Snow finally arrives, groomers praised
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. 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 percent of units were booked, compared with 60 to 70 percent more typically.

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.

In Aspen, staff members too young or too new to have any knowledge of the winter of ‘76-‘77, were dubious that the old days really were all that bad. Research by Scott Condon indicates that yes they were. Aspen received more snow in December than it had in that winter in the 70s, when it also had less snowmaking. Aspen Mountain didn’t open until Jan. 11 that year. Even then, there wasn’t much skiing to remember. When the ski area closed, says the Times, it was with a whimper.

In Breckenridge, the Summit Daily News reports that local businesses have weathered the lack of snow reasonably well. “It’s nice to have a resort that blows a lot of snow and a town that has a lot of options other than skiing,” said Eric Mamula, local restaurateur and town council member.

In Aspen, the ski company reports a maximum of 17,000 skiers per day in late December at its four resorts, compared to a historical record of 20,000. Vail Resorts, however, reported a 15 percent decline in skier numbers – with presumably a major portion of that hit coming from its two resorts at Lake Tahoe.
The flip side of this story is Whistler, which has had plenty of snow and enjoyed a particularly jovial Christmas. Some businesses reported unparalleled volume, with Europeans, Brits and Aussies in great evidence, but with the U.S. greenbacks also flowing liberally.

The poverty rate doubles in Jackson
JACKSON, Wyo. – By the simple metric of average per-capita income, Wyoming’s Teton County is home to the nation’s 1 percent.

But a new Community Health Assessment tells of another side to Jackson Hole. Reflecting effects of the recession and resulting unemployment, the report finds that Teton County’s poverty rate shot up from 4.4 percent to 9 percent, food stamp participation more than doubled, and the number of people without health insurance tripled to 30 percent.

“The lack of health insurance and unemployment are big health factors, because they lead to lots of stresses,” said Terri Gregory, manager of Teton County Public Health.

Even so, Teton County has it better than most places. It leads Wyoming by the many metrics of public health, and Wyoming itself is statistically the 21st healthiest state in the nation.

Crested Butte explores skiing options
CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte Mountain Resort, thwarted in its plans to expand skiing onto Snodgrass Mountain, has gone back to the drawing board. The quest, as before, is to provide more ways to hold the interest of visitors for more than three or four days.

The latest sketch – it’s not really a plan yet – would yield two more lifts on the existing ski mountain, servicing 100 acres more of intermediate terrain plus another 100 acres of extreme terrain. All of this would be intended to provide the sort of experience sometimes called “backcountry lite” or, alternatively, “sidecountry.”

As well, the resort is toying with the idea of a more easily accessible backcountry hut, suited to the skills of beginner and intermediate skiers, reports the Crested Butte News.

Shrines abound amid Aspens trees
ASPEN – The Aspen Daily News describes a “band of folk art that Aspen can call its own.” They are shrines, 45 by one count, located among the trees in the four local ski areas. The shrines pay tribute mostly to singers and other celebrities of earlier eras, but now increasingly to local residents who have died.

The first shrine is widely believed to be one to Elvis Presley after his death in 1977, but others were created to honor the Beatles, Steve Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. A shrine to Jerry Garcia was visited by Grateful Dead member Bob Weir and his wife during a trip to Aspen in 1999, moving Weir’s wife to tears.

Much later, a tribute was created to honor Hunter S. Thompson, who lived near Aspen. The most recent shrine is to a 38-year-old local who died in an avalanche in the backcountry near Aspen Highlands last spring. A group of 30 plus friends and family gathered to construct the shrine a week later, putting up signs, skis and photos.

Not everyone is enthralled by the shrines. Tim Cooney, a ski patroller at Aspen since the 1970s, told the Daily News that the proliferation of memorials has become gaudy. “What was once quirky and charming has become a blight,” he said.

Cooney told the newspaper he will take people to visit shrines when they ask, but he’s adamant about encouraging people not to build more.
“People don’t have an inalienable right to create shrines on mountains,” he said. “It’s a ski area, not a cemetery.”

Whistler assembles bid to host X Games
WHISTLER, B.C. – Whistler is bidding for the rights to host the Winter X Games as ESPN begins expanding the competition. Aspen has been the winter venue for the last 11 years, now along with Tignes, France. Los Angeles is the site of the Summer X Games.

But beginning in 2013, ESPN plans to have six venues altogether around the world, three each in winter and summer. Whistler wants to be among the winter sites.

Whistler Blackcomb, Tourism Whistler and Whistler Sports Legacies have submitted a bid to host the X Games during the April 10-13 timeslot in 2013. The partners are trying to raise $3.5 million.

But Whistler wants the event to be part of a broader, 10-day festival. The new festival, officials said at a public meeting covered by Pique Newsmagazine, would combine with the existing Telus Ski and Snowboard Festival, which has been held for 17 years.

In Aspen, the X Games last year drew 114,000 people. Barrett Fisher, president of Tourism Whistler, recently said he thinks even more people can be drawn to Whistler. She estimated a $41.3 million economic impact to Whistler.

Aspen has hosted the event since 2002, and it has been negotiating with ESPN for the last year to extend the contract for another five years. What exactly the Aspen Skiing Co. has been giving has not been publicly disclosed, although The Aspen Daily News reports the municipal government’s contribution has been $100,000, and it is considered a key part of the package.

The event this year will be held at Aspen’s Buttermilk Mountain on Jan. 26-29.

– Allen Best



In this week's issue...

January 25, 2024
Bagging it

State plastic bag ban is in full effect, but enforcement varies

January 26, 2024
Paper chase

The Sneer is back – and no we’re not talking about Billy Idol’s comeback tour.

January 11, 2024
High and dry

New state climate report projects continued warming, declining streamflows