With snow a no-show, ski resorts are struggling
By Nancy Trejos, USA TODAY
Warm weather and a shortage of snow have ski resorts across the country struggling to open trails and attract visitors.
"Oftentimes, we have one part of the country lagging in cold and snow," says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. "This year, unfortunately, it's a coast-to-coast story."
In the East, for example, only 421 of Vermont's 1,200 ski trails are open. In past years, Vermont has had more than 800 trails operating by this time. In the West, Nevada's Heavenly Mountain Resort has just 26 of its 97 trails open. Normally at this time, skiers have access to almost all of them.
This year's situation is far different from last, when resorts had record-high snowfalls and attendance. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 47.5% of the continental U.S. was covered in snow this time last year, about double the coverage this year.
"There was a lot of anticipation this year," says Christos Christoudias, president of SkiReports.com. This year, he says, "there's less resorts open, and the few that are open are overwhelmingly crowded, creating less than ideal conditions."
Most resorts in the West have appeased holiday visitors with man-made snow and other activities. At the Heavenly Mountain Resort, workers have spent more than 1,000 hours making snow, compared with 600 hours this time last year. "It's been snowing because we've made it snow," says Russ Pecoraro, a resort spokesman.
In the Midwest and East, rain and warmth have conspired against the snowmaking machines. "When it's 45 and raining, they can't blow any snow on their trails," says Evan Reece, co-founder and CEO of Liftopia, which sells lift tickets for resorts across the country.
Resorts are heading into the critical post-holiday period now, when the heaviest crowds are expected. If there's significant snow by mid-January, industry experts say, resorts should be able to recoup losses from one of the slowest starts in years to a season that runs from Thanksgiving to as late as May.
"It will only take one or two snowfalls, and in the mountains, that could happen on a dime," says Dan Sherman, managing director of marketing for Ski.com.
Many resorts are waiting for more snow.
Utah's Alta Ski Area has had 94 inches of snow this year, about 70 inches less than it normally gets in November and December, says Connie Marshall, director of marketing and public relations for Alta. Marshall says skiers who remain on groomed runs have fared well. It's the advanced skiers who like going off trail who hit vegetation and rocks sticking out of the snow, she says.