Mammoth Lakes opened Halloween weekend (instead of Nov. 13, as originally scheduled) after receiving at least 17 inches of snow at the lodge and 20 inches at the mountain’s peak. Palisades Tahoe in Olympic Valley, meanwhile, opened nearly a month ahead of schedule on Oct. 29 after 10.5 inches of snow fell over a 24-hour period.

“Thanks to the tireless efforts of our frontline staff and operations crews, skiers and riders in  the Tahoe area will be able to have the unique experience of hitting the slopes for Halloween weekend,” according to a statement from Palisades Tahoe officials, which added that the slopes would be open weekends-only until Nov. 24.

Wolf Creek Ski Area near Pagosa Springs, Colo., opened even earlier for weekend enjoyment — on Oct. 16, according to The Denver Post. It was the first resort to open in Colorado this year after a storm dumped 14 inches of snow in southwestern Colorado.

Indeed, it sure looks as if staff and crew at resorts throughout the Western United States will be busy this winter. Ski.com reports:

A recent NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] forecast discussion for the upcoming winter states, “it’s looking more probable that La Niña will lock in by this winter.” The discussion goes on to explain how forecast models agree that this upcoming season will most likely be a repeat or “second-year La Niña” with chances of colder temperatures and above-average snowfall arriving in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest during the month of October. Those conditions are likely (70-80% chance) to persist through the spring of 2022!

Although the direct impact of La Niña likely will diminish significantly as the jet stream moves eastward, ski resort operators on the East Coast are optimistic, too — not only about snow conditions about also about operating in the post-2020 era.

Bosquet Mountain in Pittsfield, Mass., will boast increased snow-making capabilities when it opens later this winter. According to The Berkshire Eagle, 38 snow-making guns were installed in 2020, with 42 additional fan guns put in place over the summer. “The snow-making investment should increase the length of the season for Bousquet, while upgrading the consistency and reliability of the snow,” Kevin McMillan, Bosquet’s general manager, said in a statement.

Resort operators also are looking forward to planning for a ski season with less restrictive health protocols in place. While some restrictions remain, fewer overall will be in place.

The big change that I think everyone’s going to enjoy is that there won’t be any required facemasks outdoors and we won’t be enforcing any sort of social distancing,” Bonnie MacPherson, communications manager for three Northeast resorts operated by Vail Resorts, told Northeast Public Radio. “We still will require masks being worn indoors. And the other thing is that we are no longer going to be requiring a reservation in order to ski for a particular day. That was something that we did last year, and that reservation system has been eliminated.”

Across the spectrum, it’s a mixed bag of restrictions. Mount St. Louis Moonstone, a ski resort in southern Ontario, Canada, will require proof of vaccination by all patrons and require facemasks while waiting in chairlift lines, according to CTV News. Other resorts, meanwhile, won’t require skiers to be vaccinated on the slopes but will ask for proof in restaurants. And some won’t be doing anything at all.

In the case of Colorado’s Arapahoe Basin, located west of Denver, some of last year’s the health strategies resulted in more effective operational procedures and happier clientele, according to Katherine Fuller, a spokesperson for the ski area. That’s why A-Basin will once again cap the number of unrestricted season passes and daily lift tickets it issues this season.

“Because of our restricted numbers [last season], we realized that we could do well as a business and also make our guests happier by having fewer people on the mountain,” Fuller told CBS Denver. “Restricting crowds works really well. … We’re moving away from the standard operating procedure of getting as many people on the hill as you possibly can.”

Generally speaking, though, at least a partial return to the “old normal” doesn’t seem out of the question this season. “I do think as far as the outdoor experience of ski areas, it’s going to look more like it has in seasons past,” Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications director for the National Ski Areas Association, told CBS Denver.

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