Category Archives: Skiing and Snow

Green Ski Resorts Gets National Press

I certainly was not the first to address the increase in environmentally responsible practices at ski resorts, but my February 28, “The Gradual Greening of Ski Country” post beat Associated Press reporter’s Tom Gardner’s “Ski Industry Goes Green to Fight Warming” article, which was released yesterday. How perfectly appropriate for a piece on green resort practices to come out on St. Patrick’s Day, the greenest of holidays. Gardner discussed resorts that I didn’t and vice versa, and I’m really happy that he did. His words will reach for more readers than mine.

On Friday, I skied with a friend at Loveland. Nights are still cold 10,600 feet and higher, so morning conditions were crunchy, but by late morning, the sun had softened the snow and morphed it into wonderful spring corn. Three new inches a couple of days earlier added a fresh lawyer to the season’s snowfall. Loveland’s high elevations (topping out at over 13,000 feet), I was glad to ski in a warm park, hat and winter gloves. But Durango Mountain Resort, where my son teaches skiing, has sprung into spring with a vengeance. He told me that he hasn’t seen anything but blue sky in two weeks and that the snow is melting off the slopes in rivers.

Some weather variations reflect seasonal snow patterns, but the recent focus on global warming sets me to wondering what is within a normal range of months with heavier or lighters snowfall, above- or below-normal temperatures, and the dates when winter sets in and when spring begins. Gardner’s report is yet another reminder that we need to do what we can to make lessen our collective responsibility for shortening the ski season, the snowpack and the greater global climate.

SGSG = Seriously Great Snow Grooming

Sun Valley, Idaho, was the first purpose-built ski resort in the United States. It opened in 1936. I’m now at Tamarack, the most recent purpose-built resort in the United States. It opened in 2004. Both are located in southern Idaho.

The contrast between these resorts in their infancy is a study in elevated expectations. Sun Valley was 1930s luxury — a posh lodge, a huge outdoor heated pool, one chairlift, movie star guests, exotic imported Austrian ski instructors. Tamarack is 21st-century luxury — one lodge and 60 cozy cottages (the super-luxe Fairmont Tamarack is under construction), an outdoor heated pool and private hot tubs behind each cottage, three high-speed quad chairlifts and four other lifts, sports star guests (Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf are behind the Fairmont project), home-grown ski and snowboard instructors. (OK, not just sports stars, but also George and Laura Bush (probably because Idaho remains the most reliably red state in the Union, and that’s probably where the president felt most welcome) and pop idols Hilary and Hailey Duff (famous for being famous, I suppose).

I wasn’t there to spot stars (although Agassi was snowboarding at Tamarack while I was on two boards) but rather to ski. Neither Sun Valley nor Tamarack has had new snow in a while (January 9 is the date I heard), but it is a testimonial to Tamarack that the skiing is fabulous. There is no powder, of course, but the snowcats are prowling the slopes every night, turning the old snow into superlative corduroy that invites high-speed cruising (above right). I’m awestruck by their mastery of manicuring the mountain.

Tamarack is developing into a full resort that also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and back-country ski access via snowcat , but the crust over dust doesn’t make for the best ski experience. A group of us rode out by cat to Lone Tree Mountain, part of the 5,000 acres of backcountry terrain adjacent to the lift-served area. Head guide David Williams wasn’t enthusiastic about the conditions after so much time without snow, so we took in the view but bagged the idea of skiing the ungroomed. This was no real sacrifice because the groomers have been so very good. It has been extremely cold (below zero every night and safely in the freezing zone every day), so nothing is melting — and cover is still good.

I skied one day at nearby Brundage Mountain, a classic, family-friendly ski area that has ambitions to upgrade and expand, perhaps to keep up with the Tamarack Joneses. They also have groomed their old snow to fine skiability, and even on a Friday when local schools were having their ski day, there were no lines. I am told, however, that the ski area draws a good crowd on weekends, because it’s a favorite of skiers and snowboarders from Boise — normally two to two-and-a-half hours to the south, depending on traffic and road conditions.

Snow is forecast for tomorrow (Sunday). Guess when I’m leaving. Right. Tomorrow (Sunday). Of course, I’d love to be here for the powder, but I can’t complain about the conditions or the sunshine and scenery.

Snow Here, But "Snowhere" Else

Three snowstorms in three weeks, and another forecast for Thursday, and Colorado’s Front Range is experiencing the makings of an epic winter. It was a lousy drive home to Boulder from the National Western Stock Show & Rodeo in Denver on Sunday evening, and I had to cancel a trip to Beaver Creek on Monday, because blowing and drifting snow and ground blizzards caused the Department of Transportation and State Police to close major highways and secondary routes all over the Front Range.

The storms also imperiled livestock and have hit ranchers on the Eastern Plains particuarly hard, so I don’t mean to minimize some people’s inconvenience and trivilize others’ real misfortunes. However, for skiers, a winter like this is nature’s greatest gift. Ski resorts up and down the Rockies have benefited from strong strong storms, and even if transportation to and from the high country was dicey at times, there have been more pluses than minuses so far.

While the Rockies are wallowing in snow, the Northeast is hurting and hurting badly. New England ski areas are limping along at best, and Europe is not any better off. The Alps are still in terrible shape. When I returned from Europe in early December, I wrote about the lack of snow, unseasonable warmth and sad prospects for the winter. These appear on my December 9, 2006, post. There has, alas, been no significant improvement. Whever there is a snow-poor year somewhere, resorts elsewhere might benefit in the short them, but in the long range, they suffer too.

In his guest column in the Denver Post, Olympic gold medalist Ted Ligety reported, “One thing that has been common this season is that conditions for nearly every race — other than Beaver Creek and Levi, Finland — have been very inconsistent and unfair. There has been very little snow, and temperatures have been unseasonably warm. During the slalom here [Adelboden, Switzerland] on Sunday, it rained. On Monday, the temperature was about 45 degrees and the mountains slowly turned from snow to mud.”

I’m not gloating, but I am grateful to be a skier and snowshoer living in a region where there is lots of snow — at least, right now. I’m not taking anything for granted, snow-wise. It might not be like this next year (2005-06 were devastating in New Mexico and the winter before was uncharacterisitically snow-poor in the Pacific Northwest), so my winter soulmates and I better enjoy ski conditions while they are this good. And we fully expect even more Easterners, Europeans and Brits than unusual to come share our snowy slopes.