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Warm weather across West putting skiers’ hopes for heavy snow on hold

Updated November 7, 2023 - 3:44 pm

A repeat of last year’s record snowy winter across the West that raised reservoirs such as Lake Mead and kept California skiers on the slopes to July 4 would be a welcome repeat for snow enthusiasts and water users alike.

But as thoughts turn toward Thanksgiving and the ensuing snow season, the winter is not off to a great white start. Some examples:

— Brian Head Resort east of Cedar City, Utah, announced Tuesday that it is delaying a planned Nov. 10 opening to Nov. 17.

— Snow pack measurements across Colorado measuring the snow/water equivalent are universally below the median. Gunnison area snowfall is tops at 99 percent of the 1991-2020 median, with the Upper Colorado area at 84 percent. Southwest Colorado is at 40 percent of the media,n and northwest Colorado is at 35 percent.

— Some scattered Colorado snowstorms a month ago seemingly got the snow season off to a blustery start, but that has fizzled through October. Some early November storms dropped some largely insignificant snow at most Colorado resorts.

Repeating last year’s wide-scale bountiful snowfall will be difficult if not impossible.

But an El Niño weather pattern with warming ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific can bring wetter conditions and may turn out to be helpful. Weather experts are split on how strong the pattern will be this year, but they largely agree it has a 90 percent chance of lasting into March.

As for heavy moisture, only time will tell.

But for comparison, Alta Ski Area east of Salt Lake City had a record 903-inch season snowfall last year. It had never broken the 800-inch total previously and reached 700 inches only four times in eight decades of operation.

Brian Head off to slow start

Last year, the resort 200 miles northeast of Las Vegas opened Nov. 4 with a 23-inch base on its way to more than 400 inches of snowfall.

The resort, which has the highest-elevation lodge in Utah at 9,600 feet and a top lift at 10,920 feet, had several storms early in the season.

“We’re eager to welcome skiers and riders for the season but the warmer temperatures haven’t allowed us to capitalize on our new snowmaking upgrades,” said Amber Palmer, marketing manager at Brian Head. “Our team is doing an incredible job and taking advantage of every opportunity to make snow so we can open as soon as possible.”

This year, an investment of $500,000 in improved snowmaking operations, has gone for naught to date — thanks to Mother Nature. Snowmaking began with a 36-hour effort Oct. 14-15, but warmer weather since has halted that, said spokesman James Graven.

The current forecast for Cedar City shows 1-2 inches of snow possible this week, but no other precipitation through the weekend. However, temperatures appear to be cold enough to allow snowmaking, with morning lows in the low 20s.

Lee Canyon outlook

The resort in the Spring Mountains plans its customary opening of late November to early or mid-December, pending weather and snow, marketing director Jim Seely said a few weeks ago.

So far, Southern Nevada’s weather has stayed above normal with only a few nights in the 20s on Mount Charleston. Temperatures have not gotten into a sub-freezing level for the extended time frame that is essential for making snow. That makes an opening date nearly impossible to determine.

When the resort does open, visitors will see improvements, including a new four-seat Ponderosa Tower chairlift that will allow easier access to terrain above Rabbit Peak Trail.

Last year’s snowfall reached a record 266 inches, and 100,000 skiers and snowboarders took to the slopes with the season going all the way to Mother’s Day.

Contact Marvin Clemons at mclemons@reviewjournal.com.

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