Everyone feels the pain when ski resorts are unable to open

A skier enjoys the view from the top of Monarch Mountain Ski Resort, elevation 11,952 feet. The resort, which straddles the Continental Divide at Monarch Pass on U.S. Highway 50 east of Gunnison, has announced it will open Friday.

When the announcement came earlier this week that Powderhorn Mountain Resort simply had insufficient snow to open Thursday as planned, the news wasn’t unexpected.

The fall has been milder than expected, and many Colorado ski resorts have been operating with limited ski terrain, or not at all.

No business, whether it’s selling fine dining or snow as recreation, feels entirely comfortable setting an opening date and then backing off.

Even when the cause of the delay is something totally out of hand, such as the indocile whims of Mother Nature, the decision to put off opening the doors isn’t an easy one to make.

Take it from Monarch Mountain Ski Resort, which three weeks ago delayed its opening, also due to lack of snow, even though the resort straddles the Continental Divide at the top of Monarch Pass.

When the ski resort announced it was indefinitely delaying the start of its 73rd season until snow conditions improved, the hardest part was telling the employees.

“That certainly was the most difficult thing to do,” Monarch marketing director Greg Ralph said. “The hardest part is the employees, it’s not getting people working, and that hurts the most.”

Monarch, which reported 15.5 inches of new snow over the weekend, announced this week the resort is opening Friday.

That means most of the resort’s 300 employees will have a whiter, merrier and presumably greener Christmas.

“We’re the biggest winter employer in the county, and we know a lot of the people depend on those paychecks,” Ralph said. “Not being open is a financial burden for them.

“We interview them and hire them and train them in October and into November, anticipating a November opening,” he said. “But then we sent them home until we could open.”

Not opening on the set date also means losing much of the preseason momentum that builds in the weeks before the season is to start, he said.

“You have your season-pass sales going on and the ski swaps and the Warren Miller movies, so there’s a lot of excitement and everyone is fired up for the season,” he said. “Then, when you don’t open, it’s hard to get that momentum going again.”

Getting the much-anticipated phone call earlier this week that the area was finally ready to open was welcome news, Ralph said.

“The good thing is there is lot of pent-up excitement about the season, and finally getting the phone call was a huge relief,” he said.

But the delay made Monarch rethink the way it markets its opening dates.

“From now on, when you look at our web page, you’ll just see ‘TBD’ where it says ‘opening day,’ ” Ralph said. “There’s currently a big push in the industry to set an opening day, and we’re going to refuse to do it. There’s just too much uncertainty in dealing with the weather.”


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