Jumpin' at White Pass. (White Pass/Facebook)
The Snow Gods have been spreading the wealth around the country this season, and now is the time for the Pacific Northwest to count its blessings.
After a decent start to the season – though nothing historic -- the ski and snowboard resorts in Washington and Oregon gathered steam in late January and early February. OpenSnow.com reports that the jet stream that dumps on Lake Tahoe, Utah and Southern Rockies has slipped northward – good news from the resorts of the Cascades and beyond – but Pacific storms may soon take a break.
Always critical in the ocean-sensitive Northwest is the rain-snow elevation, but skiers and riders from the region know how to adjust to widely varying conditions.
“Heavy snow, spotty freezing rain, a rain/snow mix (above 5,500 ft.) – then back to snow,” reports OpenSnow’s Larry Schick. “A low with a warm front is moving in from the Southwest. This system is the causing of the variety of precipitation and this wild weather transition.”
The first weekend of February brought double-digit snowfalls to many resorts, including Summit at Snoqualmie, Stevens Pass and White Pass with at least three feet. But, again, the threat of thaw has been ever present. At Crystal Mountain, some 250 inches have fallen but the settled base is 77-88 inches.
In Oregon, a few dumps came early but resorts have had to make do with intermittent snowfall throughout the first two months of the season – and fluctuating temperatures around freezing. For example, Mount Hood SkiBowl reports 209 inches of snowfall this season, settling to about 80 inches of base.
The long-term forecast doesn’t have any major dumps on the horizon, but OpenSnow predicts colder temps and modest snowfall that to keep base depths on the mountain longer.
“Between February 13-17, the western U.S. and most of Canada will experience high pressure, sunshine, and mostly dry weather,” said OpenSnow’s Joel Gratz.
Tele turns at the top of "Goat" at Stowe. (Stowe)
The true “steeps,” they make us pause. Across ski-snowboard country, we peer tentatively over the edge and into precipitous pitches, long and short, that cause the heart rate to rise and adrenaline to course through our veins.
Crystal Mountain Inn at the Mountain expansion taking place. (Crystal Mountain)
Despite the warm winter across the Midwest last season that negatively impacted the ski season a half-dozen ski resorts are completing major projects for the 2016/17 winter season. Four are located in Michigan and one each in Ohio and Wisconsin.
Santa enjoys a run down the Shanty's Schuss Mountain slopes. (Shanty Creek)
With a forecast for cold weather and lake effect snow returning to northwest Lower Michigan later this week ski resorts are getting ready to celebrate the holiday season. Let’s hope Santa brings the snow.
Shanty Creek has several holiday events scheduled including the Sardine Special on Friday, Dec. 16, when you pack the car with as many people as possible and you all ski for the price of one, and breakfast and story time with Santa on Saturday, Dec. 17 and 23. On Christmas Day ski and ride free with Santa on the Schuss Mountain slopes. Just bring a non-perishable food item or clothing to donate. Holiday Ski Packages start from $184 per person, per night and includes lodging, lift ticket, breakfast and a group ski lesson.
Boyne Mountain and Boyne Highlands will be celebrating the sights and sounds of the holidays with lots of planned activities, dinners, holiday rail jams, and New Year’s Eve dinners, live bands and celebrations capped with fireworks over the ski slopes. For a complete event schedule you can click on either the Mountainor Highlands. Boyne’s 6-for-1 Day, six people can ski or ride at either resort for the price of one. It takes place Friday, Dec. 16, and celebrates North America’s first six-seat, high speed lift installed at Boyne Mountain in 1991.
Crystal Mountain will be celebrating holiday week Dec. 16 through Jan. 7, 2017. In honor of the resort’s 60th anniversary on Friday, Dec. 16 its 6-for $60 when six people can ski or ride for $60. Planned activities will be taking place every day—fat bike tours, snowshoe tours, horse drawn surrey rides—with dinners, live entertainment and New Year’s Eve celebrations. On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, ski with Santa that afternoon.
Treetops Resort has family activities slated all day for Dec. 30, and three different New Year’s Eve dinners and celebrations; a family party, dance party and kid’s party. Overnight rates, including lodging, lift and breakfast voucher, start from $64 midweek and $80 on weekends in limited quantity.
It's party time on the shores of Lake Tahoe at Heavenly Valley on New Year's Eve. (TahoeSouth/Facebook)
The annual celebration of the new year at a ski and snowboard resort signals that the season is in full swing – and looking forward to tons of snow in the coming months.
Mountain resorts traditionally feature torchlight parades, fireworks, festive food and hearty drink on the evening of Dec. 31. Many add twists to the holiday activities – for kids, VIPs and just regular folk.
Here’s a preview of some of what will be happening in the across the country as 2016 turns into 2017 up in the hills:
South Lake Tahoe shuts down Main Street for Heavenly Valley visitors to party with music, food and drink before famed Gondola Ball Drop (ala Times Square) to signal in new year.
Crystal Mountain lays out buffet and prix fixe dinners, separate parties for teens and adults, and torchlight ski and ride down the Cheers trail for 16 years or older.
Grand Targhee gets going early with glowstick parade for 5-14 year olds with basic turning and stopping skills. Adults parade at 5:45 p.m. with roadside flares (wear an old parka), and then fireworks.
Breckenridge starts out with a glowworm parade on the slopes for the kids, then an adult version later. Many hike up Boreas Pass for best view of nighttime fireworks.
Sunday River features evening ride up Chondola for fancy meal at mid-mountain Peak Lodge. Back at base, the music is nonstop until midnight.
Stowe goes all day on Dec. 31 with face-painting, handbell concert, champagne tasting and free s’more before torchlight parade and fireworks cap off the year.
Sugarbush honors a human’s best friend with annual Dog Parade in the afternoon at base of Lincoln Peak, followed by the usual evening festivities.
A 2.3kW solar installation at Aspen Highlands ski patrol headquarters. (Aspen Skiing Company)
During the past couple of decades, a majority American ski and snowboard resorts have come to embrace that climate change is a reality – and a threat to their futures.
Evidence of resorts engaging the principles and practices that reduce fossil fuel use and carbon footprint can be found at many venues and in many ways. Low-energy snowmaking is spreading, as is on-mountain recycling, car pooling priority parking and biofuel use.
Here’s SnoCountry’s sampling of some of the green projects at U.S. resorts:
Sugarloaf. The northern Maine resort has gone all in to reduce its footprint, including revegetation to reduce erosion and composting at area restaurants that produces “black gold” soil used on the Sugarloaf Golf Course.
Cranmore. New Hampshire resort added its first electric/diesel groomer snowcat to supplement a fleet that has been burning biodiesel for a decade. New condo project will heat and cool with efficient electric pump systems.
Crystal Mountain. The Michigan resort got recognition for carbon-reducing LED lighting in parking lots, and its high-speed Crystal Clipper chair that runs solely on wind power credits.
Stevens Pass. All the lift cables at the Washington mountain are lubricated by non-petroleum castor oil, and management actively seeks out “green” vendors for its food and beverage services. Snowmobiles burn low-sulfur diesel, and operate as much as possible during off-hours.
Squaw Valley. Can’t buy bottled water at the California resort; instead, you can fill up water bottles at refill stations for free.
Aspen-Snowmass. The Colorado resort complex chose a political route in addition to e-efforts. Partnering with Protect Our Winters, all employees wear the organization’s patch, and resort officials lobby hard for local, regional and national climate change awareness and action.
The National Ski Areas Association lists 200 U.S. resorts that have signed on to its Sustainable Slopes program – and more than a dozen have received money for “green” projects through the program.
If big snow falls early, pay less to ski more powder at Crystal Mountain. (Crystal Mountain/Facebook)
This is what we do in anticipation of another ski and snowboard day: Think snow, check web cams, pray for cold – and lock in a couple of early-season discount tickets.
Most resorts drop ticket prices before the holidays to entice us into the high country as soon as possible. Savings also can be had by ordering online, buying in groups, and going midweek.
Here’s SnoCountry’s sampling of early ticket deals around the country:
Crystal Mountain. Limited number of five-pack of adult tickets available on first-come, first-served basis at Washington mountain. Cost is $335 for 10 percent savings.
Sundance. Utah resort sells limited number of day tickets 40-60 percent off on a revolving basis. For example, Dec. 9 ticket costs $30.99 – more than half off.
Mammoth Mountain. Ski opening day at Cali resort for $50, online only. Includes free coffee and cocoa to stay warm till lift opens at 8:30 a.m.
Snow Summit. Opening day at SoCal mountain is $41; stay another day and get two days for $69. Must buy online at least 72 hours in advance.
Steamboat. Through Dec. 18, three days of skiing and riding costs $169 with Boat Launch Pass, plus 20 percent off mountain lodging.
Aspen/Snowmass. Book at least two nights before Dec. 18 and get 40 percent off lift tickets at any SkiCo mountain. Book three nights at Little Nell Hotel before Dec. 18 and get two lift tickets free.
Bromley. Purchase a Sun Mountain Card by Dec. 16 for $69, and get $30 off full day ticket price all season. Price goes up to $79 after that.
Stratton. Top out at $69 midweek, $89 weekend with bonus day after Jan. 2 for $89 with X2 Card.
Spend a day horseback riding through some of the most beautiful landscapes Wyoming has to offer.(Jackson Hole Central Reservations)
Our wheels often take us on adrenaline-fueled trips through the forests, but sometimes it’s worth it to explore new terrain on a different mode of transportation, one that allows us to slow down and appreciate mountain wildflowers and stunning vistas. Let an experienced guide at a mountain resort share with you the opportunity to see a favorite mountain resort by horseback.
The snow gods smiled on the Pacific Northwest this season, with most mountain resorts getting at or slightly above normal snowfall – meaning they are pushing closing dates to the limit.
Fat tire snow biking, popular at western and eastern ski resorts, has been gaining traction in the Midwest recently. Several ski resorts in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula and northern Minnesota are now offering rentals and trails to ride.
A phalanx of snow storms continues to course off the Pacific and dump double-digit depths on the Cascades and environs.
It may be a slow start to the Midwest ski season, but things are supposed to improve by the holidays and several Heartland resorts have plans to celebrate the season. Let’s all ask Santa to bring the snow.
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