With Thanksgiving having presented itself weatherwise more like Easter, the prospect of a bountiful winter snow season may appear precarious at the moment, which is not a pleasant outlook for ski resorts, winter recreationists and water-supply managers. But nature is occasionally known to reverse itself, as we saw just last year when a fall season with below-average precipitation suddenly gave way to a battalion of heavy snowstorms that marched across the Wasatch Front to create the snowiest Christmas season in a century.
While long-range forecasts vary on this year’s snow season, there has been growing concern in recent years about macro changes in weather patterns that might negatively impact the future of Utah’s $1.3 billion ski industry. Some climate scientists see a future of warmer (though wetter) winters along the Wasatch if current trends continue. Nevertheless, the Utah ski culture is perhaps as strong as ever, with resorts investing substantially in new amenities, while an effort is underway to bring back the Winter Olympics in 2026 or 2030.
The 2002 Olympics certainly bolstered the state’s reputation as a winter sports mecca, providing momentum that’s put Utah resorts top of mind among ski and snowboard enthusiasts. Local resorts regularly make various top-10 lists, with Snowbird, Alta, Park City and Deer Valley alternately showing up in the top five of most lists compiled by ski publications and in surveys of where destination skiers from around the world choose to spend their winter vacation money.
Despite a Thanksgiving weekend that saw people in parks and backyards working off turkey dinner wearing shorts and T-shirts, three ski resorts had lifts open during the weekend. Technology has allowed for more snow-making when temperatures are cool enough, and there is pent-up enthusiasm for the start of the season, according to trade organizations. The last two ski seasons were record-breakers, according to Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty, who says, “We've got a ton of momentum, and that's always important in our industry.”
That momentum will stall, certainly, if the winter storm track bypasses the peaks of the Wasatch. That was also a worry last year when resorts opened Nov. 26 with relatively little snow on the ground or on the horizon. But after the opening, Park City Mountain Resort, for example, received 455 inches of snow — 100 more than the seasonal average.
Much rides on the consistency of mountain snowfall, not only for recreation interests, but also for a healthy supply of water in local reservoirs. A balmy holiday late in November might make water watchers a bit nervous, but what nature will bring in the way of winter precipitation isn’t certain until the season is over. Veteran snow watchers will attest that a freakishly warm Thanksgiving does not preclude the prospect of a healthy blanket of white over the mountains and valleys come year’s end.