Ski season in Utah begins — but where’s the snow?

Posted at 3:49 PM, Nov 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-16 00:25:37-05

SALT LAKE CITY — On a day when temperatures were in the 70s, Utah's ski season officially kicked off.

Ski Utah, the marketing arm of the state's $1.3 billion ski industry, held its opening day event on Tuesday asking the same question many are asking: where's the snow?

"I know it's hard to be patient," said Nathan Rafferty, Ski Utah's President & CEO, predicting a big storm to hit Wednesday.

Some resorts have been forced to push back their opening dates because of a lack of snow. Still, Rafferty was not worried.

"Less than 10 percent of our annual snowfall falls before November 15, so we've got plenty of time," he said.

Ski industry executives noted that last year was a record-breaker for Utah, with 4.5 million ski visitors. With the unusually warm temperatures, weather forecasters have worried that this could be the sign of a larger trend.

"Climate change is the word or phrase on everyone's lips," said Evan Thayer, a forecaster with Wasatch Snow Forecast. "It's very difficult to say climate change is specifically responsible for this dry spell. It's hard to correlate this dry spell with climate change, but what we are seeing is these dry spells are more frequent."

The lack of snow has actually helped resorts complete major projects. Cherry Peak, Sundance and Brian Head are among those with big expansions. Whisper Ridge plans to open with 60,000 acres of private ski terrain. Powder Mountain had the single largest expansion, spending millions on new lifts and upgrades.

However, Powder Mountain has decided to limit the number of people who can ski there each day.

"We just want people to have that experience of Powder Mountain," said resort spokesman JB Goulet. "We want them to enjoy wide open spaces."