Snowfall has been good, but will the ski areas make it to mid-April?
SUMMIT COUNTY – As snowfall has worsened over the past years, the closing dates of ski areas in and around Summit County have inched ever-earlier.
With a good start to this year’s season and crystalline reinforcements dumped in February, many snowhounds might be hoping for an extension of the locals’ secret treasure – spring skiing. And while Arapahoe Basin will, yet again, shoot to keep the slopes open until July 4, for most resorts, the length of the ski season isn’t always a function of how much snow there is.
In fact, when there’s plenty of snow to go around, snow has nothing to do with when a ski area will close.
All of the area ski resorts have been able to remain open through at least April in the past decade, and some have been able to stay open longer.
Arapahoe Basin operators always shoot for the July 4 holiday as a closing date. That hasn’t happened, however, since 1997. That year, the Basin received more snow in June than it did in May. The ski area made it to its Independence Day mark four years out of the 10 from 1997 back.
Loveland Ski Area historically shoots for the Sunday following the first full week of May. Operators were able to meet that goal in 2000 and 2001, but closed in April of 2002. A look at the chart accompanying this story gives some idea of the challenge: On March 14 in 2000 and 2001, Loveland reported 69 and 62 inches of mid-mountain base depth. The next year, that number sank to 53 inches, and the ski area closed nine days earlier.
There’s always hope for the late-season dump, though – and they do happen. On April 23, 2000, parts of Summit County saw in excess of 10 inches of snow. It was Easter Sunday, and the heavy, wet sludge snarled traffic all the way to Denver and knocked down trees.
That did not, however, keep the ski areas open. Most closed that day; the only one to reap the benefits of that snow was Breckenridge, which closed one week later.
The advent of snowmaking doesn’t really come into play, either. The ski areas use snowmaking to establish an early-season base. A-Basin used its new snowmaking system for the first time this season – for 19 days in November.
“It really helps us set up the base and get things going,” said A-Basin spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer. “We count on Mother Nature on the other end.”
At Loveland, the history of business is the deciding factor. Spokesman Kevin Wright said demand of day-skiers from Denver is a major key to staying open or shutting down the lifts. Wright said, typically, demand drops off after Mother’s Day (May 11 this year, and the target date for Loveland’s closing).
Ski area officials say closing dates are set so far in advance, that even if a spring blizzard moves in, it won’t likely help resorts stay open.
“It’s an employee thing, really,” said Keystone spokesman Mike Lee.
Lee said resorts must set their closing dates based on schedules developed for seasonal employees who, in turn, make plans for their lives. People move into summer jobs or leave the county with plane reservations they made in January, Lee said.
Closing dates also depend on how holidays fall. Last year, Easter fell on March 31. The resort was able to stay open longer. This year, most resorts will stretch (barring heavy snowfall) to April 20 to capture a later Easter’s tourist crowds.
But what if it does snow 4 feet the day before closing?
“You know what?” Lee said. “Arapahoe Basin is an incredible ski area, and it’s just 7 miles up the road from Keystone.”
Base depth vs. closing date
The chart below compares the mid-mountain base depth as of March 14 each year at area ski resorts with the closing date for that season, with figures for the past four years.
02-03 01-02 00-01 99-00
Resort BD CD BD CD BD CD BD CD
A-Basin 57 (July 4) 46 April 21 56 April 22 61 April 23
Beaver Creek 52 (April 13) 50 April 14 63 April 15 55 April 23
Breckenridge 56 (April 20) 58 April 21 50 April 22 64 April 30
Copper Mt. 58 (April 20) 62 April 21 55 April 22 66 April 23
Keystone* 47 (April 20) 40 57 67
Loveland 63 (May 11) 53 April 28 62 May 6 69 May 14
Vail 53 (April 20) 50 April 14 57 April 22 69 April 23
* Keystone was unable to provide historic closing date information. Closing dates for the 2002-03 season listed in parentheses are target dates set by each resort. Sources: Individual resorts (closing dates), Colorado Ski Country USA (mid-mountain base depth information).
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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