By Morgan Tilton
It’s late April and a sneaky storm drops five inches of snow on your favorite ski resort.
Catching wet, springy flakes on your tongue, you’re thinking ski season will last forever. Look how great the coverage is! “We’ll be skiing until July 4,” you say to a buddy. Then he reminds you that it’s closing day. In two weeks, just about every resort in the state will be moving on to summer.
It’s a cold, hard fact of being a devoted skier: ski areas close before the snow melts. But why?
In recent years, many ski areas have diversified. They round out their businesses to feature summer attractions such as ziplines, alpine slides, live music, endurance events, or mountain bike and downhill courses. Nationwide, many winter resorts have needed to become year-round destinations, in order to stabilize amid the shrinking ski industry, reports the Sierra Sun.
“The reality is, when you get to around Easter, people stop skiing, which drives ski area closure,” said Chris Linsmayer, public affairs manager for Colorado Ski Country USA (CSCUSA). “Also, are resorts doing summer improvements? Like Steamboat and Copper, who are doing big improvements this year and want to get started the day after they close winter operations,” said Linsmayer.
So as Colorado ski resorts decide their winter closing dates, managing the summer operations is a considerable factor.
“The [ski area closure date] is really about operations and what we feel we can offer for guests,” said Sara Lococo, Breckenridge media contact. “We have summer operations that start in early to mid June, so that’s been a consideration in past. But we worked on that this year, to figure out how to extend the winter season and still get ready for the summer season.”
For Love of the Snow
But wait, you’re thinking. Snow has to matter too, right?
Indeed. When things line up, late-season flakes can alter operating schedules.
Following one of Colorado’s driest winters on record, folks certainly had a fever for powder this year. The 2017-18 was the worst snowpack in more than 30 years. From an industry and participant standpoint, we’re lucky such stellar conditions lined up for 18-19. Generous snowfall prolonged ski area services across the state. In March, Monarch Mountain, Hesperus Ski Area and Purgatory Resort all pushed forward closing dates. For a fourth consecutive season, Winter Park Resort likewise added days for the Mary Jane territory, by three weeks. This year’s May 12 closing date for Mary Jane is the second-latest in Winter Park’s history, reports Ski-Hi News: The record closing date rests at May 25, 1998.
“Very rarely are you seeing snowmaking going on later in the spring. Mostly, the snowfall is the major driver of those decisions to stay open. Five of our ski areas had some sort of ski season extension this year, due to snowfall,” said Linsmayer, regarding the 23 partner resorts of CSCUSA.
Another factor: location. In January, Breckenridge Ski Resort announced an extension to the 2018-19 season into May, for the first time since the mid-90s. Their high-alpine environment also enabled the drawn-out season.
“Elevation plays a huge role in the longevity of snow,” said Lococo. From the resort’s 9,600-foot base, the ski runs rise to just under 13,000 feet. This year’s above-average, 400-inch season prepared the resort for elongated operations; but that cold, high-altitude climate helped preserve the white blanket.
Skiing and Money, In Balance
Turns out the bottom line is rooted in, unsurprisingly, the bottom line.
Ski resorts are businesses, after all, so marketing and return-on-investment is key. Businesses target their efforts around economics. Resorts balance operating costs with skier demand. And while it can make skiers feel shorted, this fact plays to everyone’s favor in good snow years. In one case, Breckenridge is owned by Vail Resorts and shares the Epic Pass with Keystone Resort, which is conveniently 16 miles north of the Breckenridge parking lot.
“It was a good time to extend the season at Breckenridge…Keystone wanted to jump in for investments in snowmaking,” said Lococo, in reference to Keystone’s recent capital foothold to expand snowmaking operations, which will establish the resort as the earliest to open in the entire Centennial State.
“We’re both in Summit County. Starting next year, Keystone can offer an early season opening date. Together, we will offer one of the longest ski seasons in the country. With an Epic Pass, skiers and snowboarders can get early season access at Keystone, and get the late season access here at Breck,” Lococo explained.
As long as the weather and snow conditions hold up, Breckenridge intends to stay open through Memorial Day for ongoing seasons.
So it begs the question: where can you still ski in Colorado, and for how long?
2018-19 Ski Area Operating Schedules
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, per usual, will remain open the latest, with a June closing date. That exact number is yet to be determined. With a total snowfall of 240 inches, perhaps A-basin’s runs will sweep into July. To follow, Breckenridge Resort, Loveland, and Winter Park Resort will all keep the lifts humming into May.
Here are the respective opening and closing dates—and the extended hours—of Colorado ski resorts for the 2018/2019 winter season:
Open as of 4/22
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area—October 19 to early June (TBD)
Aspen Highlands—December 1 to April 14. Aspen Highlands will remain open Friday-Sunday until April 28
Breckenridge Resort—November 7 to May 27
Loveland—October 20 to May 5
Winter Park Resort—November 14 to April 21. Mary Jane territory will remain open until May 12
Aspen Mountain—November 17 to April 21
Aspen Snowmass—November 22 to April 21
Beaver Creek Resort—November 21 to April 14
Buttermilk Ski Area—December 8 to April 7
Cooper—November 23 to April 7
Copper Mountain—November 16 to April 21
Crested Butte Mountain Resort—November 22 to April 7
Echo Mountain—November 30 to April 14
Eldora Mountain—November 7 to April 21
Granby Ranch—December 14 to March 31
Hesperus Ski Area—January 1 to March 31
Howelsen Hill—November 24 to March 10
Kendall Mountain—December 7 to March 31
Keystone Resort—November 7 to April 7
Monarch Mountain—November 16 to April 7. Extended to April 21.
Powderhorn Moutain Resort—December 13 to March 31
Purgatory Resort—November 17 to April 7
Silverton Mountain—November 24 to April 14
Steamboat—November 21 to April 14
Sunlight Mountain Resort—November 23 to April 7
Telluride—November 22 to April 7
Vail Resort—November 16 to April 21
Wolf Creek Ski Area—October 13 to April 7. Extended to April 21.