Park City Mountain delaying the start of ski season, and others may follow suit

Warm temperatures are melting natural snow and thwarting snowmaking efforts.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A snowboarder enjoys a few turns at Park City Mountain Resort on opening day, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Park City resort was schedule to open Nov. 19, 2021 but had to delay its start because temperatures have been too warm for snowmaking.

Too bad patience can’t be bought at a ski swap, because Utah skiers and snowboarders might need to stock up just to get them to the season’s start.

A third of the state’s 15 resorts expected to kick off the season next weekend, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday. But one of them, Park City Mountain Resort, announced Friday that it is pushing back its opening day — originally set for Nov. 19 — and others may soon follow.

This October was actually one of the best in the state in the past 17 years in terms of snowfall, according to Evan Thayer, a Utah forecaster for OpenSnow. So the blame lies squarely with the state’s recent warm temperatures, which have melted the natural snow and largely prevented ski areas from firing up their snowmaking operations.

“Everybody is having different degrees of the same problem,” Thayer said. “They’re not able to supplement natural snow with artificial snow.”

[Take our Best of Utah ski survey: Vote for the best bumps, tailgating, bang for your buck & more]

Such is the case at PCMR, according to resort spokesperson Jessica Miller. She said a new target opening day will be announced soon.

At Alta Ski Area, general manager Mike Maughn said it was a sweet sound when he heard that ski area’s snowmaking machines kick on Wednesday, as they had been fairly quiet all week. Alta’s opening date is set for Nov. 20.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pre-season skiers head for Alta's slopes from the parking lot of Goldminer's Daughter, Nov. 10, 2021. The Town of Alta has announced it will charge $25 for a permit to park in one of the lots it controls in town on the weekends this winter. That announcement combined with the Alta Ski Resort's previous announcement that it would charge $25 for parking in its lots on weekends means it will not be possible to visit the town on any weekend 2021 winter without having to pay or take the bus.

And though Brighton usually prides itself on being the first to open in Utah, it’s also not making any bold predictions about being up and running within the week.

“Waiting for Mother Nature to let us know,” resort spokesperson Jared Winkler said in an email to The Tribune. “Hopefully it cools off here soon so we can start blowing snow. Fingers are crossed we will be open by Thanksgiving.”

With Park City pulling back, only Solitude and Brian Head Resort are slated to be open by Nov. 19. For now.

Most snowmaking is done overnight, and those temperatures have been about 3 degrees warmer than average, Thayer said. The ideal snowmaking temperature is roughly 28 degrees, ideally for a stretch of several hours. But Park City’s lows are predicted to be 30 degrees or warmer over the weekend and might not drop below that until Wednesday or Thursday, when a few flurries are expected.

Park City has the disadvantage of having one of the lowest bases in the state with an elevation of 6,800 feet. Solitude sits at 8,003; Alta at 8,528 and Brighton at 8,753. Brian Head has by far the highest base at an elevation of 9,600 feet.

But with sunny and warm days in the forecast until the middle of next week, even those at higher elevations will likely have a hard time keeping their snow or making more, Thayer said.

“It’s going to be tough for anyone to open, really,” he said.

He’s not all doom and gloom, though. Thayer said colder temperatures are moving in and skiing by Thanksgiving is still in play.

Miller added another nugget of hope.

“In 2016, we had a similar slow start to the season and we ended up getting over 100 inches over our seasonal average,” she wrote in an email. “So I’m counting on that!”