Hundreds of skiers and snowboarders packed their gear and started the trek toward Little Cottonwood Canyon hoping to get a taste of the world famous Utah powder. The seemingly endless line of cars snaking their way up the canyon toward Snowbird Ski Resort should be no surprise, given the 12 inches of snowfall within the last 24 hours.
The date, however, is May 18.
While most Utah ski resorts have been closed for at least a month now, Snowbird is choosing to prolong its winter just a little bit longer. In addition to recording yet another “longest season in Utah” — the resort’s spring social media campaign slogan — Snowbird is one of only nine ski resorts in the U.S. whose slopes remain open more than halfway through May.
Snowbird Communications Manager Brian Brown attributed Snowbird’s unique geographical features as key factors that allow them to remain open so late into the year. He also acknowledged the resort’s aerial tram, which climbs over 2,900 vertical feet from Snowbird’s base to the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak summit, as an essential part in giving skiers wide-range access to the resort’s unique terrain.
“Since our aerial tram operates year round, it allows us to move 100-plus people at a time to the top of Hidden Peak,” Brown said. “When a lot of the other parts of Snowbird or the other resorts in Utah melt out, there’s still a fair amount of snow up at 11,000 feet.”
Brown mentioned Snowbird’s north-facing slopes as another key element that permits the resort to stay open through the spring. Such slopes typically remain in the shade longer than slopes facing any other direction, making it possible for snow to stay longer. He also talked about the resort’s unique geographic location that enables snowstorms to hit Snowbird before some of the other resorts in the area.
“As the storms come across Salt Lake Valley, especially lake-effect snowstorms, they don’t have to travel very far up the canyon before they hit Snowbird,” Brown said. “The storms roll in and as soon as they hit the Wasatch Front they start to weaken and dissipate, then the mountains pull some energy from those storms and all the snow drops. Other resorts in (neighboring) Big Cottonwood Canyon are six or seven miles further up the canyon than Snowbird is, so we’re kind of lucky in that respect as well.”
While several different factors come into consideration when deciding exactly how late in the year to stay open, according to Ski Utah director of communications Caitlin Furin, the decision is ultimately a business one left up to officials from their respective resorts.
“Resort opening and closing dates are business decisions made by the individual resorts,” Furin said. “Staying open into the spring-summer seasons is part of Snowbird’s unique business objectives.”
Staying open longer than any other resort in the state can present some challenges. May 18th’s 12-inch snowstorm just happened to be during the tram’s semi-annual scheduled maintenance, leaving hundreds of powder-hungry skiers with just one open lift during the early hours of the day.
⛷Just a regular spring Saturday at Snowbird! Check out this line of people yesterday hitting the slopes. (Photo courtesy Andrea Konduc). pic.twitter.com/mYSeu6Zc3T
— KSL 5 TV (@KSL5TV) May 20, 2019
More lifts and terrain did open later in the day, however, allowing the crowds to spread out.
Snowbird received an additional 16 inches of snow since the weekend storm, adding to a season snowfall total already well above the resort’s 500-inch average. On May 23, Snowbird reported they had broken the 700-inch total snowfall mark on the season, with likely still more to come.
IT HAPPENED. 700" BABY!! https://t.co/QIYDNxjPmy pic.twitter.com/TuE3Kuhlcv
— Snowbird (@Snowbird) May 23, 2019
This year’s winter was the snowiest for Snowbird since the 2010-2011 season, when they reported a total snowfall of 776 inches. The resort remained open on the 4th of July for just the third time in its history during that season.
Although they might not quite make it to the 4th of July this year, Brown remains hopeful. For now, Snowbird is planning on remaining open through Father’s Day on June 16.
“After June 16 we’re just going to take it day by day,” Brown said. “We’re going to assess the snow conditions and see how much longer we can make it past Father’s Day.”