Warm and wet and then dry weather throughout November thwarted many resorts in Montana, Idaho, and inland British Columbia in preparing for this winter's season. Unseasonably warm temperatures precluded resorts from firing up their snowmaking guns as scheduled. Thanksgiving weekend--when many resorts aim to open--yielded little natural snow pack. Some ski hills wore a cap of snow on their summits, but brown slopes flanked their bases.
Some resorts shooting for Thanksgiving openings went on "day-by-day" alerts, planning to open as soon as snows and cold temperatures permitted. Montana Snowbowl, which hoped to crank up its lifts Nov. 29, was one such ski hill that finally was able to start blowing snow early this week. The resort also needs natural snow, but has not accumulated enough of either machine-made or natural snow to open yet.
Now, resorts that were waiting to open this weekend (Dec. 6 or 7) are bumping their openings to later dates as well. Whitefish Mountain Resort in Northwest Montana announced they would be unlikely to open on Dec. 6, even though one storm brought a little natural snow to the area and the resort fired up its snowmaking guns for a few days this week.
"We decided that we owe it to our passholders to open the first day that we possibly can," Public Relations Manager Donnie Clapp told OnTheSnow.com. Therefore, the resort is on "standby," planning to open as soon as possible. "We plan to give everyone 24 hours notice to prepare to take off work for their first runs of the season," added Clapp.
Lookout Pass, however, relies solely on natural snow. The resort, which straddles the border of Idaho and Montana, postponed its Dec. 6 opening to wait for more snow, too.
Several southern B.C. resorts have postponed their openings. Red Mountain, just north of the Washington State border, announced earlier this week that they were postponing until Dec. 12, conditions permitting. The resort relies on all natural snow.
"At the moment, we're a bit hesitant to promise anything since the conditions keep changing, but we'll open as soon as snows permit," Red's Lara Wiseman told us. "We re all in the same boat right now and keeping our fingers crossed."
Big White, outside Kelowna, bumped its opening to next week. Their Friday (Dec. 5) snow report said, "We are unable to confirm a date at this point; however, we hope for Wednesday, Dec. 10." The resort requires another 30 centimeters of snow to open beginner runs, so it is making its first-timer opening weekend lesson package available for this next weekend. Sister resort Silver Star has been grooming several of its Nordic trails, but has been unable to open its alpine slopes for skiing either.
Fernie Alpine Resort had planned to open this weekend, but has now postponed to Saturday, Dec. 13, weather permitting. Natural snow continues to accumulate in its bowls, and snowmaking conditions on the lower mountain are excellent.
Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho won't even target an opening date. "We don't want to give our guest false expectations," Jennifer Ekstrom told said. Ekstrom did indicate that the resort was making snow on the beginner slopes. "With snow in the forecast, hopefully we can open beginner slopes soon," she added. Snowmaking will move on to Midway run, thanks to the new system installed this summer.
Resorts are hoping for a reprieve from the drought as incoming storms make their way across the inland northwest this weekend. "The weather is looking hopeful," Clapp said. "The long term forecast for December calls for above average snows for the area. It may be a later start, but it looks like we might catch up fairly quickly."