Buoyed by fresh snow adding to an already historic snow total, Squaw Valley CEO Andy Wirth raised eyebrows this week by suggesting the resort might stay open for skiing and snowboarding through the summer.
“I’m actually considering staying open through the summer and fall so it becomes the ’16-’17-’18 season,” Wirth told Truckee Tahoe Radio KTKE (101.5 FM). “We’re taking a hard look at that. Maybe we spin Shirley (chairlift) through the summer. There’s so much snow up there.”
The resort previously committed to being open on July 4 – a late-season milestone only reached three times previously. The resort has never been open past July 4, said Liesl Kenney, a spokeswoman for Squaw/Alpine.
“He is not joking, but he’s not committing either. It has been discussed,” Kenney told The Bee on Tuesday. The most recent time Squaw was open in July was the 2010-11 season. That year, the resort closed in June, but reopened on Independence Day to the thrill of hundreds of skiers and snowboarders sporting T-shirts.
“We have the base right now,” Kenney said. “We got several feet of snow in the last few weeks.”
Most years, snow accumulation declines by mid-April. However, several days of April snow means there is more snow in the Squaw Valley area now than at any time all season, said Dan McEvoy, a regional climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center. The nearest measuring station puts the total at 80 inches, or 179 percent of normal, McEvoy said.
To evaluate Wirth’s suggestion, McEvoy compared the current year to the record-breaking 1982-83 season. That year, Squaw Valley peaked at 90 inches of snow in early May. Even with a May snowstorm, it melted out by the end of July, McEvoy said. While it would not be unprecedented to have a significant snow in late April and into May, such storms are unusual.
Given those facts, McEvoy said the “prospects seem slightly unreasonable” for a year-round ski season.
While trying not to throw cold on the idea, Kenney said forecasting ski conditions is difficult.
“Because our operations are so dependent on snow and weather conditions, it’s impossible to speculate about what the future will bring, but there is no doubt that this season has been extraordinary,” Kenney said. Squaw has received 262 inches of snow (nearly 22 feet) this season.
To extend the season, Squaw would likely use its massive grooming machines to move snow around to select runs. As Wirth explained, skiers and boarders would take the tram to the top of the mountain and walk a few hundred meters before descending the north-facing run.
“It would be pretty historic,” said Michael Reitzell, of the California Ski Industry Association. He said no other California resort has reported actively considering it. “There is a cool factor associated with it. If they did it, I would probably go.”
Oregon’s Timberline resort – situated near the top of a 11,245-foot volcano – is the only ski area in North American that’s open 12 months a year.
“We go year-round every year,” said John Burton, a spokesman for the resort. “We have been going all year since the late ’30s.”
Even if Squaw is able to pull off the year-round season this year, don’t expect it to happen often, McEvoy said. He said climate change will bring more extremes – wet and dry, but the wet years could be warm.
“We are likely to have less and less of these types of winters,” McEvoy said. “We shouldn’t expect for this to be a trend.”