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In Warm Winter, What’s a Skier to Do?

“The fate of almost everything in the winter world is ultimately determined by the crystallization of water.”

–“Winter World,” by Bernd Heinrich

Driving home this past Monday, I saw a scene befitting this winter season.

I’d like to report that it was a cross-country skier. What I saw, though, was not a skier but a golfer– hitting practice balls off one of the tees at the college golf course.

That’s all you need to know about what kind of winter it’s been for skiers and  snowboarders.

Those of us who look forward to winter have grown accustomed to mild Novembers and Decembers. But it’s been many years since we have seen such a slow start to the ski season.

A reasonable person might be inclined to attribute the mild weather to climate change.

Others discount that. As Texas Gov. Rick Perry is fond of saying, the “theory” of global warming is “one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight” (a description that also fits his presidential campaign).

Or as Newt Gingrich put it, “If you were a left-wing intellectual, climate change is the newest excuse to take control of lives.”

Maybe Gingrich is right. Climate change is in fact controlling my life, or at least that part of it that used to be devoted to skiing and snowboarding.

Whatever the cause of this warm autumn and early winter, the lack of any good skiing has left us powderhounds scanning the snow reports in deep frustration.

Things are so bad that over at Mad River Glen, they’ve had to close down the mountain.

Mad River has only two snow guns with which to make artificial snow, so they rely on the real stuff. As the ski area’s Monday report put it, “It’s getting pretty thin out there on the main mountain. So thin in fact that we have been forced to button up the big hill and limit skiing to the Practice Slope only today … with 4 trails open for your skiing pleasure. Current surface conditions are soft and spring-like.”

“Soft and spring-like” are not words that skiers want to hear until about April 10.

Pity poor Jen Bolton, communications director for the ski industry trade group known as Ski Vermont. It’s her job to put the very best face on winter conditions in the Green Mountain State, no matter how bad things really are.

One recent Twitter post from Bolton reported the total number of trails open across Vermont. She failed to note that most of the state’s ski trails weren’t even open at that point, due to our seesaw freeze-and-thaw December.

When it snowed a little bit last week, Bolton was busy spreading the news to media outlets around the Northeast — video news packages, Twitter and Facebook posts, press releases, the entire PR armamentarium.

Not surprisingly, she didn’t follow up a couple days later with the news that pretty much all the new snow had melted in yet another thaw.

Early this week, Vermont resorts were reporting that about two-thirds of their terrain was closed, awaiting more snow.

And so it is that in the first week of the new year, the Snow Bowl has only one lift and three of its 17 trails open.

At Breadloaf’s Rikert ski touring center? Nada, nothing, zero, zilch.

So what’s a skier/board to do, other than fruitlessly scanning the weather reports for signs of significant snowfall to come?

It’s probably a good idea to get your equipment into Skihaus or another shop for an edge-sharpening. Even a foot of new snow will soon be scraped away to reveal the boilerplate underneath. In those conditions you’ll need every millimeter of edge you can get.

Another tactic would be to take comfort when it comes to snow drought, Vermont is not alone. It’s a problem for resorts all over the country.

My brother and his family spent Christmas at Snowbird, Utah, where deep snow in December is usually as reliable as Green Mountain mud in April. This holiday season, however, he said the Utah conditions “reminded me of Vermont” — and he didn’t mean that in a good way.

Forecast for Snowbird this week? Temps in the high 40s.

Another coping tactic is to console oneself with the “it could be worse” school of thought. While a low-snow winter is an inconvenience for skiers, it’s a profound economic threat for people whose living depends on plowing snow or working at a mountain resort.

So what’s the best tactic for skiers and boarders?

Perhaps the best move would be to take up golf. At least then we could indulge our sporting instincts in this Vermont January.

–        30 –

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