Cross country ski areas are normally very susceptible to the weather. This winter ski areas and skiers “endured” a few huge snowstorms, days of nearly 70 degrees, meltdowns, freeze ups, rain deluges and floods, and more with what has been dubbed the “Whiplash Winter.” The whiplash effect refers to the weather changing in short periods from unseasonably warm to freezing cold with major snowstorms followed by unseasonably warm weather, and repeat from late November through early April.
Cross country (XC) ski areas combated the Whiplash Winter across the nation with grooming and/or snowmaking and many ended up on top. And they kept skiers and snowshoers informed about the conditions.
Thanks to machine-made snow, Gunstock Mountain in NH was able to stay open but the natural snow situation was feast or famine. It was a weird year for fatbikes because conditions were either too soft (too warm, or too much fresh snow)… or too icy for them. Gunstock Nordic Director Kale Poland stated, “We had to close during one week and then Stella (big Nor’Easter snowstorm) saved the day. It’s just about adapting to whatever gets thrown at us! Thanks to our ability to have direct contact with our customers with our Facebook page, we were able to effectively get the word out.”
Further north at Waterville Valley’s Adventure Center, Leah Wilson commented that “some cold weekends were a problem but there’s been a ton of snow. After the storm, we had 25-35 trees down on the trails, which took two days to clear. It was either too soft or too icy for much fat biking. She kept skiers aware of the situation with her daily posts on the Manager’s Blog.”
Quarry Road Rec Area in Maine reported “Despite a warm, dry spell in early December, Quarry Road got off to a good start, opening December 9 on machine-made snow and we haven't looked back since. Even with a couple warm spells and rain events, we've managed to keep the trails open every day. Major dumps in late December, February, and March really helped, and we've continued to have good coverage and lot of skier traffic. We're planning to stay open through at least the first weekend in April, and will be hosting a skate race on April Fools Day (no joke!).”
The Craftsbury Outdoor Center in VT also has snowmaking to produce piles of snow that are hauled to the trails and they stated “We did pretty much exactly the same thing as ever: opened in November and have been skiing since.”
Sleepy Hollow in VT warmed up so much in February that their machine-made snowpile melted but they remained opened through the end of March. The late snowstorm provided an extra great weekend that was super busy with pent up skiers.
At the Mountain Top Resort in central VT, Nordic ski manager Roger Hill said “the conditions were good from mid December through the middle of the President's week vacation. We had the full 60 km of trails because melts, freeze-ups, and rain are not an issue as long as there is sufficient base thanks to the state-of-the-art groomer used at Mountain Top where the approach is that “if we can't groom it we don't open it.“.
Snowmaking at Mountain Top was used to fill the lull between President's week and the March storm. “We wouldn’t say it ‘saved the day’ but it definitely made for an improvement on what the natural snowfall offered (we make snow for our 2 km loop only). Using Mountain Top’s website, social media, and sites such as Ski Vermont, Snocountry.com, and media outlets such as XCSkiResorts.com, people seem prepared.”
Tahoe Donner in Truckee, CA said they had the most snow in the last 40 years. There were rain events and power outages and the area responded to big snowstorm totals by grooming a shorter 15 km loop near the lodge. There was flooding and many downed trees on the trails. While there were 10 days when they could not open, they’re only 1% below last year’s skier visitation with spring skiing still to go.
Garnet Hill Lodge in North River, NY was covered with a decent base all winter but the warm ups and freezes were challenging. They acquired a new groomer so they tilled the trails to break up the ice and created reasonable skiing. When there was too much snow or ice, they kept their core 2.5 km trail aptly named “Old Faithful” maintained and they prioritized grooming on their most popular trails. They use their website webcam and Facebook to keep skiers aware of the conditions at Garnet Hill.
Dan Baumann of Golden Eagle Lodge in Grand Marais, MN who has been hosting family vacations in the wilderness for 40 years said it was weird weather but they dealt with it by grooming. With a February warm spell and heavy rain followed by 20 below-zero temperatures the trails remained snow covered but it was the most trail tilling that was done in the last six years.
At Breckenridge Nordic Center in Colorado they use machines to make snow for storage but they didn’t need it this year since they have had the largest snow amount in 125 years! The temperatures were warmer in Colorado this winter, but there was so much snow that there’ll be backcountry skiing into May with the Center’s Snowcat Adventure interpretive tours.
They saw older skiers, who are active people now seeing XC skiing as cool, and it’s less costly and less crowded than recreational alternatives. There was also a great increase in snowshoeing at the area.
At Bear Valley in Alpine, CA owner Paul Petersen said “We had great holidays early in the season but a 10 inch rain event was then followed by 17 feet of snow, followed by a 13 inch rain event. “We overworked our shoveling muscles as this season’s 400 inches of snow required lots of physical work and it was tough on the staff.” But Bear Valley kept the trails open despite some creek crossings that presented flooding challenges. “Overall, the season delivered a home run, but not a grand slam. Most of the storms were during the week leaving great weekend days.” This sums up the outlook by XC ski area operators about the Whiplash Winter of 2017.