It’s been a winter for the record books for Wyoming ski resorts, with snowfall and chillier than usual temperatures extending the ski-worthy weather beyond March into April.
Jackson Hole Mountain Resort was among those reporting record snowfall, at 595 inches of snow on closing day, making it the resort’s snowiest and deepest ever season.
“The way the snow came in this year was just nice,” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Mary Kate Buckley told Cowboy State Daily. “We had 41 days with 6 inches or more of new snow. And that means our ski patrol was very active.”
The ski patrol goes out to check trouble spots and slide paths to mitigate the risk of avalanches.
“We had one weekend where, in two days, I think we had 41 inches of snow, and that was the weekend that really impeded our ability to open on time,” Buckley said. “So we opened a couple of hours late that day.”
The colder weather helped maintain all that snow without the freeze and thaw cycle that leads to layers. That kept snow conditions powder perfect.
With that kind of snow still out there, Buckley said closing is a little like the sweet sorrow of old.
“We really would love to, you know, it’s painful to close with this much snow out there,” Buckley said. “It’s been great right up to the very end.”
Why Staying Open Is Complicated
While Buckley would like to be able to extend the ski resort’s season, there is an insurmountable obstacle.
“We have to file an operational plan with the U.S. Forest Service at the beginning of the year,” Buckley said. “It’s at that time we establish our dates, our opening and closing dates. So we cannot just extend during the season based on snow conditions.”
But that’s not the only obstacle.
“Some (other considerations) are the airline support,” she said. “We are a destination resort, and the airlines support bringing visitors and guests here for a certain period of time, and then they start pulling service as the season goes on.
“And then probably as important, if not more important, is our employee base. A lot of them start to move on to their next job.”
Backcountry guides, for example, are headed to Alaska now for spring jobs.
Meanwhile, back at the resort, the staff that remain are not idle.
“Our closure time is really important for us to do work on the mountain,” she said. “Starting this week, we’ll have groomers on the hill pushing snow to clear the roads so that our construction crews can get up there and start all the multitude of summer projects, snowmaking projects, trail enhancements and then also the people who work on our lifts will start working on some of the mechanical maintenance and then some upgrades to some of our lifts. So they need that downtime.”
Further snow at this point will just impede the forward progress of spring work.
“We will send our groomers up to push the snow off to clear the roads, but it will certainly slow things down more so than last year where we had spring conditions,” Buckley said. “Although last year, it started snowing when we closed. We had a really light year of snowfall, and then as soon as we closed it snowed for a month.”
‘A Lot Of People Are Just Tired Of The Snow’
Some resorts, particularly smaller ones, have a little more leeway with the weather.
Pine Creek in Cokeville, for example, which closed in March, announced a bonus ski day for April 8 on Facebook, while Hogadon ended up postponing its season-ending pond skim, set for April 1, to April 8, after a big snowstorm dumped 50 inches of snow all at once, shutting down Casper for two days, as well as the road to the mountain itself.
But, even with all that extra snow and chillier than usual temperatures providing good skiing conditions so far into April, Chris Smith, manager of Hogadon, told Cowboy State Daily he does not foresee any further season extension beyond the season-ending pond skim event.
“The forecast is calling for 60-degree temperatures downtown, and it’s just like the whole industry is this way,” Smith said. “Once warmer temperatures hit, there’s always a few diehard people who will ski all the time, but the majority of our guests will look forward to golf or yard work or other things.
“And after this big snowstorm, a lot of people are just tired of the snow.”
The additional snow and colder than usual temperature did make for a better than average season while it lasted, though, with record attendance for both Pine Creek and Hogadon.
Alan Blackburn with Pine Creek estimated attendance was up at least 20 percent for the year. Both Pine Creek and Hogadon were able to get an early start the first weekend in December, where the year before, the season didn’t start until Christmas.
“This year, our snow came really on a regular basis,” Smith added. “We pretty much had snow almost weekly for the entire season. And we had a lot of really cold temperatures in early October, which allowed us to start making snow a lot earlier than normal, which allowed us to open the first weekend in December. It’s been a really great, fantastic season.”
Sleeping Giant Wants To Get Ready For Summer
Early snow also helped Sleeping Giant get a jumpstart on its ski season, and attendance was up 40% year over year, owner Nick Piazza told Cowboy State Daily.
“We also expanded our rental fleet of snow bikes,” Piazza added. “Those have been massively popular, so a lot of good things there.”
Unfortunately, all this extra snow on the back end of the season did not really help with the ski season.
“We depend a lot on skiers from the Bighorn Basin, mostly Cody and Powell,” he said. “And when the high school sports season changes, we see kind of massive drop-offs in the numbers here. So, we planned to kind of stick to kind of our usual schedule, and we completed operations March 11 for the winter season.”
The workforce that serves Sleeping Giant is also seasonal, and many workers already had other commitments, Piazza added. That would have made it difficult to change the closing dates.
“I’ve spoken with some of our regional competitors, and they were all looking at roughly the same kind of situation,” he said. “That second half of March tends to see quite a big drop-off even in places like Hogadon and Snow King.”
Like Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Piazza feels the late spring snow is a big curveball.
“We had ordered a new lift computer upgrade and some new, other kind of technical improvements for our lifts that we want to get a jumpstart on kind of in March,” Piazza said.
With so much snow coming down, that project has been on hold.
“Sleeping Giant is opening for the summer season with zip lining for the first time since 2019,” Piazza said. “We really wanted to get a jumpstart on summer activities. We planned to do a lot of trail clearing as well for next ski season, and we were hoping to get an early spring and a quick start, but it seems like we’ve kind of got our hands tied behind our back a bit.”