Warm weather wraps season for local ski outfitters
Nordic, powder operations closing early
Steamboat Springs — The annual Nordic Fest at Steamboat Ski Touring Center is typically one part skiing, one part goofy fun, one part fundraiser and one part feast — a celebration of another good year gliding across deep local snow on thin Nordic skis.
For Kajsa Lindgren, it’s always a bit more, too. It was started in honor of her father, Håkan Lindgren, who died 15 years ago, in 2001, as a way to remember the man with an event he’d have loved.
All of that — the fun, the food and the chance to remember — are what made it so difficult for Lindgren to decide to pull the plug on the 2015 iteration of the event, scheduled for April 5.
There won’t be enough snow.
“This winter has been brutal,” Lindgren said. “This is the worst winter I’ve seen, and I was born and raised here.”
The Touring Center is hoping to eek out at least another full week of the season, which, in a week, has gone from disappointing to desperate thanks to a mid-March heatwave that’s melted much of the snowpack in town and left most of those in the snowsports industry closing up shop weeks ahead of schedule.
Lake Catamount Touring Center still had 60 percent of its terrain open Friday, but it was going so fast it announced it wouldn’t open back up the rest of the season.
Steamboat Powdercats, too, pulled the plug on its season. The purveyors of backcountry skiing have already cancelled trips for 200 skiers in the last week, many of those long-reserved outings from repeat customers. The business anticipates canceling another 100 in the coming days.
“This has been one of our harder seasons for operations,” Powdercats owner Kent Vertrees said. “The 2012 season was terrible. This year is the second worst we’ve had from a closing standpoint. That’s two out of the last four. We certainly hope it’s not the new norm.”
The problems for his operation really cropped up this week. His guides were able to sustain almost all the way through a miserable January, the driest on record for Steamboat Springs. A strong, snowy February then set them up well to end the season, or so they hoped.
The recent warm blast of air coated the north-facing slopes — usually the last to be affected by warm weather — with an “air crust.”
“It’s getting hit so hard by the sun during the day, even the north-facing slopes get hot,” Vertrees said. “North facing, you can usually still ski on most days, but every once in a while, we do get this in the spring time.”
All isn’t lost for Powdercats. It was a good season, all in all, Vertrees said, and it’s not over.
He said the base is still holding up well, and that six or eight inches of snow would make a world of difference. He typically shuts down at the end of March but is permitted to run into May, and he’ll leave his equipment in place at least into the early part of April, just in case a storm changes the game.
A storm won’t save lower elevation Nordic skiing. The Ski Touring Center had about half of its terrain open Friday with eight kilometers of groomed snow.
The end-of-season sales are well underway, and the center is reaching out to its customers to remind them to return rental gear by April 1. After that, returning it will elicit a $25 late fee as the Touring Center, set up in the pro shop of Rollingstone Ranch Golf Course, will be packed up and gone for the summer.
The Nordic Fest usually includes a pig roast, and it always has a theme for costumes. There are skiing races, more fun than competitive, and there are scholarships — $750 each for the top young skiers in the Nordic and Nordic combined categories.
That money will still be awarded, Lindgren said, but the event, created in her father’s memory, won’t happen, and that’s a letdown for her.
“It was really hard to cancel,” she said. “It’s hard because I want to make sure his legacy continues on. I know that he would be a little upset we canceled it, but that he’d want to see next year be bigger and better.
“Maybe we will do two pigs next year.”
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Many people in the Yampa Valley make important decisions about everything from recreation to business plans based on the numbers for rain and snowfall, snow pack, cubic feet per second, wind speeds and temperatures.