In tough years like this one, ski areas usually make due by blowing as much snow as they can to lay down a decent base early in the season so that they can stay open at least through March. But when you have great conditions one day and the next, 60 degree temps with torrential rain that washes away your base- then you have big problems.
The number of trails that a ski area has open is a big factor is driving traffic there. Many folks will check out mountain ski reports to see how much terrain they have open to ski and ride. So there is a big incentive get snow coverage as many trails as possible. It’s literally a race against time and nature.
Heading out to the slopes in an “off-year” like this one (we’re talking 2016 Northeast) means you’ll find a good number of bare spots and lots of ice patches. Rocks, tree roots, fallen branches may be poking out through the snow or just beneath surface. Catching and edge on these things can knock you off balance. I’ve gotten hung up crap quite a bit over the years and most times I recover my balance and keep going, or I take a little tumble and roll. But….
This year there’s been a lot of warm spells, which has created a thick layer of ice underneath the snow. It’s especially sketchy in the trees where there is obviously no snow making and no grooming. I had the misfortune of spraining both my MCL’s this last trip after I hit something sticking up just under the snow and went flying into a tree. The other knee was twisted when I was buttering around on some crusty snow that grabbed the tip my board and didn’t release. Neither injury stopped me from riding the rest of the week but I have no idea how damage I’ve done to either knee and they are both still really sore. This type of stuff most likely would not have happened in a normal season where the weather is much more consistent and the snowpack builds up fairly deep by this time in the season.
The impact to the snowsports industry doesn’t stop at the mountains. As snowboard shop owners, we have seen a big difference in winter product sales. Not as many people are riding. They’re waiting for the snow to come, and if it doesn’t then come then are thinking of other activities. This makes it hard to figure out what to order for next season. Our vendors need enough lead time to get on the manufacturers’ production schedules, and if the dealers aren’t placing orders then that puts strain on the snowboard manufacturing sector. Two of the largest OEM snowboard plants in the world shut their doors permanently in the last two years. Brands are scrambling to find other manufacturers, and that is putting a lot of stress and uncertainty on the whole industry.
Temperatures will be moving up into the 60’s again this week and the snowboard season is still in full swing. That means more lost terrain and a lot shorter season. Global warming is taking its toll on our winter lifestyle and livelihoods. We can either except it or start supporting the organizations like POW and NRDC that are already on the front lines.