Idaho ski resorts aim for early openings

/ Source: The Associated Press

Managers at seven of Idaho's most popular ski areas say early winter storms could allow them to open by the four-day Thanksgiving weekend.

"Mother Nature is sending us snow, and as long as it stays cold, I think we're on track," Jim Spenst, vice president of operations at Tamarack Resort near Donnelly, told the Idaho Statesman.

Tamarack plans to open Nov. 22. Sun Valley in central Idaho is scheduled to open Thanksgiving Day, and Lookout Pass Ski Area in northern Idaho is scheduled to open Thursday.

Ski-area managers at Schweitzer and Silver Mountain in northern Idaho said they might open this weekend. Managers at Brundage Mountain Resort near McCall and Bogus Basin near Boise say they need more snow but are close to opening.

Schweitzer has 36 inches of snow at the summit and 24 at the base, spokeswoman Lisa Gerber said.

"For this time of year, that is fantastic," Gerber told the Coeur d'Alene Press. "The last time we even came close was Schweitzer opening November 10 in 1984."

Jay Breidenbach, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Boise, said approaching storms could help ski areas in the next two weeks. He said storms this week could bring snow above 6,000 feet, while storms next week could drop the snow level to 4,500 feet.

"That's well below all the ski areas," Breidenbach told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "If the forecast holds for next week, the ski areas could get another six inches, and that could be exactly what they need."

According to Lookout managers, the ski area has 32 inches at its summit and 20 at the base, with skiing from the top to the base on the front side.

Silver Mountain has reported 20 inches at the summit and 10 at the base.

"We probably need another foot (to open) depending on where you are on the mountain," said Stephen Lane, Silver Mountain spokesman. "It looks like we'll know for sure on Thursday. If we have the snow Thursday, nothing will stop us from opening."

Opening for the Thanksgiving weekend would give ski areas a lucrative jump on the season.

"If you can get open for Thanksgiving, you're happy," said Lane. "Anything earlier than that is great."

Sun Valley has been using snow-making equipment to add to the 6 inches it received. "Since last Wednesday, we've really been going at it," said Linda Hillman, administrative assistant for Sun Valley.

Gretchen Anderson, a spokeswoman for Bogus Basin, said the ski area can open with as little as 18 inches if it's the type of snow that packs down well. "You've got to be able to make a good snowball out of it," she said.

Breidenbach said this is an El Nino year, which usually means a warmer and dryer winter. However, he said 30 percent of the time that doesn't hold true, and that he has bought a season ski pass.

"The active, moist weather pattern looks like it's going to continue - next week looks cold and wet," he said. "This is kind of the opposite of what normally happens in an El Nino. If the ski resorts are lucky we'll continue in this pattern and the El Nino will hold off until later in the winter."