SNOW TRAX 18 | A SEASON WINDS DOWN
| By Snowsports Journalist Daniel Gibson |
That’s all she wrote, folks! Actually, the regional ski season will continue into April, and even longer elsewhere, but this is the final column I will write for the 2020–21 season. Thanks for reading along. Comments, ideas, etc. for next season’s stories are appreciated! I can be reached at [email protected]. This week we’ll look at what remains open locally, combined with current conditions.
Skiing and snowboarding will go on for at least another two weeks in New Mexico, and even longer in Colorado, Utah and other points north. Regionally it has been a decent winter. While snowfall was not abundant, it seemed to always come at critical times. I have had five blissful powder days, and so in the midst of a pandemic, I am satisfied yet still hoping for a few more days on snow before putting the boards away.
If you are like me, and rarely have your fill of turns, here are some tips on where and how you can do the snow dance long into spring.
Ski Santa Fe has not determined a closing date. Taos Ski Valley will close April 4, as will Sipapu.
Angel Fire Resort closed March 21, having received 167 inches this season. Red River closed March 21 on a 50-inch base; it received 139 inches over the season. Pajarito closed March 21 on a 20-inch base. Sandia Peak and Ski Apache are also closed for the season.
Hike-to turns in the Lake Fork Valley above Taos, on Lake Peak above Santa Fe and other high elevations should be available through May on shaded and north-facing slopes.
Arizona Snowbowl is out-seasoning New Mexico and many Colorado areas. It is planning on daily operations through March 31, and then Thursday–Sunday runs through April 25.
Wolf Creek has, characteristically, the best snowpack in Colorado. So far this season it has received 339 inches of snow. It will remain open through April 4, but may extend the season with weekend-only operations in April.
Monarch plans to close April 11, and both Telluride and Crested Butte on April 4.
Purgatory is also hanging in there. It will cease daily ops on April 4, but plans to be open on weekends as long as the snow holds out.
The grand old man of late skiing in Colorado, and one of the longest seasons throughout the Rocky Mountains as a whole, is typically found at Arapahoe Basin. A Basin was founded in 1946 and is known for its Taos-like steeps and high altitude — topping out with some of the highest lift-served terrain in North America at over 12,000 feet. Hike-to ridges strike an impressive 13,050 feet.
Sitting atop the Continental Divide in Summit County, A Basin receives excellent precipitation, with snowfall averaging 360 inches. Combine that with an annual goal of staying open until the Fourth of July, and you have the ingredients for terrific spring and even summer tracks. The camping party in the parking lot is also legendary. However, this year it has had meager snowfall (only 200 inches so far) and has 60-inch base. It is expected to close April 30. Details: www.arapahoebasin.com.
Another Colorado area famous for late runs is Loveland Basin. But with just a 62-inch base and 216 inches this season total, they will probably close as expected on April 11.
Backcountry skiing from central Colorado south to New Mexico should be excellent this spring. Outstanding pass-accessed, hike-to terrain for advanced skiers/boarders includes Red Mountain Pass near Silverton, Wolf Creek Pass above Pagosa Springs, and Cumbres Pass north of Chama.
The mighty Wasatch mountains of north-central Utah average more snow than any other range of the Rockies in the U.S., and typically harbor some fine late snow. It has been a typically great winter in the Beehive State, such as 400 inches at Alta, 388 at Snowbird, 368 at Brighton, and 321 at Solitude.
Here are closing dates for some Utah resorts: Alta, Solitude and Brighton on April 18; Deer Valley, Park City Mt., Powder Mt., Deer Valley and Snowbasin on April 11. Snowbird has yet to announce closing plans. Details: www.skiutah.com.
Wyoming & Montana
Jackson Hole has had an excellent season, with a mighty 478 inches of snowfall so far. It reports 98 inches at its summit, and plans to close April 11. Also closing on April 11 will be neighboring Grand Targhee, which has also had a stellar winter, with 463 inches of fluff.
Big Sky, Montana, is another area that often gets massive snowfall, and combined with its huge vertical and the challenges of Lone Mountain, is a great late-season destination. But its snowfall is down this year, with just 234 inches to date. It will remain open through April 18.
But the real late-late season holdout in Montana is Beartooth Basin, which opens on June 1for its unique summer-only season. With a summit elevation of 10,900 feet, its massive cornice holds snow well into mid-summer. Spread over 600 acres, it features a 600-foot vertical (plus ample hike-to terrain with much greater vertical) served by two surface lifts. Its terrain ranges from 15 degrees to 50 degrees, and is best suited for intermediates and experts. There’s some rails and jumps, and it offers race and freestyle camps. Daily tickets run an affordable $50. It is located on the famed Beartooth Highway, one of the nation’s most spectacular drives, near Red Lodge.
British Columbia, Canada
Further north, just 75 miles from Vancouver, is Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort, the twin 300-pound gorillas of North American snow sports. With more than a mile of vertical rise, their summits can be buried in snow while people sport around in cutoffs and roller skates in Whistler Village below, which is active in both winter and summer. This year it received an impressive 406 inches of snow, and is set to close May 25.
Blackcomb’s Horstman Glacier, however, will reopen from early June to mid-July, with 685 feet of vertical, a terrain park, and mogul lanes. The resort also offers numerous focused summer ski camps in multiple disciplines. Chutes also continue to hide snow well into the summer for those who care to hike to turn. Details: www.whistlerblackcomb.com.
CONDITIONS AS OF MARCH 24, 2021
As this is written the high country is receiving snow, some areas substantial amounts, so these totals will be less than reality, but give a good indication of conditions.
Ski Santa Fe picked up nine inches, taking its base to 61 inches, and 153 inches this season-to-date. Every run is open except Sunset Bowl, Easter Bowl, and the Big Rock Chutes. Cornice is roped off at about half its typical vertical descent.
Taos Ski Valley has picked up 17 inches, and reports a 78-inch base at mid-Shalako and 91 at the top of lift 7. All but a few lift-served runs and about three-fourths of hike-to runs are open.
Sipapu saw five inches fall, taking its base to 45 inches. Most of its expert slopes are closed.
Wolf Creek has a 104-inch base, picking up six recently. On April 3, it will host a true Super-G race from the ski area’s top on the Continental Divide to the base. Registration is $25 for those over 18, with a $56 lift ticket. For those under 18, registration is $15, with a $31 lift ticket. There’s a wee-skier class as well; for those under six, entry is free with a $6 lift ticket.
Crested Butte gained seven inches, and has a 57-inch base, and a year-to date of 176 inches. It has 144 of 160 runs open, including most of the terrain off the North Face and the High lifts.
Monarch Mountain picked up nine inches and has a nice 67-inch base. All its runs are open.
Telluride is having a good year, with nine inches fresh, a base of 68 inches, and a year’s total of 234 inches. Almost everything is open here, except Gold Hill Chutes 2 and 6-10. The two runs, Roy Boy and Senior’s, off the hike-to summit — the lung scratching 13,150-foot-high Palmyra Peak — have opened! That’s worth a road trip right there, skiing one of the highest descents in the continent.
Purgatory has a 54-inch base. It is 100 percent open, including its few double black diamond runs.
Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.
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