Squaw Valley USA reportedly hit the 700-inch mark; beating their highest recorded snowfall total ofÂ 662 inches in (Click headline for more) 1994/95.Â Andy Wirth, Squaw Valleyâ€™s Chief Executive Officer said, â€œWe have so much snow that we will be examining the possibility of opening for the 4th of July, conditions permitting.â€
Many resorts kept to their stated (and long-established) closing dates, but a handful of the big boys in the west will keep the lifts turning at least through the end of this month to give back to guests some joyous late spring skiing.
Arapahoe Basin, Snowbird, Mammoth, Squaw Valley, Mt. Bachelor, Timberline (which operates year-round except for a few weeks in September for maintenance), and Canadian resorts Sunshine Village and Blackcomb all push around snow to make access to lifts and the spring corn (or powder) viable.
Hereâ€™s a sampling of dates:
Mt Bachelor May 29
Alpine Meadows May 15
Heavenly Valley May 6
Squaw Valley USA May 30
Arapahoe Basin June 5
Loveland May 8
Snowbird Â ?
Blackcomb May 30
Sunshine Village May 23
Lake Louise May 8
Mammoth Mountain, where a record 624 inches has fallen this season, has confirmed theyâ€™ll stay open through July 4.
Now, many of you sun worshippers and golf fanatics are pulling out your hair and wishing for the season to end but look around at the mountains above 7000 feet. Thereâ€™s too much snow for doing anything other than skiing. It makes sense to keep riding when you canâ€™t use the resort for those summer purposes just yet.
Still, resorts like Deer Valley closed April 10 like clockwork. â€œWe close because people stop skiing, we lose our destination skiers and it is not cost effective to run a business,â€ DVâ€™s Emily Summers told me once.
But Mammoth Mountainâ€™s people donâ€™t see it that way, â€œWhen you close the doors, you can count on the fact that no oneâ€™s going to give you a dollar. We stay open because thereâ€™s still skiing. Itâ€™s our business. Weâ€™re about â€˜going skiingâ€™, â€ said Clifford Mann, director of snow operations. And the moneyâ€™s not bad either he added. â€œSure, economics have to factor in, to some respect. It costs money â€“ gas, electricity, ecetera, to maintain the snowpack. Or it gets rotten and disappears. But $50-60k in revenue is good because itâ€™s revenue.â€ Plus, Mammoth has a Motocross event in June that covers just about all of their late skiing expenses.
As for employment costs, once the seasonal staff leaves, itâ€™s the year-round staff that goes to work. â€œThe marketing folks and the CEO are loading lifts and serving food,â€ said Mann. â€œWe gather up the year-round staff and head towards whateverâ€™s open. [As for mountain safety] we try not to variablize that cost. We keep the seasonal patrol. Itâ€™s no less safe out there and we have training programs for everyone.â€ Employment at Mammoth drops from about 2300 people in winter, to 500 through Memorial Day.
But perhaps Deer Valleyâ€™s skier is not the Mammoth skier so it doesnâ€™t make sense to run on the same model. The luxury Utah resort caters to out-of-state guests (rather than seasonpass holders) who book their trips months, even years, in advance. Mann explains the Mammoth skier: â€œYou factor in whoâ€™s coming through your door. We have guys that drive all night, ski one day and head home or sleep in the parking lot. Theyâ€™re beating our door down to ski until the last flake falls.â€ Mammoth also has a fantastic bonus in that they allow skiers to purchase 2010-2011 season passes April 1 and use them immediately. Thatâ€™s an extra two months to ski. Snowbird offers a spring pass for $299, April 1, that basically pays for itself after five visits. Who wouldnâ€™t want to maximize their yield by skiing 10, 15, 20 more days on the pass?
Plus, Snowbird positions itself so locals (and many out-of-state riders) purchase season passes based on the fact that they can ski from November through May. â€œWe have the longest season in Utah,â€ said Dave Fields, Snowbirdâ€™s marketing director. â€œSeason ticket holders know when conditions are good. Weâ€™ve created this expectation (that we will have skiing as long as we can). Those who like to ski, the rabid skiers, will take it whenever you give it to them.â€ So they keep the resort open Friday-Sunday beginning May 8, 2011.
â€œNo ski resort is making a ton of money by offering skiing in May but it creates great guest retention. If everyone [in Utah] stayed open until May, it wouldnâ€™t pencil out [for us],â€ said Fields. â€œI saw a guy screech into the parking lot, grab his board and run wildly to the hill trying to get a couple of trams in before 3. Thatâ€™s the guy youâ€™re doing it for.â€
Mann says there will be about 1200 skiers on any given Saturday in May and that drops to about 300 for a weekday. When I spent a mid-May night at the Mammoth Mountain Inn, the place was practically empty compared to mid-winter. Cheaper rates (Snowbirdâ€™s Cliff Lodge offers some amazing spring deals like $65/nt/pp.), a more peaceful atmosphere and availability make itÂ attractive;Â especiallyÂ toÂ snowboarders and training campsâ€¦and travelers from other countries. Japanese tourists in particular reveled in the novelty of skiing May 18.
So when is it time to close? â€œYou come to a point when you question what you get when you keep pushing snow but there are no trails to ski,â€ said Mann. â€œWe open when we have enough and will stay open until itâ€™s too hard to keep Chair One open.â€
I called up to Snowbird tonight. There were some snow flurries in the morning but the sun popped out and highs crept into the low 40s. Little Cloud, Mineral Basin and the Tram are open but until we get another storm (sorry, Folks, itâ€™s in the cards), enjoy! Ski east-facing slopes where the sun hits first. Bring a bar of hotel soap with you for the sticky, icky runouts at the base and slather on that sunscreen. You wouldnâ€™t want to spoil the last two months of your season with a second-degree burn.