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Ski resorts in Utah react to changing climate

Posted at 7:23 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 21:45:30-05

CACHE COUNTY, Utah — The snow Thursday night and Friday morning has been great for Utah’s ski resorts, but Utah State University researchers say it’s getting later and warmer.

Some resorts are already changing their operations in response.

Skiers and snowboarders should get used to seeing even more snow "guns" like these at Utah resorts — and seeing them closer to ski season.

They’re blowing snow as fast as they can make it at Cherry Peak Resort, east of Richmond in Cache Valley.

"This type of gun can go 10-12 degrees warmer temperatures than the other guns, so it makes a huge difference," Cherry Peak CEO John Chadwick said. "But this year it’s been very, very warm, so we’ve struggled to make snow even with these until the last couple of days."

Jordan Smith, studying his own driveway’s snow on Friday, also studied 30 years of temperature changes at all Utah ski resorts and says it will get worse.

"The main findings that we discerned were temperatures are warming, the ski season is moving a little bit later in the year, but also the quality of the snow is beginning to change," said Smith, an outdoor tourism researcher at Utah State University.

This is not news to the resorts.

"Without mother nature’s help, we have to get creative for sure," Cherry Peak spokesman Dustin Hansen said. "It’s early prep time, and [we] have [to] focus — Be ready to go when it actually does get cold."

And researchers found the ski resorts are not relying as much on skiing.

"A lot of the resorts are beginning to put significant investments into mountain biking, marketing, trail development — changing a lot of their focus from those winter operations to operations for activities that can be offered 12 months out of the year," Smith said.

Chadwick said they use their lodge for events like of weddings, corporate events, church parties and outdoor concerts — although they had to move some summer concerts off the mountain for fire danger. Still, they’re riding the weather out.

"I’m not sure I buy into long-term climate change, but I’m old enough to have seen the climate change up and down my entire life, and I know the elevations that we have here — if I’m going to have a ski resort, I’ve got to have a good snow-making system," Chadwick added.

Cherry Peak still hasn't determined when they'll open this year, but they said it should be a week or so earlier than last year’s opening date of Dec. 28.

LINK: Opening dates for Utah's ski resorts