Nordic Ski Areas Fight Whiplash Winter
Big snows at Tahoe Adventure Center. (Tahoe Donner)
Cross country ski areas are very susceptible to the weather. This winter ski areas and skiers “endured” a few huge snowstorms, days of nearly 70 degrees, meltdowns, freeze ups, rain deluges and floods, and more, with what has been dubbed the “Whiplash Winter.” The whiplash effect refers to the weather changing in short periods from unseasonably warm to freezing cold with major snowstorms followed by unseasonably warm weather, and repeat from late November through early April.
Cross country (XC) ski areas combated the Whiplash Winter across the nation with grooming and/or snowmaking and many ended up on top. And they kept skiers and snowshoers informed about the conditions.
Thanks to machine-made snow, Gunstock Mountain in N.H. was able to stay open but the natural snow situation was feast or famine. Nordic Director Kale Poland stated, “We had to close during one week and then Stella (big Nor’Easter snowstorm) saved the day. It’s just about adapting to whatever gets thrown at us! Thanks to our ability to have direct contact with our customers with our Facebook page, we were able to effectively get the word out.”
Quarry Road Rec Area in Maine reported “Despite a warm spell in early December, we got off to a good start, opening on machine-made snow and we haven't looked back since. Even with a couple warm spells and rain events, we've managed to keep the trails open every day.
Vermont's Sleepy Hollow warmed up so much in February that their machine-made snowpile melted but they remained open through the end of March. The late snowstorm provided an extra great weekend that was super busy with pent up skiers.
At the Mountain Top Resort in central Vermont, Nordic director Roger Hill said “the conditions were good from mid December through the middle of the President's week vacation. We had the full 60 km of trails open because melts, freeze-ups, and rain are not an issue as long as there is sufficient base thanks to the state-of-the-art groomer used at Mountain Top where the approach is that “if we can't groom it we don't open it.” Using Mountain Top’s website, social media, and sites such as Ski Vermont, Snocountry.com, and media outlets such as XCSkiResorts.com, people seem prepared.”
Dan Baumann of Golden Eagle Lodge in Grand Marais, Minnesota, who has been hosting family vacations in the wilderness for 40 years said it was weird weather but they dealt with it by grooming. With a February warm spell and heavy rain followed by 20 below-zero temperatures the trails remained snow covered but it was the most trail tilling that was done in the last six years.
At Colorado's Breckenridge Nordic Center they make snow for storage, but didn’t need it this year since snow totals were the largest in 125 years. The temperatures were warmer in Colorado this winter, but with so much snow there’ll be backcountry skiing into May with the Center’s Snowcat Adventure interpretive tours.
Tahoe Donner in Truckee, California, said they had the most snow in the last 40 years. There were rain events and power outages and the area responded to big snowstorm totals by grooming a shorter 15 km loop near the lodge. There was flooding and many downed trees on the trails. There were 10 days when they could not open, but they’re only one percent below last year’s skier visitation.
At Bear Valley in Alpine, California, owner Paul Petersen said, “we had great holidays early in the season but a 10-inch rain event was then followed by 17 feet of snow, followed by a 13-inch rain event. We overworked our shoveling muscles as this season’s 400 inches of snow required lots of physical work, which was tough on the staff. Overall, the season delivered a home run, but not a grand slam. Most of the storms were during the week leaving great weekend days."