This time of year brings with it a unique excitement found only in ski towns. Crested Butte is a great ski town and the opening of the resort embodies an excitement and anticipation unlike anywhere else. We are basically snow farmers here and the early crop for this season looks good.
As the days grow shorter and colder, those living in a ski town can’t help but get excited. The ski town vibe is about to change. Starting this weekend, there will be more people, more snow, more lifts, more fun. On Monday, the snow was falling for the third day in a row. The loaders and plows were beeping around town, clearing parking areas and streets and piling up hills of snow, making it hard to navigate the alleys. But the people were smiling.
Last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the parking lot at Snodgrass was full and the backcountry skiers, snowshoers and Nordic skiers were heading to the weather station or out to Gothic or just up to the first pitches for some quick turns with the dogs. The people and the dogs were smiling.
The ski patrol was bombing back in Paradise (which took away some of the dog smiles) and, given the recent storms, the resort was able to open the Paradise Lift on opening day, which doesn’t always happen.
The local waitresses are sharpening their pencils, the line cooks are sharpening their knives and the ski shops are shaping up their inventory. There is a buzz in the crisp air as our friends and neighbors ramp up for winter fun and winter work. I really love the weeks surrounding a ski area opening. It puts us in the here-and-now.
But, on a somewhat darker note, the New York Times published an article last weekend on the difficulties California ski resorts are facing as warmer temps and drought dominate their mountains. Climate change isn’t an ethereal concept to those who depend on winter, water, snow and cold to make a living. While snowfall can have wonderful seasonal spikes, the long-term trends point to declining snow and shorter winters. That is less here-and-now and more there-and-in-the-future.
An excerpt from the article:
“I don’t know of anybody in the industry who is saying that climate change is not an issue for us,” said Bob Roberts, president and chief executive of the California Ski Industry Association, in the Times article. “If you’re below 6,000 feet, it’s a real challenge.”
The ski industry was among the first to push for awareness of the threat of global warming, long before the turn of the century, led by resorts like Aspen, in Colorado. The National Ski Area Association adopted a climate-change policy in 2000. In 2007, the snowboarder Jeremy Jones founded Protect Our Winters to further rally the winter-sports community.
Squaw Valley’s Formal Sustainability Initiative, a report on the ways it intends to reduce its own carbon footprint and promote advocacy among its customers—”Our intention is to lead the fight against climate change,” the report says—acknowledges that the company expects changing conditions.
“Ski seasons are projected to be 3-6 weeks shorter by the 2050s” in the Sierra Nevada, the report says.
“Will ski areas be around in 30 to 40 years? The answer is yes,” Andy Wirth, president and chief executive of Squaw Valley, said. “Will we look different than we do today? Yes. But we look dramatically different now than we did 40 or 50 years ago, too.”
Luckily for us we have received several feet of snow over the last few weeks. Luckily for us, Crested Butte is closer to 9,000 feet than 6,000 feet. It seems we should get a bit more breathing room than a lot of ski areas. Luckily for us, we live in a really cool ski town and people are excited for another new season. The first crop of pow on this snow farm has been positive and promising.
Obviously we are lucky here in Crested Butte. There are things being done and things we might do to keep the luck coming but that is for a future editorial. I like the buzz out there in the here-and-now. So as we head into the great 2014/15 ski season, embrace the excitement of these early-season weeks and let’s hope winter at 9,000 feet will always bring good snow and lots of fun.