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Poor snowfall impacts ski season

Published: Monday, January 9, 2012

Updated: Monday, January 9, 2012 14:01

No snow

A SNOWBOARDER AT BEAVER MOUNTAIN rides a catwalk to the Marge’s Triple skilift past exposed dirt. The resort and other local businesses have felt the effects of a winter with unusually little precipitation. CURTIS RIPPLINGER photo

With .38 inches of snowfall in the first week of January, this month has recorded more moisture than precipitation data for the entire month of December 2011.

Due to the weather, Cache Valley residents missed out on more than snow for the holiday season. Skiers and snowboarders found limited options when heading up the mountain for a day on the slopes. Some local winter sport businesses were forced to adapt to the lack of snowpack.

"When Utah has winters like this it sucks for us locals because we are used to great winters with awesome snowpack," said Nate Rogers, a Utah native and ski technician for Al's Sporting Goods. "Tourists go where the snow goes and they will break their plans if there isn't snow. It's bad for our economy."

December recorded .18 inches of precipitation, according to The Weather Channel. Salt Lake City recorded fewer, with the U.S. Drought Monitor reporting .03 inches of precipitation, which breaks a record established in December 1976.

Beaver Mountain ski resort general manager and owner Ted Seeholtzer said he remembers the 1976 winter well. He said that was the worst ski year he has seen so far and this year, due to lack of snow, his businesses has decreased by 50 percent. Luckily, he said, Saturday showed improvement with a turnout of more than 800 skiers and snowboarders, due to the small amount of new snow on the mountain.

"We were heartbroken that we only had an inch of snow," Seeholtzer said. "We were hoping to have a freak storm — 6 to 8 to 10 inches. It's amazing how much good a couple inches can do, though. It freshens up what is already there, and that little teeny bit of snow covers up those brown spots."

Because of Beaver Mountain's smaller size, Seeholtzer said, he doesn't have the resources to create snow in lieu of natural snowfall. Without snowfall, there isn't much else that can be done, he said.

Al's Sporting Goods ski technicians made the decision to halt all winter sport equipment rental after a few pairs of skis came back damaged, said Sherissa Jones, an Al's Sporting Goods cashier.

"We usually start renting the exact time Beaver opens," she said. "We rented them for five days and then said we wouldn't rent them anymore."

Jones said the snow Beaver Mountain received over the weekend was not enough to keep rentals free of damage on the open runs. The lack of profit from rentals has not affected Al's Sporting Goods sales much, she said, because the store makes up for the loss by selling other products.

Customers who rent from Al's Sporting Goods are responsible for the damage done to the equipment they rent, Rogers said, and when multiple items were coming back badly damaged, the technicians didn't want their customers to have to deal with the cost. Rogers said he understands how easy it is to damage the equipment after experiencing this season's scant conditions at a few ski resorts.

"I skied at Brighton a few days ago and there were rocks in the middle of the run," he said.

Beaver Mountain still offers rentals, Seeholtzer said, but high-performance skis with a big price tag have been set aside. To keep the skiing season alive, Seeholtzer said, most operations at Beaver Mountain are up and running as usual. Ski School started up over the weekend and the new lift chair "The Little Beaver Triple" is a new attraction for visitors.

If the dry winter continues, Seeholtzer said he assumes business will continue to stay slow.

"It's just like having a golf course covered with mud or a losing basketball team," Seeholtzer said, "you probably aren't going to go watch them."

The lack of snowfall this winter will affect Cache Valley's spring and summer unless more precipitation comes in the next few months, according to USU's Utah Climate Update January 2011 issue.

"An exceptionally dry December has left Utah's mountains with an exceptionally low amount of water in the mountains for this time of year, the exception being the Escalante River Basin in south central Utah," the issue stated.

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