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Copper Mountain, Colo. Nov. 21, 2001 (AP by Bob Baum)–From the brown, barren slopes around Park City, Utah, to the shirt-sleeve warmth of Aspen, the question has been the same: Where’s the snow?
Less than three months from the start of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, there is no snow at Utah ski areas, and the warmest November in the Colorado Rockies since 1979 has forced cancellation of the World Cup downhill–one of the most prestigious ski events in the United States.
A year ago, Utah resorts were running at full bore long before Thanksgiving. This year, “Think Snow” signs abound in the windows of restaurants and hotels.
In Colorado, balmy temperatures have scuttled plans for several World Cup events over the next two weeks _ the first cancellations ever in the United States because of warmth or a lack of snow.
Several Colorado resorts above 9,000 feet are open, but it has been too warm for resorts elsewhere in Colorado and in Utah to even make snow until this week.
“During the day, we’ve had base elevation temperatures in the mid-50s, and we’re lucky to get below 25 at night,” said John Garnsey, chief operating officer of the Beaver Creek Resort.
The National Weather Service called for snow and lower temperatures Wednesday evening in the Colorado and Utah mountains, with more to follow. But unseasonably warm weather has already taken its toll on area ski resorts and the businesses that rely on tourists.
Two events scheduled Wednesday and Thursday were moved from Aspen to the higher elevation of Copper Mountain. But organizers still were hopeful of pulling off a pair of men’s World Cup slalom events, which require much less snow, Sunday and Monday in Aspen.
The loss of World Cup races is a blow to the prestige and pocketbook of the Colorado ski industry, but a snowless Winter Games in neighboring Utah would be a disaster.
While there are plenty of antsy skiers and resort operators in Utah, there is no reason to worry, said Nathan Rafferty, director of communications for Ski Utah, an industry trade group.
It wouldn’t be the first time Utah has not had snow by Thanksgiving Day; the bulk of it falls in January.
“It’s not that unusual,” Rafferty said. “This time of year we can go either way.”
Still, Rafferty acknowledges that “more often than not, if anybody’s got snow, we do, but as you look around the country, nobody’s got snow.”
Ceil Folz, president of the Vail Valley Foundation and head of the Beaver Creek downhill and super G event’s organizing committee, said it costs $1.5 million to put on the races.
“Since we began doing World Cup ski racing in 1983, we’ve never lost a race, so this is a terrible blow to all of us,” she said.
Organizers recoup their costs from sponsors, while local hotels, restaurants and shops count on the added revenue that a world-class ski event brings.
The warmth is more of a problem than the lack of snow. All the big resorts have sophisticated snowmaking operations, big guns that shoot out snow through the cold, dark nights. The quality of man-made snow is so superior to Mother Nature’s version that the International Ski Federation requires a base of manufactured snow for its races.
However, consistently cold temperatures are needed to keep the snow frozen.
Meanwhile, snow is forecast this weekend through the mountain West. Colder weather and a bit of snow have allowed Aspen and Vail to open for Thanksgiving.
“In three days we’ll have 3 feet of snow,” Rafferty said, “and then nobody will worry about it.”
For more information on the Vail Valley Foundation, log on to http://www.vvf.com
For more information about Ski Utah, check out their website at http://www.skiutah.com
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press