Early-season snow worries buried at Vail, other resorts
Associated Press Writer
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado ” A balmy, dry November had Colorado’s ski resorts, other major water users and even weather experts on edge. A return to drought seemed possible.
“It’s too early to get worried,” Colorado State University climatologist Nolan Doesken recalls thinking. But he conceded there were anxious moments.
Several major resorts delayed their openings. Aspen spokesman Jeff Hanle remembers getting only 11 inches of snow in November.
And then, he says, “It was like someone opening the faucet.” It began snowing, and it virtually hasn’t stopped since. Sunny days and clear nights have been the exception in Colorado ski country.
“Now the raft companies are salivating,” said Hanle, while some state officials are worried about spring flooding.
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Until then, the snow reminds Dr. Tom Steinberg, Vail’s first permanent doctor and a veteran of the town council, of the old days.
“This is not the most snow we have ever had, but it is nice,” said Steinberg, who moved to Vail in 1965 from New Jersey with his wife, Flo.
“I wouldn’t trade a thousand days of snow for one day of sun,” said Tom Ludwig, co-owner and manager of the Montauk Seafood Grill in the heart of Vail’s newly renovated Lionshead base area.
On several occasions the snow has left hundreds of skiers, truck drivers and others stuck in the ski town at the foot of 10,600-foot Vail pass.
It could have been a lot worse. The town has a highway shutdown plan it has developed over the years that includes discount rates at local hotels and free parking in the narrow valley.
Ludwig has heard patrons gleefully call their bosses to report the highway was shut down and they were stuck in Vail.
“I couldn’t feel sorry for them,” Ludwig said.
His sentiments are shared by other Colorado business owners benefiting from the healthy ski season.
Daniel Bouvier’s Les Delices de France, known to locals as “the French deli,” has kept busy, even though he noted a soft economy has hurt some bigger businesses. “I didn’t go big on caviar and salmon. We do feel a little slowdown. But I have been here 27 years and have a big return,” he said.
Colorado Ski Country USA, an industry group, reported Monday that deep snow and international visitors lured by the weak dollar helped boost the state’s resorts in January and February after a disappointing early season. Its 26 member resorts had more than 5.5 million visitors in January and February, up nearly 7 percent over the same period last year.
Copper Mountain hit 280 inches of snow by the middle of March, its annual average, said spokeswoman Lauren Pelletreau.
“The conditions are spectacular approaching the busy Easter Weekend,” she said. On Sunday, Copper will hold what it calls Colorado’s biggest Easter egg hunt. That’s 50,000 eggs.
Aspen’s Hanle said snowfall at the area’s four resorts has surpassed the average three months in a row ” and half of March is left.
“It just keeps piling up. It’s sunny today,” he said, a sort of questioning tone to his voice.
Snowmass, Aspen’s cash cow, got 13 inches one recent Saturday night. Aspen Highlands had 128 inches on top last weekend.
“All hands will be on deck next week, parking cars or whatever. I’ve been in town for 20 years and I have never seen anything like this,” Hanle said.
One of Aspen’s four resorts may stay open beyond the scheduled April 13 closing date.
Most other major resorts will close on schedule for a variety of reasons, particularly the early Easter weekend and spring break. People turn to golf and other sports after the break, especially metropolitan Denver residents. Some resorts close to allow for the migration of wildlife.