Ski town news roundup |

Ski town news roundup

Compiled by Lauren Glendenning

Weather is ‘La Nada’ at Mammoth

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — It’s hard to put a damper on Mammoth’s amateur weather forecaster Howard Sheckter’s optimism when it comes to winter weather, but the forecast for the next few weeks might have done so.

“It’s not good, it’s horrible,” he said. “It’s as bad as it can get by this time of year.”

He is not talking just about the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday weeks, either.

“The continents have cooled off now, and the oceans are ruling the weather,” he said. “The problem is, there is nothing out there to bring in the moisture. Without an El Niño or La Niña, there is no bias, it’s neutral. ‘La Nada’ as I call it. Now the National Weather Service has released its latest Drought Statement (last week) for the next few months and it’s calling for the current pattern to persist.”

The problem is the current pattern is one of dryness, he said, and that is the pattern the National Weather Service believes is most likely to persist in California and much of the west, at least into the middle of January.

The closest analogy he sees historically is to the winter of 1990-91, where the winter remained dry until the end of February, then the floodgates turned on for a “Miracle March.”

That might recharge the snowpack and reservoirs, but in a ski town, timing is everything and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s peak visitor season begins this weekend and slowly tapers off after Presidents Weekend.

“Another problem is all the systems are going from north to south, not west to east,” he said.

A west/east direction increases the chances of moisture because it comes in over the ocean, unlike a north/south direction, where the storm travels over mostly dry land.

“No one can say for sure what will happen but I can say for certain it won’t break significantly before the end of the year,” he said.

“Through the end of the month if not longer,” wrote the Reno NWS Wednesday afternoon.


South Tahoe gears up for music festival

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — SnowGlobe organizers this week began initial setup of their three-day South Shore music festival, which has undergone a number of changes since a fatality occurred last year.

Double the amount of buses will be used to help transport thousands of exiting festivalgoers this year, said Lauren Thomaselli, recreation manager for South Lake Tahoe.

Organizers are also extending the amount of time a heated tent will be available to ticketholders as they wait for their rides at the venue, she said. The changes were spurred, in part, by the death of Alyssa Byrne.

Byrne, a 19-year-old Petaluma woman, died of “probable hypothermia” after leaving SnowGlobe last year, according to the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office. Methamphetamines and other “psychoactive” drugs were contributors to her death.

To help stop people from wandering off in previous years, organizers have used staff to patrol outside the event’s perimeter, Thomaselli said. A similar surveillance system will be used again this year.

“Certainly our concern is of the safety of all participants,” she said of the festival, which is now in its third year. “And with the number of people frequenting this event, managing those large numbers and keeping them safe and warm is our number one priority.”

“However,” she added, “there is no way to ensure participants won’t wander from the event.”

Other changes to SnowGlobe this year will include the use of a field cover to protect Lake Tahoe Community College’s sports field, Thomaselli said. A combination of LD panels and plywood will lay under people’s feet and any immobile structures throughout the event.

Additionally, more than 10,000 square feet of heat and enclosed areas will now be available to patrons, Producer Chad Donnelly said.

He also said that SnowGlobe is on track to sell out again this year.

About 10,000 people attend the event each night.

Crested Butte enjoys Powder Magazine accolade

CRESTED BUTTE — Not only is new ski terrain, including some of the steeps, opening the earliest it has in years, but the community also helped push the town into a prominent place in the ski world this week. Crested Butte was awarded the title of Best Ski Town in North America by Powder Magazine after two months of online voting and five rounds of competition.

According to Powder, “Crested Butte was rated as a 15-seed in the Rocky Mountain West region, but the mountain beat the odds in the 64-town/ski area field, overcoming Powder Mountain/Snowbasin, Aspen, Big Sky, Sun Valley, Stevens Pass, and the tournament runner-up, Eaglecrest, Alaska, by a record final score of 17,156 votes to 17,063.”

This was Crested Butte’s second year as a serious contender in the Throwdown, having finished in eighth place last year.

“It was a community push,” said Crested Butte Mountain Resort marketing director Erica Mueller. “The magazine contacted CBMR, but it was truly about the town.”

At each stage in voting, CBMR employees and vested locals worked to spread the word about the competition and the greatness of Crested Butte. From the writing on the sidewalks to the chatter at local watering hole Kochevar’s, every effort was made to get out the vote.

“Everyone should be proud,” said Mueller. “This was not just a CBMR effort. To be a town of 3,000 and to reach the number of people we did, and to go up against some of the towns we went up against speaks volumes to who we are and who we can be.”

Taos Ski Valley sale marks limits of family business

TAOS — In 1955, Ernie and Rhoda Blake moved their family up the forbidding Hondo Canyon to start a ski resort on the ruins of an abandoned mining town. The Blakes and their three kids lived in a tin can of a trailer without power or a telephone as they got the area off the ground.

A lot of people thought they were crazy. But 58 ski seasons and two generations later, those hardships are part of Taos Ski Valley’s proud legacy of self-reliance and family values.

The recent announcement that the Blake family was selling the resort to billionaire Louis Bacon has those who cling to that legacy in a bit of an identity crisis. Among them is outgoing marketing director Adriana Blake — Ernie’s granddaughter — who with her brother Alejandro “Hano” Blake was the heir apparent to the valley.

In an interview Wednesday, Adriana Blake said as much as Taos Ski Valley has meant to her and her brother, the limits of a family-run operation were obvious.

“Every day we see the potential of this place, and every day we get the report of where we are financially,” Blake said. “We know we would have never had enough money to pull of the big picture of what we wanted.”

Taos Ski Valley may have a legendary creation myth, but that hasn’t been enough to keep pace in an increasingly competitive industry dominated by corporations that make healthy profits from real estate deals off the mountain instead of lift tickets and ski rentals.

“If all you are is a ski resort, you aren’t making it,” Blake said.

Over the last two decades, annual visitation at Taos Ski Valley has trended downward — from a 10-year average of 295,000 in the ’90s, to a 10-year average of 224,000 between 2000 and 2010. That’s a 25 percent drop, while skier numbers nationwide have steadily increased over the same period.

The reasons for the dwindling numbers are many, and no doubt there are forces like the global economy that are beyond the resort’s control. Still, many point to the ski area’s long refusal to allow snowboarding (a ban it dropped in 2008) and its lack of capital improvements and expansion as part of the reason for the decline.

Ice storm hits Vermont

Visitors strolling down Church Street on Friday afternoon found themselves slipping and sliding, even as they walked gingerly down the brick street, which had been covered by a sheet of ice.

Drivers, too, were contending with ice-covered roads and slow going during the evening commute.

“Avoiding driving is best right now,” the Vermont State Police tweeted at 5:30 p.m.

Multiple cars were off the roads, and state crews warned that traffic was at or near a standstill on Interstate 89 in the Richmond and Bolton vicinity. Conditions on the highway were especially perilous, the state police said, between Waterbury and Georgia — a stretch of 45 miles.

About an hour later, traffic was moving again, though slowly — only 25-30 mph on the interstate in Bolton.

Little additional freezing rain and mixed precipitation was expected Friday into Saturday — but Friday’s slippery sidewalks, treacherous travel and crusted-over windshields were just a preview of the ice storm forecast to begin late afternoon or early evening Saturday, said lead meteorologist John Goff of the National Weather Service office in South Burlington.

Here’s how the state-run road conditions site 511VT characterized the storm Friday evening: “Wicked slippery.” The state posted on Twitter that travel was most difficult in northern Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties. “Please drive slowly and carefully!” the state warned.

At about 2 p.m. Friday, the Vermont State police issued warning about slippery driving conditions along Interstate 89.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Maintenance Administrator Wayne Gammell said at about 1:30 p.m. that road crews were out in force.

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