Warren Miller: What if Vail got 99 feet of snow?
Vail, CO, Colorado
The itch to turn your skis begins in earnest at about the same time that the leaves start turning in the fall.
There is some scientific correlation between photosynthesis and ultra violet light shining on the top of a crash helmet at the top of a snow-covered mountain.
After watching this annual phenomenon predictably happen for the last 71 years, the chances of skiing before the 15th of December almost anywhere below 9,000 feet are less than 25 percent at any ski resort that doesn’t have a lot of artificial snow-making machines.
But then there is the other side of the equation at a resort like Mammoth, Alta or Mt. Baker, where they get over 30 or 40 feet of snow every winter.
A few years ago Mt. Baker had a record 99 feet of snowfall. In May, the snow banks in the parking lot were still 35feet high.
Ninety-nine feet of snow is a lot of snow. It happened before and can happen again, maybe this time in Colorado.
What if a resort such as Vail got the same 99 feet of snow? I-70 would be shut down for the winter and interstate truck costs would be 20 percent higher because of the long way around the Rockies.
Eisenhower Tunnel would be closed for the winter. If it happened in one violent storm, some people would spend the next two weeks trapped in the tunnel and they would freeze to death.
All of the guests and employees who had left their cars in the Vail parking structure would have to bed down in the lobbies of the hotels. Where the money would come from to pay their bills would be the high wages they would get for shoveling the roofs of the houses, condos, and big box stores — at least those that had not already collapsed from the weight of too much snow.
All of the electricity would have to be shut off because the power lines would be buried 40 feet under the snow. Food would get scarce except what could be brought in from Glenwood Springs by snowmobile, cross country skis or dog sled.
No ski lifts could run because the snow would be 60 feet deep over the top of the bull wheels. Communication could only be by radio until they eventually dug out the cell phone tower.
In the meantime, the daily report of how many structures had collapsed would be available only on Denver radio.
The glacial action of such deep snow slowly creeping down the steeper slopes would bend and break all of the trees regardless of size. The ones riddled with pine bark beetle disease would lie everywhere on every ski trail as the snow slowly melted in the spring.
The deepest snowfall in the shortest amount of time that I ever experienced was in 1943, when Mt. Waterman, less than 50 miles from the Los Angeles City Hall, had 24 feet of snow fall in 24 hours. The cars that were buried up there weren’t dug out until three months later, and their roofs were flattened right down to the level of the hood and all four tires were flattened, as well.
Deep snowfalls bury everything. If you can somehow get to a ski lift that is running, the terrain is fabulous.
Most ski lift towers are only 40 to 50 feet above the ground to accommodate the maximum snowfall in that part of the world. How tall are your lift towers, and what would happen where you ski if they had a Mt. Baker 99-foot snowfall?
Imagine what would happen to the Whistler-Blackcomb Olympics if they get that much snow. The British Columbia government will have invested one and a half billion dollars to stage the events, and everyone would be stuck in their hotels without enough food to last until all of the races are finished, and the long road from Vancouver got plowed out.
Skiing is the world’s best freedom sport, so let’s not overdo pray-for-deep-snow-dance-around-the-old-elm-tree. Let’s just be happy with what normally falls out of the sky, and the snow guns.
Filmmaker Warren Miller lived in Vail for 12 years, and his column began in the Vail Daily before being syndicated to over 50 publications. We’ve brought him back to where he started, beginning this week. For more of Miller’s stories and stuff log onto Warren Miller.net