Fall snowstorms kick resorts into gear for the winter ahead.
On September 30, a storm churned through the Rockies, dusting snow as low as 7,500 feet. From the dry, windy plains of the Front Range, the snow-covered mountains to the west looked out of place, like a window to a frozen world advancing down the slopes. The slow-moving front cruised off the Pacific and graced the Sierra Nevada and Utah before hitting Colorado resorts.
The snow appeared to back up musings of an El Niño winter ahead. But slow down—it’s still too early to call. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says there’s a 65 percent chance an El Niño will emerge in late fall and early winter, likely bringing much-needed moisture to southwestern parts of the United States. And meteorologist Joel Gratz of opensnow.com says early dustings like these don’t necessarily point to a snowy winter. Regardless, resorts are getting ready for the season ahead.
After the skies cleared over Silverton Mountain in southwest Colorado, the guide/patrol crew headed up for first tracks on the barely-there base. It’s tradition after the first storm. “They said it was the best September ski they had ever had,” says Jen Brill, co-owner of Silverton. “We get psyched on skiing early. September never lets us down.” Silverton plans to open December 20.
Other resorts fired up their snowmaking rigs to push opening day forward on the calendar. Loveland’s John Sellers says the ski area got seven inches in the three-day front. “But that’s not why we got started,” he says. Loveland tops out at 13,010 feet on the Continental Divide—a perch that regularly brings the cold temperatures and precipitation required for a mid-October opening. As part of that effort, Loveland brings in a small team of professional snowmakers from New Zealand—a few of whom helped at the Sochi Olympics—to run the fans and guns. “Once we get started, it takes us about two weeks to be ready,” Sellers says.
East Coast resorts are also blowing out their systems. When a cold snap hit in mid-September, Maine’s Sunday River fired up a recently upgraded fleet of guns and pumps for a test run. After a successful trial, they’re waiting for more cold in order to make snow for a Halloween opener.
And while EL Niño may or may not show, one weather pattern is undisputable: Winter is coming. —Cody Blum