It was snowing steadily when I arrived at Stowe Mountain Resort last Tuesday. I was surprised by the absence of lift lines as I walked onto the bright red gondola. I was even more surprised when I dropped into a favorite ski run and snow boiled up around my thighs and a cold spray of snow hit my face.
A storm that had been forecast to deliver four inches instead dropped almost three feet of snow on Stowe over three days. The same storm buried Mount Snow with four feet and set a precipitation record in Burlington, Vt.
“This is by far the best week I’ve ever had riding,” said Emily Dierks, 44, a snowboarder from Boston, as we rode the gondola at Stowe.
As the spring equinox arrives, at a point in the ski season when many areas wrap things up, snowfall records at ski areas across the country are falling as fast as the feathery flakes, especially in California and Utah. Skiers are reaping the bounty — if they can get to the slopes and the lifts are running.
Ski areas nearing record snowfalls include Palisades Tahoe (662 inches, or 55 feet) and Mammoth Mountain (618 inches) in California, and numerous resorts in Utah: Alta (681 inches, the most snow recorded by this date), Park City (479 inches, a record), Deer Valley (485 inches, a record), Solitude (623 inches, near record) and Snowbird (625 inches, near record).
This week, Brighton, also in Utah, is closing in on its record snowfall of 751 inches, “the equivalent of 10 Subarus or nine moose stacked on top of one another,” wrote Alison Palmintere, communications director of Ski Utah, in an email.
“The snow coverage at resorts is amazing right now, probably top five all-time,” said Michael Reitzell, president of Ski California, in an email. And more snow is expected this week.
In the Northeast, the late-season snow comes after a difficult year for many areas, which faced a snow drought in the early part of the season. Mike Solimano, the president and general manager of Killington and Pico ski areas, told me that the mountains’ accumulation is about even with the five-year average. But they got very little of it in December and January, when snowfall was 30 percent below average. “We are getting it all in March,” he said. “The annual total doesn’t tell the whole story.”
Are skiers paying attention to this late season bumper crop? Sam von Trapp, who runs the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, bemoans the fact that by late March “a lot people have moved on to the next sport. But it’s a great opportunity for people who know to take advantage of late season rates and less crowded conditions at ski areas.” Late season lodging discounts of 30 percent or more typically begin around April 1.
The dark side of snow
In the West, the bumper crop of snow may help ease issues of water shortages and wildfires, at least temporarily. But the snowfall has also created dangerous conditions, especially in California, where snowbound residents have died while trapped in their homes and buildings have collapsed. Heavy snows can also mean increased avalanche danger, especially in the backcountry.
Some ski areas have been overwhelmed by the snowy onslaught.
“These historic snowstorms have been challenging — we’ve seen lifts completely buried, increased avalanche activity and highway closures to name a few,” said Lauren Burke, a communications director at Mammoth Mountain, in an email. “There are many locations around the mountain where the snow has reached the chairlift height so there is a seemingly endless effort to dig out across the mountain in order to safely operate lifts.”
Skiers attempting to reach Alta and Snowbird on Highway 210 in Utah’s Little Cottonwood Canyon have had to contend with a record 22 road closures this season, compared with just four road closures last winter. The closures last anywhere from eight hours to two days as road crews perform avalanche control work and clear snow.
Berkshire East and Catamount ski areas in Western Massachusetts received nearly three feet of snow but were unable to open on March 14 and 15 because of power outages caused by the storm.
“This week’s storm is a harbinger of climate change in some ways,” said Gillian Galford, a professor of environmental science at the University of Vermont and the director of the Vermont Climate Assessment, which showed that Vermont’s winters could be shortened by up to a month by 2080. “We’re in a sweet spot in time where increasing precipitation and cold winters may create good winter recreation conditions. But in a few decades it could fall as rain.”
Heavy storms forced Palisades Tahoe to close for three days this winter. But Patrick Lacey, a resort spokesman, said that each day the resort closed in winter brought so much snow that “it is going to open up five to 10 extra days of skiing in the spring.”
Extra months of skiing and riding
Among the resorts that will stay open at least until Memorial Day are Mammoth and Palisades Tahoe, in California; Snowbird, in Utah; Arapahoe Basin, in Colorado; and Killington, in Vermont. Some areas are hinting that they may ski into June and even July.
Other areas extending their seasons a week or more into late April include Colorado’s Aspen Snowmass and Steamboat; Park City and Solitude, in Utah; and Big Bear Mountain Resort, in California.
The longer season means that spring skiing passes offer a greater value. Killington has already sold 20 percent more of its $379 spring skiing passes than it did last year. The 2023- 2024 multi-mountain Ikon Pass (starting at $829 for the Ikon Base Pass, which limits days at some resorts) is valid starting in April at select ski areas, including Mammoth and Palisades Tahoe, adding months of skiing to the value of the pass.
As snow continues falling and skiers keep coming, ski areas are making the most of the record season.
“It’s been awesome,” said Caroline Dillon, 31, a ski patroller at Alta, who is on the mountain before dawn each day doing avalanche control. “I’m really tired but I’m really happy.”
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