Summit ski areas depend on snowmaking amid dry weather to expand terrain ahead of the holidays

Meteorologists say there isn’t much relief in the forecast

Skiers and snowboarders ride the American Eagle lift Monday, Nov. 22, on opening day at Copper Mountain Resort. Resort officials say recent temperatures have made snowmaking difficult.
Curtis DeVore/Copper Mountain Resort

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details about terrain openings at Keystone Resort.

Heading into the busy holiday period, Summit County ski areas are struggling to get terrain open for increasing numbers of guests. Unseasonably warm and dry conditions have made for a lack of natural snow and snowmaking capacity, which the ski areas depend on to get more trails open.

Snow has been lackluster so far in November. According to the National Weather Service almanac, the Dillon weather station typically sees 10.9 inches of snow by Nov. 23, but this year has seen only 5 inches.

Copper Mountain Resort spokesperson Olivia Butrymovich said the unseasonably warm fall Summit County is experiencing has made snowmaking difficult and generally has limited snowmaking to nighttime, rather than around the clock.

Copper opened Monday, Nov. 22, with 70 acres of terrain. The resort’s American Eagle lift is open and the Pitchfork/Gem lift is open in the beginner learning area. The Excelerator lift is currently on a delayed opening, starting later in the day, but is expected to run on a normal schedule by Thanksgiving, Butrymovich wrote in an email.

“In past seasons, we have been able to open more terrain on opening day; however, the warmer temps have made snowmaking more difficult, and a lack of natural snowfall has limited our public terrain offering in comparison to previous seasons,” Butrymovich wrote.

Despite the setback, Butrymovich said the mountain does plan to open more terrain before Thanksgiving with Skid Road trail scheduled to open Wednesday, Nov. 24.

“We are expecting to have a larger Woodward pop-up park with as many as 15 features available for skiers and riders on the Lower Bouncer trail by Friday, (Nov. 26),” Butrymovich wrote. “The Eagle park will be scaled back to accommodate beginners with the opening of the larger pop-up park for advanced skiers and riders.”

Keystone Resort opened Oct. 22 with two beginner runs, Schoolmarm and Silverspoon. Since then, it has opened up six more trails: Endeavor, Scout, Dercum’s Dash, River Run, Silvermaster and Spring Dipper, four of which are intermediate.

Breckenridge Ski Resort opened Nov. 12 with its 4 O’Clock and Springmeier trails. Three additional trails have opened since the resort’s opening day: Duke’s Run, an advanced trail, Lower Duke’s Run, an intermediate trail, and Trygve’s, a beginner trail. All of the open runs are on Peak 8.

“Over the past few days, we’ve seen solid snowmaking temps, and our teams will continue to capitalize on that in the coming days with new terrain and lift openings planned at Keystone and Breck,” spokesperson Sara Lococo wrote in an email.

Lococo said Spring Dipper is the latest addition to Keystone’s terrain, and the resort plans to open Jaybird and Acapulco Road along with Peru Express lift on Wednesday, providing access to both base areas and more than 130 acres of terrain. Keystone is also working to make snow on North Peak.

Breckenridge opened uphill access for the season Tuesday, Nov. 23, and plans to open the Northstar run on Wednesday.

“Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, we plan to open Peak 9 with the QuickSilver SuperChair and Peak 8 SuperConnect on Thursday, (Nov. 25), plus the Silverthorne and Lower Sundown trails,” Lococo wrote. “This will bring us to approximately 175 acres of terrain for the holiday.”

When Breckenridge opened earlier this month, Lococo said more Peak 8 terrain was the priority, followed by opening Peak 9 and then Peak 7. The new Freedom SuperChair is set to debut on the north side of Peak 7 in a planned early-December opening, but that — as always — is weather dependent.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which was the first Summit County ski area to open for the season, has four lifts running, which includes two learning area lifts along with Black Mountain Express Lift and the Lenawee Mountain Lift, which accesses higher terrain. Nine trails are open, with the majority — 83% — being beginner runs. A-Basin opened Oct. 17 with a single run: High Noon.

Overall, the open terrain at the four Summit County ski areas as of Tuesday totals 25 trails, which is actually one more run than was open for Thanksgiving last year. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many resorts delayed their opening days. On Thanksgiving 2020, A-Basin had four runs open, Breckenridge had eight and Keystone had 12. Copper was not open by Thanksgiving last year.

While snow has been on the scarce side this year, local ski areas’ snow totals are comparable to this time last season. Keystone has seen 32 inches of snow so far this season and recorded 31 inches by this time last year. A-Basin has recorded 34 inches so far this season, and only saw 22 inches by this time last year.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing to give the ski areas much of a boost in the forecast. National Weather Service meteorologist David Barjenbruch said a few light snow showers are expected to start Tuesday night and continue into Wednesday, but accumulation will be only a dusting up to a half inch of snow. Barjenbruch said it’s possible the ski areas could see up to an inch of snow.

“It doesn’t look like a big system once again — just enough to make your car dirty again, but not much to support the ski industry,” Barjenbruch said.

The longer-term forecast is equally bleak.

“We’re hoping something moves in by Dec. 3 or 4, but there’s just not a lot to offer in the snow forecast,” Barjenbruch said.

Graphic shows the number of trails open at Summit County ski areas for Thanksgiving in the past three years compared to the number of trails open as of Tuesday, Nov. 23.
Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.