After the Worst Winter in 60-Years Can Ski Resorts Survive Another Like It?

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Worst winter in 60-years. Credit:

This winter was the third-warmest on record for US ski resorts, and the worst winter in 60-years, reports Outside Online. See for yourself with these stats:

  • Tahoe’s Squaw Valley saw 367 inches, down from 669 the year before.
  • Colorado’s Crested Butte Mountain Resort saw 145 inches of snow, down from 335.
  • Telluride saw 159 inches, down from 294.
  • Vail saw 171 inches of snow, down from 215.
  • New Mexico’s Taos Ski Valley saw 78 inches of snow, down from 192.
  • Ski Apache saw 27 inches of snow, down from 43.

A single poor season isn’t rare, but should this year be an indication of what the future holds? While precipitation has remained consistent in recent years, the snowpack at ski resorts is on the decline.

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Onwards and upwards. Global temps are on the rise… Credit: NOAA

But if precipitation isn’t changing, why is this? Temperatures are warming.

Resorts are reacting as expected to the poor snowfall, the same as they always do. They invest in snowmaking and grooming, build snow fences to collect windblown snow, promote off-mountain activities to entertain paying guests when the snow isn’t cooperating, and more importantly, they are expanding summer activities. They’re also expanding into different regions and selling season passes that have skiers shouldering some of the financial risks of a down season.

“I’d say the biggest message from this for all our ski areas is that snowmaking is vital, and they are putting more money into that, trying to curb the possibility of not having tons of snow,” says George Brooks, director of Ski New Mexico. “We are also recognizing that the days of having a ski area open five, six months and then shut down for the rest of the year, those days are gone. It’s not just looking at a winter season and a summer season, either. It’s about a winter, spring, summer, and fall.”

worst winter, Snow guns blazing
Snow guns blazing at Killington.

Thanks to snowmaking crews and groomers, runs were open and skiing well. It wasn’t powder, but then not all vacationing skiers are hunting face shots.

Colorado, which suffered its fourth-worst winter season on record still did OK, thanks to pass sales. Vail Resorts, which owns Vail, Breckenridge, Keystone, and Beaver Creek, reported that the season showed a slight downturn in visits across its continental network of resorts but an increase in lift-ticket revenue, largely due to sales of its popular Epic Pass. And winter sales tax revenues from eight Colorado resort towns hardly indicate that snowfall was less than abundant.

worst winter
Squaw Valley, 2015, a historic drought year. Credit: Max Whittaker/Getty Images

What sales don’t change is the clear lack of snow on the hill. Analysts who spend time studying the long-term trend, like Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability at Aspen Skiing Co., say emergency tweaks such as greater snowmaking capacity and better grooming won’t solve the bigger problem.

“I think the industry has fundamentally acted as if they were defending their image versus defending the climate,” Schendler says. “I think there’s a core of management in the ski industry that still hasn’t said this is a priority.”

Credit to Outside Online for the full original, fascinating report. Check it out…

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