The ski season in many areas got off to a soggy start with an unseasonably warm fall that lingered late, but a barrage of winter weather saved the season.
The 2016-17 ski season benefited from heavy snowfall across many resort areas in December and January, including plenty of powder that drew crowds over the holidays and boosted local economies in mountain resort vacation destinations.
“The holiday period is always, season after season, one of the busiest times,” says Chris Linsmayer, a spokesman for the nonprofit ski resort trade association Colorado Ski Country USA. “The timing of those storms was great.”
And it wasn’t just Colorado. The snows are allowing for an extended skiing season in Lake Tahoe, California, says Thea Hardy, a spokeswoman for Sierra-at-Tahoe resort. “We’re so excited to not just have many days of skiing, but of good quality skiing,” she says.
Here’s a recap of how the 2016-17 season went in terms of snowfall, visitors and economic impact for top ski resort locations across the United States:
One of the country’s top ski destinations, the Aspen, Colorado area, boasts four big ski resorts: Aspen Highlands, Aspen Mountain, Aspen Snowmass and Buttermilk, which draw skiers from all over. After a slow start this year, Aspen experienced a dramatic ski season, with some big snowstorms and “an anticipated January dry spell that wasn’t,” the Aspen Times reported. In January, over 80 inches of snowfall brought snowpack to 180 percent of average. That’s when the ski season took off, says Melissa Wisenbaker, a PR representative for the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “In January we had powder days one after the next,” she says.
Thanks in part to the snow and special events, tourism took off in Aspen, where lodging occupancy stood at 81.3 percent in January, up 2.5 percent over that month the previous year, according to a survey by the Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association.
Then in early March, Aspen received a snowfall of 21 inches of powder in 48 hours and, later in the month, Aspen Snowmass hosted the 2017 Audi FIS Ski World Cup Finals, which drew enormous crowds. It was the first time the finals had been hosted in the United States in 20 years, Linsmayer points out. “It was a really big deal,” he says.
A premier ski area in Southern California, Big Bear Lake offers skiing at both Bear Mountain and Snow Summit, where the ski season shaped up nicely this year.
Big Bear got inundated with snow in January, and in the first half of that month, a single storm dumped over 70 inches, contributing to the “snowiest January on record so far,” Big Bear Mountain Resort reported.
Along with the snow, the resort’s new 3,000-square foot kids’ center – a “one-stop shop for children’s rentals and tickets” – decreased waiting times and made the destination more family friendly.
“We had an extraordinary season,” says Richard Rey, one of the owners of 572 Social Kitchen & Lounge, adding that an early snow and then another right before Christmas “sealed our holiday season.” Then came those loads of snow in January, forcing the restaurant to shut down for a few days, which is very unusual. Did he go skiing on those days? “Heck yeah,” he says. “This is the best snow I’ve seen in 15 years.”
Situated near Teton Village, Wyoming, Jackson Hole boasts steep slopes and plenty of snow, with an average of 450 inches a year. And this season was an epic one, surpassing all the usual snowfall numbers. By mid-March, a record breaking 536 inches of snow had fallen on Jackson Hole, giving the ski resort area “one of the deepest winters in the history of Wyoming’s Jackson Hole Mountain Resort,” First Tracks online ski magazine reported. By late March, that total had hit 544 inches, according to the resort.
It was really incredible – record breaking,” Kate Foster, communications director for the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, says of the season. “We’re enjoying the plentiful ‘cowboy powder’ as they call it – Jackson Hole’s signature, fluffy powder,” she says.
All that snow helped draw skiers and other winter tourists to the area. For the six months between September 2016 and February 2017, Jackson Hole bookings rose 5.3 percent over the same timeframe the previous year, the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce reported. “People love the snow,” Foster says.
The Lake Tahoe, California area got inundated with enough snow to allow for a slightly extended ski season this year. With over 540 inches of natural snowfall, Sierra-at-Tahoe resort announced it will stay open until April 23, a week longer than normal and the latest the resort can stay open, says Sierra-at-Tahoe spokeswoman Thea Hardy. “That’s well above our season average, which usually falls somewhere in the 400-plus range,” she says.
All the snow brought some challenges that included avalanche dangers, mudslides and road issues, but it also led to a great snowpack. “Our base is huge right now, about 190 inches,” Hardy says. The snowy season offers a welcomed change since four of the past five years have been drought years, with lack of snow forcing the resort to close early the year before last, she says. This year, an abundance of powder days led to an increase in sales of season passes, Hardy says. “We saw a huge jump in the numbers this year,” she says.
Some ski resorts in Tahoe have seen over 700” of snowfall this winter allowing them to stay open for select times in June and July in addition to the regular winter ski season.
Located just 35 minutes from Salt Lake City, Park City, Utah offers the largest ski area in the United States with over 7,300 skiable acres and skiing for all skill levels. This year, Ski.com and Men’s Fitness picked Park City as one of the “best ski vacations in the world.”
During the 2016-17 season, the area saw “tons of snow and lots of bluebird days between storms,” according to Park City Mountain Resort. The resort got over 77 inches of snow in February alone, with over 16 inches coming in less than 24 hours. The area gets about 355 inches total during the season, on average, but that snowfall bumped the total to 330 inches by late February, well before the end of the season. After that snow, a GoPro video captured the experience of hitting the slopes in that fresh powder. Early March brought another big snowfall, with 11 inches falling in a day.
The weather definitely boosted business, says Kendall Kelley, assistant general manager for the High West Distillery & Saloon, a “gastro-distillery” in Park City that serves “pub grub” and its own house made spirits. “So many more people came up for weekends or made last-minute trips because of the snow being so good,” she says. “We were even busier at times when we thought business was going to be dropping off,” she says.
Nestled near Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the Steamboat Ski Resort has trademarked the phrase “Champagne Powder” to describe the light, airy powder that has made it famous as ski vacation destination.
At Steamboat, December and January each brought over 100 inches of snow, says Loryn Kasten, senior communications manager for Steamboat Ski Resort. And on the first day of March, which is known for being a snowy month in Colorado, Steamboat got coated with 10 inches of powder.
Nonetheless, it looks as if snowfall might tally up to be lighter than normal in Steamboat this season. The average snowfall is 352 inches a year and by late March, Steamboat Resort has received only 275 inches of snow, according to the resort.
“It was a fun-filled winter” Kasten says, though she notes Steamboat is “very much a destination” and that a lot of people pre-book their vacations, based partly on the average snowfall. For skiers, Steamboat is “consistently a good bet,” she says.
Sugarloaf Mountain boasts one of the best ski resorts in the East, and Sugarloafers enjoyed an epic ski season with almost five feet of snow in December and more in January, piling up a total snowfall that surpassed the previous season’s totals by late January, well before the end of the season.
Thanks to the abundance of white stuff, Sugarloaf opened its famed snowfields for the first time in two years, which made over 1,100 acres open for skiing. The snowfall also brought a flurry of winter resort visitors leading to a 22 percent uptick in resort tourism over the previous season.
The snow was much better than last year, and that was good for business, says Ben Connelly, a manager at The Shipyard Brewhaus restaurant. In fact, the second Nor’easter in February brought snow that was “as nice and as fluffy as I’ve ever seen,” he says.
A skiing hub, the Summit County, Colorado area offers “five world class ski resorts within a snowball’s throw of each other,” according to OntheSnow.com. The nearby resorts: Arapahoe Basin, Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone and Loveland.
The season started in late October but got off to a bit of a slow start. However, December and January were “just incredible,” says Adrienne Saia Isaac, marketing and communications manager for Arapahoe Basin Colorado. December got 86 inches, while January got a whopping 97 inches. The averages for those months are 48 and 47 inches respectively, she says. “December and January really delivered,” she says.
And the season, which normally extends into mid-June and can even extend to the 4th of July, isn’t over yet. “It’s a long season,” she says. “Most places are transitioning to summer and we’re waiting for next storm to roll in.”
The Vail area is home to Vail Mountain, which offers the largest skiable area in Colorado at over 5,200 developed acres including seven back bowls. Overall, this ski season has brought less snow and a shallower base depth than last year, according to snowfall and base depth records for Vail from OntheSnow.com. However, the area has still enjoyed plenty of good skiing. On average, Vail Mountain gets about 350 inches of snow over the span of the season, but almost midway into March this year had received less than 200 inches of snow. Nevertheless, that’s sufficient snow to carry Vail to the normal end of the ski season in late April. The Vail Ski Resort, which opened November 25 is set to continue operating through April 23.
“We had a great start to the year with snow, and that always sets the pace,” says Kevin Nelson, managing partner at Terra Bistro, located in the Vail Mountain Lodge & Spa.
Subsequent warm weather has made skiing “a little sketchy” but business has been good because vacationers tend to book in advance, he says. One they arrive, there’s a silver lining, he says: “The days are beautiful, the skies are blue and it’s sunny.”
Photo Credit: Andres Rodriguez