It ain’t over until the fat lady snowplows on grass

Posted By: The Ski Channel on May 4, 2011 2:32 pm

By Jill Adler

Here it is folks: Utah has received 701” of snow YTD or 58 feet. Alta enjoyed a 200-inch base for closing weekend last weekend while Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort broke a 40-year mark and set a record for most snow received in a single season (711 inches and still counting). With these kinds of numbers, ski areas may be fighting for bragging rights as well as next season’s pass sales.

Powder tracks at Snowbird April 27th

Squaw Valley USA reportedly hit the 700-inch mark; beating their highest recorded snowfall total of 662 inches in (Click headline for more) Andy Wirth, Squaw Valley’s Chief Executive Officer said, “We have so much snow that we will be examining the possibility of opening for the 4th of July, conditions permitting

Squaw’s KT-22 by Tom O’Neill

Many resorts kept to their stated (and long-established) closing dates, but a handful of the big boys in the west will keep the lifts turning at least through the end of this month to give back to guests some joyous late spring skiing.

Arapahoe Basin, Snowbird, Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Mt. Bachelor, Timberline (which operates year-round except for a few weeks in September for maintenance), and Canadian resorts Sunshine Village and Blackcomb all push around snow to make access to lifts and the spring corn (or powder) viable.

Here’s a sampling of dates:

Mt Bachelor May 29

Alpine Meadows May 15

Heavenly Valley May 6

Squaw Valley USA May 30

Arapahoe Basin June 5

Loveland May 8

Snowbird ?

Blackcomb May 30

Sunshine Village May 23

Lake Louise May 8

Mammoth Mountain, where a record 624 inches has fallen this season, has confirmed they’ll stay open through July 4.

Mammoth is still buried in snow

Now, many of you sun worshippers and golf fanatics are pulling out your hair and wishing for the season to end but look around at the mountains above 7000 feet. There’s too much snow for doing anything other than skiing. It makes sense to keep riding when you can’t use the resort for those summer purposes just yet.

Still, resorts like Deer Valley closed April 10 like clockwork. “We close because people stop skiing, we lose our destination skiers and it is not cost effective to run a business,” DV’s Emily Summers told me once.

But Mammoth Mountain’s people don’t see it that way, “When you close the doors, you can count on the fact that no one’s going to give you a dollar. We stay open because there’s still skiing. It’s our business. We’re about ‘going skiing’, ” said Clifford Mann, director of snow operations. And the money’s not bad either he added. “Sure, economics have to factor in, to some respect. It costs money – gas, electricity, ecetera, to maintain the snowpack. Or it gets rotten and disappears. But $50-60k in revenue is good because it’s revenue.” Plus, Mammoth has a Motocross event in June that covers just about all of their late skiing expenses.

As for employment costs, once the seasonal staff leaves, it’s the year-round staff that goes to work. “The marketing folks and the CEO are loading lifts and serving food,” said Mann. “We gather up the year-round staff and head towards whatever’s open. [As for mountain safety] we try not to variablize that cost. We keep the seasonal patrol. It’s no less safe out there and we have training programs for everyone.” Employment at Mammoth drops from about 2300 people in winter, to 500 through Memorial Day.

But perhaps Deer Valley’s skier is not the Mammoth skier so it doesn’t make sense to run on the same model. The luxury Utah resort caters to out-of-state guests (rather than seasonpass holders) who book their trips months, even years, in advance. Mann explains the Mammoth skier: “You factor in who’s coming through your door. We have guys that drive all night, ski one day and head home or sleep in the parking lot. They’re beating our door down to ski until the last flake falls.” Mammoth also has a fantastic bonus in that they allow skiers to purchase 2010-2011 season passes April 1 and use them immediately. That’s an extra two months to ski. Snowbird offers a spring pass for $299, April 1, that basically pays for itself after five visits. Who wouldn’t want to maximize their yield by skiing 10, 15, 20 more days on the pass?

Plus, Snowbird positions itself so locals (and many out-of-state riders) purchase season passes based on the fact that they can ski from November through May. “We have the longest season in Utah,” said Dave Fields, Snowbird’s marketing director. “Season ticket holders know when conditions are good. We’ve created this expectation (that we will have skiing as long as we can). Those who like to ski, the rabid skiers, will take it whenever you give it to them.” So they keep the resort open Friday-Sunday beginning May 8, 2011.

“No ski resort is making a ton of money by offering skiing in May but it creates great guest retention. If everyone [in Utah] stayed open until May, it wouldn’t pencil out [for us],” said Fields. “I saw a guy screech into the parking lot, grab his board and run wildly to the hill trying to get a couple of trams in before 3. That’s the guy you’re doing it for.”

Mann says there will be about 1200 skiers on any given Saturday in May and that drops to about 300 for a weekday. When I spent a mid-May night at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the place was practically empty compared to mid-winter. Cheaper rates (Snowbird’s Cliff Lodge offers some amazing spring deals like $65/nt/pp.), a more peaceful atmosphere and availability make it attractive; especially to snowboarders and training camps…and travelers from other countries. Japanese tourists in particular reveled in the novelty of skiing May 18.

So when is it time to close? “You come to a point when you question what you get when you keep pushing snow but there are no trails to ski,” said Mann. “We open when we have enough and will stay open until it’s too hard to keep Chair One open.”


I called up to Snowbird tonight. There were some snow flurries in the morning but the sun popped out and highs crept into the low 40s. Little Cloud, Mineral Basin and the Tram are open but until we get another storm (sorry, Folks, it’s in the cards), enjoy! Ski east-facing slopes where the sun hits first. Bring a bar of hotel soap with you for the sticky, icky runouts at the base and slather on that sunscreen. You wouldn’t want to spoil the last two months of your season with a second-degree burn.

Jill Adler is an award-winning outdoors writer and broadcaster based in Park City, Utah. As a professional skier, rock climber, kayaker, hiker and mom, she goes out of her way to play hard and tell about it. To find out more or to send her a note, follow her on Twitter @pcskigal.