Ski resorts rejoice over best nationwide snow conditions in several years

Friday, December 28, 2007
A skier skied down "Oly Bowl" in Aspen, Colo., on Aspen Highlands. (Matt Power ~ Aspen Snowmass)

DENVER -- Santa brought just what the nation's ski resorts wanted: the best nationwide snow conditions in several years.

From New England to California, the snow dumped in the days and weeks before Christmas. Even Taos, N.M., in the desert southwest, had a 60-inch base.

"This is our best opening since 1977," said Adriana Blake, marketing director for Taos. The resort couldn't open for Thanksgiving, but later got 68 inches in a week. "This is crazy. It never snows like this."

In November, with a few exceptions, some of the most popular resorts in the Rockies and California delayed their openings because of a lack of snow. Most only offered limited terrain because of an unusually balmy and dry fall that produced disastrous wildfires.

Then the jet stream moved south and the snow began to fall and fall and fall. Wolf Creek, Colo., which usually has the deepest base in the state, has suffered for the last two years. It debuted late last month with less than 10 inches. A week before Christmas it had 115 inches.

"It is spectacular. For the first time in recent time in recent history the industry is up and operating across the country. We looking for record Christmas attendance," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

Sugarbush is close to being 100 percent booked for Christmas, a record for the Vermont resort. It expects to have 100 percent terrain open for Christmas, said J.J. Toland, communications director. Also in Vermont, Mad River Glen, which relies mostly on natural snow, reported 100 percent open.

New England struggled last year. The Vermont Ski Areas Association said 59 percent of Vermont's 1,242 trails were open as of Dec. 10, compared with 14 percent at the same time last year.

The snow has been good from the start at Whistler-Blackcomb, British Columbia, the busiest resort in North America. Mammoth's 14-inch base had grown to 45 inches. Squaw Valley, near Lake Tahoe, went from 5 inches to 40 inches.

Improvements at Vail

Underneath that snow at Vail, Colo., the nation's busiest resort, is $1 billion in improvements in lodging, retail facilities and other amenities like ice-skating. "All the streets feel like plazas. East Meadow Drive is so much more inviting -- and with the new restaurants and shops, it feels like our own 'Little Italy,'" said Beth Slifer, chairwoman of Vail's Local Marketing District Advisory Council.

"With our European street concept we've developed a look, a feel and a product that will last 100 years and that encourages shopping, dining and lingering during any season," said her husband, Rod, Vail's mayor.

Aspen's Snowmass resort has added a $17 million, 25,000-square-foot children's center called the Treehouse Kid's Adventure Center. It has a dedicated four-seat chair just for the children. Inside there interactive, environmental-themed rooms like the Butterfly Meadow. It even has rooms for children who need a little extra care or aren't feeling well.

Colorado's Beaver Creek Resort also just opened a new gondola, connecting the resort with the nearby town of Avon with a three-minute ride. The resort also has a new children's area with customized learning slopes.

Mammoth Mountain, Calif., has replaced a double fixed-grip with the six-pack Cloud Nine Express, which will cut ride time to the Dragon's Back area in half to six minutes. It will help the busy mountain move snowriders across the mountain more easily, and it is a heavier chair and can operate in more difficult weather conditions, said Laura Johnson, spokeswoman for the resort.

Brighton, Utah, has replaced its last fixed-grip chair, the Millicent, laying claim to becoming the first area in the country in which all terrain is served by high-speed quads. That means more runs, and no longer being banged in the bum by chairs.

New England Business Journals reports that areas in Vermont and New Hampshire spent more than $30 million in improvements. An additional $175-200 million was expended by ski areas and private developers in real estate projects.

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