Ski town news roundup: Weather is ‘La Nada’ at Mammoth
MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. — It’s hard to put a damper on Mammoth’s amateur weather forecaster Howard Sheckter’s optimism when it comes to winter weather, but the forecast for the next few weeks might have done so.
“It’s not good, it’s horrible,” he said. “It’s as bad as it can get by this time of year.”
He is not talking just about the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday weeks, either.
“The continents have cooled off now, and the oceans are ruling the weather,” he said. “The problem is, there is nothing out there to bring in the moisture. Without an El Niño or La Niña, there is no bias, it’s neutral. “La Nada” as I call it. Now the National Weather Service has released its latest Drought Statement (last week) for the next few months and it’s calling for the current pattern to persist.”
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The problem is the current pattern is one of dryness, he said, and that is the pattern the National Weather Service believes is most likely to persist in California and much of the west, at least into the middle of January.
The closest analogy he sees historically is to the winter of 1990-91, where the winter remained dry until the end of February, then the floodgates turned on for a “Miracle March.”
That might recharge the snowpack and reservoirs, but in a ski town, timing is everything and Mammoth Mountain Ski Area’s peak visitor season begins this weekend and slowly tapers off after Presidents Weekend.
“Another problem is all the systems are going from north to south, not west to east,” he said.
A west/east direction increases the chances of moisture because it comes in over the ocean, unlike a north/south direction, where the storm travels over mostly dry land.
“No one can say for sure what will happen but I can say for certain it won’t break significantly before the end of the year,” he said.
Crested Butte enjoys Powder Magazine accolade
CRESTED BUTTE — Not only is new ski terrain, including some of the steeps, opening the earliest it has in years, but the community also helped push the town into a prominent place in the ski world this week. Crested Butte was awarded the title of Best Ski Town in North America by Powder Magazine after two months of online voting and five rounds of competition.
According to Powder, “Crested Butte was rated as a 15-seed in the Rocky Mountain West region, but the mountain beat the odds in the 64-town/ski area field, overcoming Powder Mountain/Snowbasin, Aspen, Big Sky, Sun Valley, Stevens Pass, and the tournament runner-up, Eaglecrest, Alaska, by a record final score of 17,156 votes to 17,063.”
This was Crested Butte’s second year as a serious contender in the Throwdown, having finished in eighth place last year.
“It was a community push,” said Crested Butte Mountain Resort marketing director Erica Mueller. “The magazine contacted CBMR, but it was truly about the town.”
At each stage in voting, CBMR employees and vested locals worked to spread the word about the competition and the greatness of Crested Butte. From the writing on the sidewalks to the chatter at local watering hole Kochevar’s, every effort was made to get out the vote.
“Everyone should be proud,” said Mueller. “This was not just a CBMR effort. To be a town of 3,000 and to reach the number of people we did, and to go up against some of the towns we went up against speaks volumes to who we are and who we can be.”
Taos Ski Valley sale marks limits of family business
TAOS — In 1955, Ernie and Rhoda Blake moved their family up the forbidding Hondo Canyon to start a ski resort on the ruins of an abandoned mining town. The Blakes and their three kids lived in a tin can of a trailer without power or a telephone as they got the area off the ground.
A lot of people thought they were crazy. But 58 ski seasons and two generations later, those hardships are part of Taos Ski Valley’s proud legacy of self-reliance and family values.
The recent announcement that the Blake family was selling the resort to billionaire Louis Bacon has those who cling to that legacy in a bit of an identity crisis. Among them is outgoing marketing director Adriana Blake — Ernie’s granddaughter — who with her brother Alejandro “Hano” Blake was the heir apparent to the valley.
In an interview Wednesday, Adriana Blake said as much as Taos Ski Valley has meant to her and her brother, the limits of a family-run operation were obvious.
“Every day we see the potential of this place, and every day we get the report of where we are financially,” Blake said. “We know we would have never had enough money to pull of the big picture of what we wanted.”
Taos Ski Valley may have a legendary creation myth, but that hasn’t been enough to keep pace in an increasingly competitive industry dominated by corporations that make healthy profits from real estate deals off the mountain instead of lift tickets and ski rentals.
“If all you are is a ski resort, you aren’t making it,” Blake said.
Over the last two decades, annual visitation at Taos Ski Valley has trended downward — from a 10-year average of 295,000 in the ’90s, to a 10-year average of 224,000 between 2000 and 2010. That’s a 25 percent drop, while skier numbers nationwide have steadily increased over the same period.
The reasons for the dwindling numbers are many, and no doubt there are forces like the global economy that are beyond the resort’s control. Still, many point to the ski area’s long refusal to allow snowboarding (a ban it dropped in 2008) and its lack of capital improvements and expansion as part of the reason for the decline.
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“You have all demonstrated through your grit, perseverance and sheer determination to have weathered the storms that have come your way. And, goodness knows you have weathered the most unusual of storms to get to this very day…” — Yampah Mountain High School commencement speaker Diana Andrews