Why Do Ski Resorts Close When Their Snowpack Is Still So Deep?

Brent Thomas | | Post Tag for BrainsBrains
Spring can be a great time for skiing if your local resort stays open. Credit: traveloregon.com

At the beginning of the ski season, it is a race to see what resort will open first. Pent-up demand from not skiing during the summer and fall drives skiers to clamor for their first tracks of the season. Sometimes this is only on one lift and a measly 12-inch base, most of which might be man-made snow. Then, at the end of the season, when the resorts could fully operate their terrain with plenty of snow, they suddenly shut down. 

With over 600″ this season, and a 177″ base that’s 125% of normal, Alta Ski Area, UT, will close in two weeks, on April 21. Neighboring resort Snowbird will remain open into May and beyond. Resorts in California with less snow and shallower bases will stay open into July. All good things must come to an end, but why do resorts close when their snowpack is the greatest it’s been all season?

The answer to this question is a number of factors, but primarily, as with most things, the answer is money. Ski resorts are a business, and the cost to operate on any given day is substantial. There’s the cost of running the chairlifts, groomers, ski patrol, parking control, food services, employee wages, and a laundry list of other fixed expenses.

Then there is the acute decrease in demand as skier visits drop dramatically when the weather gets warm. People start focusing on other activities like golf, hiking, mountain biking, and lake activities. Resorts have to balance the economics of operating the resort and skier demand.

As the weather gets warmer, people naturally turn to other activities. Credit: whistlerblackcomb.com

Then there are the weather factors. As we get into late spring, there could be an occasional snowstorm, but generally, it is getting warmer. The high angle of the sun can wreak havoc on the snow conditions, making them hot and sticky. Even if the snow sets up hard overnight, it might only be enjoyable for a couple of hours before turning to mush. Sure, the local pass holder would come up for a few hours, but the day ticket skier who wants to ski all day doesn’t come.

The rapid snowmelt in the spring also means more work to maintain the ski area. Workers have to shovel snow to keep lift mazes intact and maintain the height of the loading area of the lifts. 

As the year goes on, the days get longer, and the sun’s angle increases. This has a material effect on the snow surface. Credit: pressofatlanticcity.com

Other, more individualized factors that could play into a resort’s decision to operate are available labor, non-skiing activities, and lease agreements that expire. Many seasonal resort workers are potentially moving on to their next employment opportunity. Ski resorts might also start shifting their focus to set up summer operations like mountain biking, hiking, festivals, amusement parks, and concerts which will be more profitable given the warmer weather. Additionally, the resort may have a hard close date due to a pre-determined agreement for land use. 

Then why do some resorts stay open? It is true that some resorts stay open on a limited basis, and some even longer into the month of June or later. These resorts often have more north-facing or higher elevation terrain that stays better longer. Also, once most resorts close, the regional few that stay open can consolidate skier demand to their mountains, creating a more sustainable operation. 

So, if you want to extend your ski season, get some warm wax and head to a resort with a long season. You could also hike for your turns or head down to South America, where winter is just getting started. 

Palisades Tahoe is one resort that typically stays open late. Credit: palisadestahoe.com

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11 thoughts on “Why Do Ski Resorts Close When Their Snowpack Is Still So Deep?

  1. I know why my northeastern employer closes when it does. It’s money: people stop coming means no money. So we only do spot snowmaking after early March. We usually have plenty of snow into April, closing day is dependent on bookings and advance sale numbers. By April 15 we are done, even when we get a big dump and skiing is fantastic, but people still don’t show!

  2. Same in Telluride. They don’t own the land, and the lease is for a set number of days.

  3. No man it’s the weather. Ice in the morning then for maybe two good lift runs and then suddenly sticky slushy snow. Injuries will abound.

  4. Cuz vail sucks so much. Vail is the worst. They are killing the ski industry. They only care about money and that’s it. Just wait till they amber heard in the bed and no one wants to ski with any epic pass resorts

  5. Idk about other states but here in Montana many areas are located on Forest Service leases and have to close by early April.

  6. You also forgot to mention that lots of ski resorts operate on National Forest leases which stipulate an end date for skiing operations regardless of snow conditions

  7. You forgot one of the main reasons CO resorts close early. The elk migration patterns force them to close unless they apply for a permit, but they choose not to. I belive a Basin apply every year or has been around long enough to not need to. Dig deeper!

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