IT DOESN'T SEEM THAT LONG ago that ski resorts were announcing openings. Now, almost in the same breath, they're giving out closing dates. Certainly, it couldn't have been a complete ski season. Somewhere they cut out a month . . . must have.
Then again, looking back, yes, it was complete . . . pro races were a success in Park City on 12 million gallons of man-made snow in November . . . resorts finally got opened in December on a modest covering of snow . . . Utah Winter Games in January enjoyed good weather, good snow and good crowds . . . there wasn't much to talk about in Olympic skiing, but here in Utah it was a great February . . . and more followed in March, accented by the University of Utah winning NCAA title No. 7.
Snow was late arriving, though, and maybe that was the problem. November, remember, was lost to sunshine and a split jetstream. Snow went north and south and met again somewhere in Colorado. December wasn't much better. January, February and March were good, but a lot of skiers, mostly locals, never discovered it.
If it's not a century high, it's unskiable, or so many think. The first inch is skiable, the other 99 inches security. Trouble was, only Brian Head and Elk Meadows down south could offer the necessary security this year.
Still, when all the tickets are counted, Utah won't be that bad off, although no one will be looking for tax shelters, either. Numbers will be down, but there won't be any clearance sales this summer. Skiing here is still at the top of the "World's Best" list, even in lean years _ just ask anyone further east than Denver.
Still, the snow must melt and with it the 1987-88 ski season. Nordic Valley, ParkWest and Sundance have already closed. Three more will close after Sunday _ Deer Valley, Snowbasin and Elk Meadows/Mount Holley. Between now and May 8, when Snowbird is scheduled to close, the remaining nine will shut down.
So while the `87-`88 season may not have been long, it was memorable.
For the second year in a row, Park City did the impossible _ it held a world-class ski race without snow, or at least natural, heaven-made snow. Anticipating a dry winter, the resort began making snow from water and air while leaves were still trying to unhook from trees. By race time, Thanksgiving, it had a course. This year the pro races, last year the World Cup, next year . . . ?
And just how late was the snow? Late enough that Alta and Snowbird, two resorts traditionally up to their eaves in powder by Christmas, got into the snowmaking business. Each had one gun blowing man-made snow into piles that they then pushed all over the mountainside. And they said it would never happen.
Resorts have gone to school the past two years. They had to learn to do with too little instead of too much. Instead of tending ski runs, they constructed runs. What snow they didn't have, they made, and what snow they couldn't make, they borrowed from anywhere on the mountain. There were good runs at any resort, as clean and smooth as better years. Skiers merely had to follow the cats. As one area manager said, "We worked our tails off every night to get 'em that way."
Despite the lack of snow, cross-country centers sprang up like tulips this winter. Last year there was one, this year four _ White Pine (old), Jeremy Ranch (new), Homestead (really new) and Brighton Touring (reopened). Utahns found out the skinny-ski way that it doesn't take much snow to ski.
And now, with one of the best storms of the year just settling in _ Alta has 91 inches, the deepest reported this season _ and one of the brightest and sunniest weekends of the winter forecasted, it seems inconceivable that lifts have been turned off and snow cats parked, but . . .
With some of the best skiing of the year facing skiers, and some of the best days weather-wise yet to come, it seems impossible that the season is starting to wind down. It doesn't seem that long ago it was gearing up.