Western ski resorts wrapping unpredictable season

By Jeri Clausing

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, April 4 2012 2:30 a.m. MDT

Heavenly Mountain Resort on Lake Tahoe's south shore relied on snowmaking to get through the first months of the season before the dramatic turnaround, spokesman Russ Pecoraro said.

"I wouldn't go so far as to call it a 'Miracle March,' but we definitely did get a lot of snow. We're looking forward to a fun April."

In Colorado, the statewide snowpack was only 60 percent of average last week. Monarch Mountain moved up its closing day by one week to April 8 due to a lack of spring snow and warm, melting conditions. Arapahoe Basin, which stayed open until July 4 last season, tentatively plans to close in early June this year. Resorts in southwest Colorado still have decent bases, but SolVista Basin in northern Colorado was reporting just 21 inches of snow at mid-mountain last week.

The trade group Colorado Ski Country USA's says skier visits through Feb. 29 at its 22 member resorts were down 7.4 percent from the same period last season, when some resorts had record-setting snowfall.

Utah had its worst winter for snowfall in many years, but a bad winter in Utah would be a great season almost anywhere else. Alta had 327 inches by Friday, which is far below last year's 565 inches, but still way above the 216 inches recorded at Taos this week.

"It won't be a record-breaker for us, but we survived better than other places in the western U.S.," Ski Utah spokeswoman Jessica Kunzer said.

Visitors to Utah resorts held onto advance bookings, but local skiers turned their nose on the skimpy snow season, said Snowbird's Emily Moench.

Snowbird keeps Utah's longest ski season, which lasted until July 4 last year. This year it will switch to a weekend schedule on May 18, "if we make it that far," Moench said.

Like New Mexico, Wyoming reported a strong season thanks to good, timely snows that missed other ski areas to the south.

"We got snow at the right time and the product has held up really, really well," Anna Olson, spokeswoman for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in northwest Wyoming, which received 362 inches of snow so far this ski season. Other major resorts in the Rockies have gotten around 200 inches or less.

"We're yards ahead of other resorts," Olson said.

New Mexico opened the season with some of the best conditions in the country. Sandia Peak, for example, on the outskirts of Albuquerque, had a 64-inch base on Christmas Day.

And after a few weeks of spring and summer like temperatures across New Mexico, a spring storm dumped 14 inches of fresh powder on Taos and Sipapu ski mountains on Monday and Tuesday, prompting Sipapu to reopen for a week.

"We're not done!" Blake said Monday, noting Taos was planning to wrap up its season on schedule Sunday.

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Staff writers Catherine Tsai in Denver, Bob Moen in Cheyenne, Hannah Dreier in Sacramento and Paul Foy in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

Follow Jeri Clausing on Twitter at http://twitter.com/(hash)!/jericlausing

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