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Warm Weather Gives Alaska's Ski Resort Town Cold Shoulder

By Josh Staab, Digital Content Supervisor, jstaab@ktuu.com
Published On: Jan 22 2014 05:03:24 PM AKST
Updated On: Jan 22 2014 05:36:05 PM AKST
GIRDWOOD -

While portions of northeastern United States are pummeled by snow and icy conditions, the only cold stuff Alaska’s resort town is receiving is the cold shoulder.

Girdwood's Alyeska Ski Resort closed for the third time this winter season Wednesday as warm, rainy conditions persisted – conditions that make any type of snow sport less than favorable and potentially dangerous. It’s the type of news many at Alyeska are not clamoring to promote (officials chose not to comment at the time of this report), but it’s a reality they must face nonetheless.

Temperatures at the base of Alyeska hovered around 40 degrees Wednesday, as rained poured down on a virtually empty parking lot. However, many of the nearby shops, bakeries and other retailers remained open despite the absence of a crowd.

Eric Helmbrecht owns Powder Hound Ski Shop, located near the base of Alyeska. For Helmbrecht, business does suffer, but for as many days where conditions are poor, he believes there are just as many powder days, and plenty of time for the weather to bring the crowds back.

“There are times when it gets cruddy for awhile, but it comes back,” Helmbrecht said. “Sometimes it’s 10 degrees cooler and it turns into the best snow years ever, and other times we put up with a little bit of rain until it comes down.”

Despite the weather, the show must go on for businesses around the resort, and Helmbrecht’s is no exception.

“We’re still conducting business,” Helmbrecht said. “People are still getting ready to go on ski trips or are getting their skis mounted.”

As the Winter Olmpics in Sochi rapidly approaches, Waino Salo of Girdwood Center of Visual Arts can't help but wonder how an Alaska Winter Olympics would fair with such warm weather conditions.

“All the money we’d be spend in infrastructure for everybody to get here and then there isn’t any snow?” Salo pondered. “I can’t even imagine.”

Relatively speaking, conditions at the Girdwood resort reflect a phenomenon other Western ski resorts are experiencing. Conditions at many of California resorts like Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadows are reeling from long periods with little to no precipitation. Squaw Valley’s seven-day forecast shows zero inches of new snow over the horizon, according to its website weather forecaster. Literally right down the street Alpine Meadows’ forecaster echos the same fate. High-pressure systems have created a veritable forcefield above the skies of those California resorts and the vast majority of the Lower 48’s west coast.

It was those dry California conditions that brought San Francisco Bay Area residents Tyler Mason and Jennifer Frost to Alyeska Wednesday, searching for the famous groomed runs and bountiful powder. Unfortunately all they found was rain.

“We figured it was going to be great, it was going to be beautiful good powder, nice riding,” Frost said. “I actually thought it was going to be kind of clear.”

This week's weather outlook doesn't bode well, either. The seven-day forecast in Girdwood indicates temperatures hovering anywhere between 35 and 41 degrees. It will rain, according to the National Weather Service, but it won’t likely be cold enough to turn into snow.

Alyeska is reporting 279 inches of total snowfall this season, with an average snow depth of 75 inches at the top of the mountain, 44 inches mid mountain and 10 inches at the base. The 2012-2013 season accumulated 726 inches, according to Alyeska's website.

For those hoping for some snow, January hasn’t ended yet and there is plenty of time between now and the end of the snow season for things to turn around. Until then, it’s a waiting game.