GARDEN CITY, Cache County — The Seeholzer family had big plans for this winter season, particularly after last year's record snowfall totals. But Mother Nature didn't cooperate.
"This year was a little heart-breaking,” Ted Seeholzer said.
The family runs Beaver Mountain Ski Resort up Logan Canyon in Cache County. They put in a new $800,000 chairlift for this season and made plans to replace their old ticket office and ski school building. But it's tough to make a living when the skies are clear most of winter.
“We're down probably 30 percent,” he said. “It's not going to break us, but it is going to bend us a little bit. But we'll survive. We just didn’t choose to go into debt that much."
Beaver Mountain closed this past Sunday, one of three Utah ski resorts already calling an end to the season. Eagle Point in Beaver County was only open for two months this season because of the lower snow totals.
“That was a real grind and it was a challenge emotionally for everybody,” said Shane Gadbaw, one of Eagle Point’s owners.
Eagle Point and Beaver Mountain don’t make their own snow. That means when a below-average year hits, it stings.
“We always like powder; everybody wants that snow,” said Travis Seeholzer, one of Beaver Mountain’s operators. “But it’s all about the weather. It is what it is and that’s the business we’re in.”
March precipitation was from 56 percent to 71 percent below normal throughout the state. That's left snowpack below average with the southeast near melt out and the remainder of the state in the 40 percent to 60 percent range.
"We haven't had the deep powder days this year that we've had other years," Ted Seeholzer said. “We’ve only had one of what we would call fantastic, and that’s where the snow is 18 to 20 inches deep.”
Ski Utah, the marketing arm of the Utah Ski & Snowboard Association, reports that the 2011-12 winter sports season was below average for snow totals, in some cases, dramatically below average.
Alta ski resort, with an elevation of 10,550 feet, averages 563 inches of snow a year. This year it has received 334 inches of snow according to Ski Utah. Beaver Mountain averages 400 inches a year. So far this year, it has less than half of its average, with 127 inches of snow.
More than 500 inches of snow falls in an average year at Brighton ski resort. This year it has seen 328 inches. Park City Mountain Resort has received 209 inches of snow so far, compared to average years of 370 inches of snow there.
And Sundance in Utah County typically gets 300 inches of snow but this year has received 171 inches.
“I think the conditions have managed to be extremely good quality conditions,” Jessica Kunzer with Ski Utah said. Kunzer said the contrast to last year's record snow totals makes the current ski and snowboard season seem browner than it actually was.
"Last year we had an extremely above average snow year, and this year, we're a little below our average. But that's the law of averages," she said.
Except for Snowbird, all of Utah's resorts have announced closing dates.
Along with Beaver Mountain and Eagle Point, Wolf Mountain is already closed. Snowbasin and Sundance are planning on closing Sunday.
April 15 is when most resorts are planning on having their last day. Those resorts are Brian Head, Canyons, Deer Valley, Park City, Powder Mountain and Solitude.
Brighton will close April 22. Alta will be open until April 29, though its last two weeks will be Friday-Sunday only. Snowbird is planning to remain open into May.
Last year, Snowbird was open on July 4, and many resorts stayed open into May and June.
“My goodness gracious, you could climb a pile of snow to heaven if we were supposed to last year,” said Ted Seeholzer. “Mother Nature? She owes us another one or two. We’d like two good ones in a row.”