Warm weather wreaks havoc on some B.C. ski hills as lack of snow leaves trails barren

Warm weather wreaks havoc on some B.C. ski hills as lack of snow leaves trails barren
Skiers go up in a chairlift as the sun is framed through the trees on Blackcomb mountain in Whistler, B.C., Sunday, Dec, 11, 2011.

British Columbia’s abnormally warm winter has left local ski resorts grappling with a lack of snow during the holiday tourism season, as resorts struggle to keep runs open.

Fewer than half of Whistler Blackcomb’s trails are open, while Vancouver’s Mount Seymour is closed entirely while it waits for better conditions.

Warmth related to the El Niño climate phenomenon this week has pushed temperatures to record highs in regions including Metro Vancouver, Greater Victoria, the Sunshine Coast and the Okanagan.

In Whistler, 120 kilometres north of Vancouver, Environment Canada was reporting no snow on the ground on Christmas Day, compared to 40 centimetres last Christmas.

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On Thursday, the Whistler Blackcomb resort reported 117 of its 275 trails were open, as well as only 42 per cent of its terrain.

Warm weather has hit Metro Vancouver’s three main ski hills even harder, with Cypress and Grouse mountains operating only one or two runs each.

Mount Seymour closed entirely on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, pending more snow.

James Shalman, general manager at Apex Mountain Resort in the Okanagans, says resorts across the province are “definitely behind the 8-ball” because of the warm weather, with visitors lost during the holidays unlikely to return later in the season.

“All resorts in B.C. are very reliant on the Christmas holidays as a significant portion of their financial picture for the season,” Shalman said.

“This is not something where you can make up what you’re down during Christmas break. You won’t make that up later in the season, even if we get amazing snowfall in January, February, March.”

Apex on Thursday had about a third of its roughly 79 runs open, a stark contrast from 2022 when every run was open in the first week of December thanks to heavy snowfalls.

Shalman said Apex had significant snow-making capacity and used it to combat the lack of precipitation, but there were weeks this month where the temperatures were too warm to make snow.

“I mean, we are essentially snow farmers,” he says. “We’re Mother Nature-dependent, and we just have to take what we get.”

At Cypress Mountain in West Vancouver, management warned skiers of “thin snow coverage” for what little of the hill was open.

Several resorts have been offering discounted passes and tickets to entice skiers to visit.

“Rain’s the star of the show today,” Cypress Mountain’s update on Thursday said, noting that night skiing had been cancelled.

Environment Canada meteorologist Brian Proctor said that in addition to El Niño, a ridge of high pressure had created a “blocking pattern” across much of North America. That was preventing the warm air generated by El Niño from passing over mountains and continuing inland.

Proctor said it meant the warm air mass had lingered over B.C., unable to go east due to high pressure acting like “a wall.”

He said Environment Canada’s long-term forecast called for more seasonal temperatures to return for the first week of January, bringing potential snowfall to higher elevations in the Interior.

But Proctor said snowfall was less certain for coastal areas in coming weeks, adding that skiers and resorts should temper expectations.

“We may see potential for some snowfall,” Proctor says. “But really longer term it does look like an El Niño winter at this point in time, continuing and remaining fairly significant into the early spring.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 29, 2023.

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