As Usual, Ski Area Closes Too Soon
by Peter Shelton
Apr 08, 2010 | 3096 views | 10 10 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Closing day at Telluride was such a beauty. Easter Sunday, and after a cold, windy week, the sun worked its magic on the hard surfaces, turning them slightly wet and slippery, smooth as lemon sorbet.

There were girls skiing in skirts. And at least one pirate in full-bearded regalia. And neon wigs, and a few vintage one-piece suits. And stretch pants. Oh, boy, if that doesn’t define an era. If you’ve still got a pair of in-the-boot stretch pants in your closet, and you can still fit into them, good on ya. Closing day is the day to strut it.

But, as often happens, closing day came too soon. Spring is still largely a rumor. And the coverage on the ski mountain is as good as it gets thanks to that 20-inch storm on the 27th and to better than average snowfall throughout March. According to Snow Safety Director Craig Sterbenz, Telluride received 68.8 inches of snow last month, 137 percent of the 30-year average. It was the best March since 2000.

And the quality of the surface was (is) spectacular; I can’t remember seeing fewer thin patches, even on steep sunny aspects like Apex Glade. You could turn anywhere with impunity. Shove snow out of the way with your tails if you wanted. Etch perfect carves. Beyond hero snow, it was invincible snow.

So, the question arises: Why close on April 4? Why not keep the lifts, or some of them, running until the snow gives out? Or run them at least for a few more weeks until golf and gardening really do assert their powers?

Telluride is one of only three major Colorado areas (with Crested Butte and Aspen Highlands) to close so early. Vail, Steamboat, Winter Park, the Summit County areas – all are still open. And they didn’t get the bigger snow numbers the southern mountains did.

I know, it’s a business decision. I could ask Telski CEO Dave Riley about the bottom-line numbers, but he probably wouldn’t tell me. Nor should he. I’m sure the calculus includes the traditional drop in post-Spring Break destination skiers, the likelihood (or not) of down-valley drive-ups, the still-hungry locals and pesky season pass holders, who long ago made good (some of them very good) on their investment.

But I’ve long held that if the ski industry wants to train customers to keep coming well into spring – as I think it should – it needs to be there for them. April is often a great month to ski, more often, I would say, than November is. But all of the emphasis these days is on early season: Hype the early snowstorms, get the reservations machine cranking, make artificial snow like there’s no tomorrow. Open limited terrain and call it brilliant. Skiers are so amped by months of waiting they’ll scratch away at the minimal offerings and say it was wonderful.

Which just increases the irony about April, when the skiing can be so superior. Ellen and I were talking about some of our formative spring-ski days back in Bear Valley, which stayed open until May all three seasons we were there. E remembers mornings before ski school line-up when the sun had yet to reach the snow in Horse Canyon, and the rolling shapes were covered in a fine crystalline latticework. As if the night had woven a tinkling carpet just to hold our edges.

And then, if there were no lessons, we’d ski back down to the village on a south-facing ridge dotted with weathered Henry-Moore trees and lichen-splashed boulders. Here the sun had penetrated a moist half inch, loosening the crystal bonds and silencing everything except for a soft whooshing sound – ski turns as the satisfied breath of winter.

I suppose if I had the time and the gas money, I could follow the path of ski-area closing days from Vail (April 18) to Aspen (April 25) to Snowbird (Memorial Day) to Arapahoe Basin (sometime in June) to Mammoth Mountain (traditionally at least until Independence Day, July 4th). That would be fun. But I’d just as soon stay home and ski.

On the chairlift Sunday I heard a lot of wistful comments about the excellent snow and the shame that there would be no more lift-served access to it. It’s human nature to want more. More of what takes us high, makes us feel graceful. It’s OK for winter to end, for the seasons to shift. Just not, as Orson Welles used to say about California wines, before its time.

Peter Shelton's blog is
Comments-icon Post a Comment
oh yea
April 13, 2010
I know someone who'll give you a little afternoon delight on a warm spring day for 15 bucks and you can wear your skis too.
April 12, 2010
This is a great article and one that has fueled beer laden debates in ski town bars for years. After a few we came up with the brilliant (at the time at least) idea of just charging pass holders $10-$20 for the day (more for non-pass) and just run a couple lifts. I would be happy to drop an extra $15 for a little afternoon delight on a warm spring day.
retro ski freak
April 11, 2010
Telco has really dropped the ball on late season skiing. Last year the announcement came to late for many skiers. This year the the extended season was announced with plenty of time to promote it but then was then cancelled. With good promotion it could work and bring in skiers who know about the excellent spring conditions. At least A-T gear is much better now and those who want it can still get it. See you at Aspen and A-Basin.
socialize it
April 10, 2010
What the town needs to do is buy it, then we could run it anytime we want. It's probably a toxic asset now anyway since real estate is over. Maybe we can pick it up cheap.
Jimmy P.
April 10, 2010
I'd gladly trade skiing pre-Christmas for the lifts staying open through April ... in the Rockies, it's an ultrasafe bet that April skiing quality will beat the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas riding at least 9 years out of 10.
Spring Skier
April 09, 2010
Dave Riley's rational for not keeping the lifts open in 2010 was because not enough skiers came when he kept the lifts open in 2009. If Dave had told folks last year prior then two weeks before closing, they might have made different plans.

In any event it is a bummer to close when the coverage is the best of the year, the days are warm, and we are in the midst of an El Nino spring storm pattern. Keep skiing!
just maybe
April 09, 2010
if they stayed open as snow conditions permit, then you wouldn't have to read it every year for 20 years.
Same old story
April 09, 2010
Did you download this article off the interwebs? I swear I've read it every year right about now for the last 20 years...
Yes, Face-
April 08, 2010
Close early and then work with your in pocket government agency, the NFS, to prevent use of public lands by skiiers and snowmobilers at the request of that great steward of public lands Telski.

Do not let him get control of BC -

FaceOnMars (nli)
April 08, 2010
I agree that the skiing/riding in the spring is often far superior to early season conditions.

It seems we've all been trained by the existing paradigm with respect to the relationships between the NFS and ski area operators. If ski areas were all nationalized, it would make sense that they would have more of a "mandate" to stay open as long as possible provided they broke even. Instead, we look at its being somehow OK for a private ski area who as taken on the responsibility of being a STEWARD of public land to have the final say so based on how it will affect their bottom line.

When you dig deeper, why should a ski area operator be allowed to spend oodles of cash on "elite ammenities" (i.e. Alpino Vino), yet not adhere to the fundamentals of extending the season? Sure, it's allowable, but it's a departure from any notion of the highest and best use of our nation's public treasures.

Take it a step further, how much time and money may have been spent looking into an expansion into Bear Creek which could've been spent on an extended season?!?

... only to bring MORE of the public's land into private control!!!!