It's closing time
Many ski areas this year have enough snow to stretch the season late into spring, but they'll be closing this month anyway despite near record-breaking conditions. Early season closures come as a result of a decrease in visitors and due to land use and wildlife restrictions.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has a season total of 557 inches but Sunday, April 3, marked the resort's last day of the 2011 season. "It has been a record-breaking season in lots of ways," says Jackson Hole spokesman Zahan Billimoria. "But as a destination resort, we don't have any major metropolitan areas nearby. As a result, we rely heavily on destination guests, who by and large aren't traveling to ski beyond spring break."
Utah's Brian Head Resort, which sits at the highest base elevation in the state, will close on April 24 because business slows down so much in late April. "Our skiers just kind of go away," Brian Head spokesman Jon Christofferson says. "Once summertime hits down there they just forget about skiing."
Snowbasin, Utah, expects to have a 150-inch base when it closes April 17. Spokesman Jason Dyer says declining numbers determine the closing date, as well as safety concerns and the need to begin trail maintenance for summer activities.
In Colorado, Crested Butte received 30 inches of snow in the last week, but the ski area closed Sunday, April 3, the same day as Telluride (which has a 65-inch base). On April 10, Wolf Creek will close with a 101-inch base, the same day that Steamboat (93-inch base) shuts down. The snow may be there, but the skiers have moved on, says Steamboat spokeswoman Loryn Kasten. "We usually close right around the same time every year and it's based on skier interest," she says, listing summer activities that draw people away from the slopes.
Four-season resorts close to prepare for the change of seasons, including Whistler Blackcomb, which has traditionally closed one of its peaks in April. Whistler will close April 25 so that mountain bike park preparations can get underway. Blackcomb Mountain will remain open for skiing until May 23. "It's a hard balance because the bike park is so popular," says Whistler's Ryan Proctor. "If we don't get that open we'd be cutting business down."
U.S. Forest Service recreational land-use permits also restrict operating days per year at various resorts around the country. And at Washington's Crystal Mountain, elk calving areas are off limits for spring skiing, although the new Mt. Rainier Gondola will remain open after the rest of the chairlifts shut down.
Of course, some resorts will stay open as long as there's snow. Says Mad River Glen, Vermont's Eric Friedman, "We plan to go as long as we can until the snow gives out."