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Ski resorts are welcoming winter storms


For ski areas, this winter had been off to a slow start with painfully low snow levels. The typically busy holiday season was a bit of a bust for the industry, but recent storms have brought fresh powder to mini mountains and joy to skiers. Colorado Public Radio's Stina Sieg reports.

STINA SIEG, BYLINE: Skiers and boarders glide through pillowy powder so light and deep it creates clouds with each turn. Earlier this week, Powderhorn Mountain Resort in far western Colorado got two feet of snow, a new local record.

ELIZABETH GREENFIELD: Oh, it was incredible, incredible snow Monday.

SIEG: Elizabeth Greenfield drove more than an hour to be here. Ian Wilson, who lives nearby, took off work and nabbed fresh tracks with a friend.

IAN WILSON: We just came straight under the lift, and we just couldn't see anything because there was so much powder (laughter). It was awesome.

SIEG: The snow has kept falling, drawing in more people, like Lexie Sanchez, who still snowboarding despite her frozen hair and eyelashes.

LEXIE SANCHEZ: It feels like a white Christmas morning (laughter).

SIEG: And conditions are so much better than on Christmas, when the snow was icy and sparse. Chance Keso says this turnaround isn't just happening in the West but across the Northeast as well. He's with OnTheSnow, an online platform focusing on ski conditions and travel. He monitors mountain cameras at ski areas in North America. At the beginning of the season...

CHANCE KESO: I saw rain, mud, dirt and rocks all over the slopes. And with these last storms, I can't see some of the cameras now because they're covered in snow from blizzards, and it's actually starting to look like winter out there.

SIEG: But it's still a mixed bag. Some ski areas in the upper Midwest are struggling to open, and elsewhere, many resorts are playing catch-up. In Colorado, snowpack is falling well short of levels that are typical for this time of year. In Maine, Sunday River Ski Resort is in recovery mode after statewide rainstorms last month washed away a lot of snow. Then recent storms delivered a wallop of powder.

ELLEN WAINWRIGHT: It was incredible.

SIEG: And it meant even more because of the recent bad conditions, says Sunday River's Ellen Wainwright.

WAINWRIGHT: For us to be able to have snow-covered trails, smiling guests, especially from the aftermath, it's been awesome.

SIEG: In Washington state, recent storms have brought a blanket of fresh powder to Mt. Baker Ski Area, but the season is still below normal and far below the winter 25 years ago, when Mt. Baker broke the record for the most snowfall in the season - nearly 100 feet. CEO Gwyn Howat, whose family has been managing Mt. Baker since the 1960s, says snow is always on the minds of locals.

GWYN HOWAT: It's the talk of the town when there's a good pow day, and it's talk of the town when we're running a little lean, too.

SIEG: Mother Nature is a roller coaster, she says, with big swings in snow levels over the decades. And like everyone in the story, she worries about climate change and how no one really knows how it could affect winters and her industry in the future.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Powder day. Enjoy, guys.

SIEG: Back at Colorado's Powderhorn, skiers and boarders shimmy up to the flat-top flyer chairlift. Marian Brosig just floated down the mountain, buoyed by that fantastic powder.

MARIAN BROSIG: I mean, you feel like you're in heaven.

SIEG: But the snow means more than just a fun day. Come spring, it will melt off this mountain and feed into the Colorado River, the primary water source for roughly 40 million people across the West.

BROSIG: It's wonderful for skiing but especially for this summer and the rivers. But, of course, this is gravy.

SIEG: With that, she heads out for another helping of powder. Powerful storms are forecast to bring additional snow to large parts of the U.S. For NPR News, I'm Stina Sieg in Mesa, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Stina Sieg

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