We're well into week 4 of our 2011-12 season. This week and last the patrol's been pretty involved on two fronts.
First, our rookie patrollers are into their second week of training. I spent today with them teaching our basic avalanche class. There's nothing like organizing classes, juggling speakers, and keeping a group of patrollers engaged while INSIDE (our least favorite place) on a nice day to really wear me out. I must give a nod to the several senior patrollers and some great outside talent (Craig Gordon of the Utah Avalanche Center) who put together wonderful presentations to help with the day. Our field day is next. If you're on the mountain tomorrow you'll see them skiing around digging holes or working with rescue gear. You may even hear the report of the first shots of the year as part of their explosives training.
Our second front involves working with our limited open terrain and constantly trying to get more open every day. The cold night temps have allowed our snowmakers to lay down (literally) tons of snow which the grooming staff has tilled to near-perfection. No, it's not classic Utah powder skiing, but as a certified snow nerd and snow snob I must admit that what we do have open is pretty remarkable. This leads me to the main point of my post; where exactly are we with our natural snow and why isn't more open?
Well to be honest, with regards to natural snow we're thin; about 60% of average for this time of year.
Summit snow stake
That doesn't really sound all that bad, but it seems bad to those of us who've been around the last few record breaking seasons. Our memories in the snow world are short indeed. The 2009-10 season started slower than this one, but powder filled images of last year have just blotted that one out.
"So why can't we just open more stuff?" you're thinking. "The mountain looks white and I see all those tracks under Silverlode." The reality is, for the most part it goes beyond just having snow on a run. We have to have a way to get you to that run and a way to get you out. When there's no snow to make a ramp at the lifts or on the exposed ridges leading to the runs, we have no choice but to keep things closed. These pictures were taken today all around the 9,000 foot elevation in areas where we as of yet have no snowmaking.
Top of Pioneer
Bottom of McConkey's
In some cases we can and will get runs open. Today we were able to open Powderkeg with just natural snow. Thanks to the snowmaking on Assessment and Claimjumper, you can both get to and from Powderkeg. And the run itself is just grass underneath.
You must understand, we don't keep runs closed to "save" them for ourselves or perhaps, as some have thought, save them for the holiday crowds. Runs are closed primarily for your safety and to ensure your best skiing/riding experience. As I've said before, areas of this resort are strewn with rocks, stumps, downed trees, springs and creeks; all things you find in any mountain environment. Some runs like Powderkeg can be opened with just a foot or so of coverage, others take many feet. Please be patient and respect our closures and stay safe. There will be more snow in our future, there will be more runs and terrain opening every couple days. And in the meantime, get out and enjoy what we do have open. Our crews really have done great work. If a Wasatch-raised powder skiing brat like me can have fun on our groomers, you certainly can too.
Originally from the Pocono’s of Pennsylvania, Travis found his way to Park City three years ago and is now our grooming manager. When not in snowcat you can find him skiing or snowmobiling in the Utah backcountry or enjoying the skiing here at Park City Mountain Resort.