Warm, dry weather makes ski areas sweat

Purgatory to open Saturday; Telluride and Wolf Creek delay openings

With temperatures reaching into the mid-50s at the base of Purgatory Resort on Tuesday, snowmaking is a tough chore. However, the resort hopes that a cold front moving in will make the process easier. Enlargephoto

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

With temperatures reaching into the mid-50s at the base of Purgatory Resort on Tuesday, snowmaking is a tough chore. However, the resort hopes that a cold front moving in will make the process easier.

Mother Nature must be slow to wax her skis this year.

Unseasonably warm and dry conditions this fall have stalled or muted the start of ski season across Colorado, including Southwest Colorado, where Telluride and Wolf Creek ski areas have postponed their opening days.

Purgatory Resort, which plans to open Saturday, is banking on a cold front this week to help with snowmaking operations, said spokeswoman Kim Oyler.

“Everyone at Purgatory Resort is very excited to kick off the ski season,” she said in an email. “While we’ve experienced unseasonably warm temperatures, as other mountains have as well, we are monitoring the weather and will take advantage of the opportunity to make more snow as this low pressure system comes into our area. It should bring colder temperatures and some snow and we expect our snowmaking crews to be very productive during that time period.”

“Purgatory is still scheduled to open on Saturday and we’ll be announcing our plan for operations later this week,” she continued. “Most likely, we’ll have a delayed start on Saturday as our snowmakers and groomers continue to prepare the mountain for skiers and snowboarders.”

Pricing will be based on the amount of terrain that can be opened, Oyler said.

Only two ski resorts are open across the state: Arapahoe Basin and Loveland, according to Colorado Ski Country USA, a trade group that represents 21 ski areas across the state.

“It’s been a warm fall here, but there is really little correlation between the snowfall in November and end-of-season snowpack, so it’s still early,” said Chris Linsmayer, spokesman for the group. “Winter is coming. We’re expecting the end of this week to see a shift in the weather pattern to more cold weather and some actual storms.”

He was referring to a northwest storm expected to arrive early Thursday in Southwest Colorado and bring up to 10 inches of snow to the upper peaks of the San Juan Mountains, 4-6 inches to the mountain passes, 2-4 inches at Purgatory Resort, and rain or trace amounts of snow in the lower valleys, according to the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Temperatures are expected to dip into the low teens Thursday and Friday nights in Durango – the coldest of the season so far.

But the one-day storm is expected to make way for warming temperatures and more dry weather through the weekend, said Michael Charnick, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

The next chance for snow arrives Monday evening or early Tuesday, he said.

Wolf Creek Ski Area, which typically receives more than 400 inches of snow per year and is usually the first to open in Southwest Colorado, has pushed its opening day to Wednesday, Nov. 23, said Owner Davy Pitcher.

The ski area has received 10 inches of snow year-to-date, he said, including 8 inches last week that contained an inch of water – a fairly wet storm that helps make a good base.

“I think every ski area is kind of in the same boat,” Pitcher said. “The years that we do get early snow, we’re always rooting for all the ski areas to get snow. It tends to benefit our business when we’re not the only place that has snow.”

Telluride Ski Resort, which planned to open Thanksgiving Day, has also delayed its opening, announcing on Monday that it plans to confirm a new opening day on Monday, Nov. 28.

“While the long-range forecast points to more favorable temperatures for snowmaking, there aren’t enough snowmaking hours over the next week to 10 days to make the quantity of snow necessary to achieve our planned opening date,” Bill Jensen, CEO of Telluride Ski & Golf Resort, said in a press release.

“We are monitoring the weather forecast on a daily basis to determine a new opening date,” he continued. “With a little help from Mother Nature we will open as soon as we have enough snow to provide a safe and quality experience.”

The Journal Sports Editor Jardyn Angell also contributed to this report.

A recent photo from Telluride Ski Resort’s webcam shows the lack of snow that forced the resort to delay its opening day. Enlargephoto

Courtesy Telluride Ski Resort

A recent photo from Telluride Ski Resort’s webcam shows the lack of snow that forced the resort to delay its opening day.