ENVIRONMENT

Utah resort delays opening day, some unsure when to open after mild October

Nov 9, 2023, 3:58 PM

snow at Snowbird...

Snow is cleared from parking lots at Snowbird ski resort on Oct. 26. Last month produced decent precipitation in some parts of Utah but it was the state’s 39th-driest October, which is starting to mess with opening day plans for some resorts. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A storm that moved through Utah on Tuesday dumped as much as 11 inches of snow at Alta Ski Area, the latest of a handful of off-and-on systems that have pelted Utah’s mountains with snow since early September.

While many skiers and snowboarders bolted to the mountains to play in the backcountry, the resort has yet to open officially. Alta typically doesn’t open until the Friday before Thanksgiving. However, given the current conditions, it’s unclear whether there will be enough snow for the desired Nov. 17 season opener.

“It’s kind of weather-dependent,” says Andria Huskinson, spokeswoman at Alta Ski Area, noting the resort’s current 16-inch base could easily melt with warmer temperatures and traffic on the slopes.

Some resorts are already delaying opening dates and last month’s weather didn’t help the cause. Brian Head Resort, in southern Utah, announced Tuesday it won’t open Friday, as originally scheduled. It’s now planning to open on Nov. 17, but that is also dependent on the weather.

Utah’s 2024 water year, which began on Oct. 1, is officially off to a relatively mild start. The state collected an average of 0.74 inches of precipitation throughout the month, about a half-inch below its 20th-century average and the 39th-driest October since statewide data was first collected in 1895, according to National Centers for Environmental Information data released Wednesday.

Most of the moisture came to Utah’s northern half, where places like Salt Lake City ended up receiving nearly 2 inches of precipitation. The state’s average temperature of 51 degrees put last month in a three-way tie for the 26th-warmest October record, as well.

The Beehive State isn’t alone either. Arizona, California, New Mexico and Washington ended up with below-average precipitation in October, while Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon ended up with near-normal precipitation levels for the month, according to the agency. Montana and Wyoming were Western outliers, and ended up with above-normal precipitation by the end of October.

Impacts to the ski season

This doesn’t mean Utah is headed for a bad snowpack or water year. Last October was only slightly better, with 2022 storms producing only a ¼ of an inch more precipitation than this year. Most of it came at the end of the month to essentially begin a string of storm patterns over several months that led to the state’s record-breaking snowpack, and as much as 900 inches of snowfall at some high-elevation resorts.

The lack of snow in the mountains at the moment is at least starting to mess with Utah’s 15 ski resorts’ plans to open, though.

Brian Head Resort’s delay is one example. Officials explained it’s been too warm and there’s not enough snow to open just yet, as compared to last year when it opened Nov. 4.

“We’re eager to welcome skiers and riders for the season, but the warmer temperatures haven’t allowed us to capitalize on our new snowmaking upgrades,” Amber Palmer, marketing manager at Brian Head, said in a statement.

But, like at many other resorts, she acknowledged any projected opening date is “conditions permitting.”

a Ski Area advertised when it announced plans to open on Nov. 17. Huskinson points out it all comes down to the weather — which doesn’t just mean snow. It also comes down to the timing of storms, temperature and sometimes even sunlight. They all factor in snow retention and a resort’s ability to manufacture snow that is added to the base.

This distance between storms this year means some of the early gains were lost, as compared to last year. It’s not ideal, but still not as bad as in some years when there wasn’t enough snow in the Cottonwood canyons to open until late November or even December. The right conditions are needed to avoid similar types of delays this season.

Snowbasin tweet

That’s why multiple resorts reported that they were working on snowmaking operations after Tuesday’s storm.

“It’s really up to what Mother Nature wants to do. She makes the choices,” Huskinson said. “(The current snow) is still very thin, but compared to some years, at least we’re starting to build a base.”

High optimism lingers

Long-range forecasts, however, lean in Utah’s favor to a degree.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center’s November forecast lists Utah in “equal chances,” meaning it’s unclear if it will be a dry, wet or near-normal month. That’s essentially the outlook for the meteorological winter, though there’s a slightly greater probability of above-normal precipitation across most of Utah.

Given last year’s record-setting winter, Huskinson knows many people are eager to hit the slopes again this year — they just might have to wait a little longer to do that at a resort.

“A lot of people get excited this time of the year,” she said. “I think everyone’s excited — that’s the general consensus.”

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Utah resort delays opening day, some unsure when to open after mild October