California Ski Resorts Weather the Drought


Skiers worried that drought will keep snow away from the California ski resorts this winter can take heart. In a recent interview on KCRW radio’s Press Play, Andy Wirth, CEO of Squaw Valley Ski Holdings explains why the ski resorts will be here for years to come.

He admits this past winter was a tough one for the California ski industry, prompting some resorts to end their seasons early. And in fact, Squaw Valley’s skier visits were down 20 percent. Wirth says we can blame the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, so named by meteorologists describing the persistent region of high pressure which kept a lot of snow out of the mountains.

Not to worry, says Wirth. Squaw Valley has 6000 acres of skiing, and 4000 had plenty of the white stuff. That’s still a lot of skiing. He says Squaw Valley will survive and turn a profit for years to come. He reminds us that the science of snow making has improved a lot, and that the snow cat operators are out there keeping trails ski-able. The industry will invest even more in snow making in years to come.

However, this winter, says Andy Wirth, meteorologists from Colorado State University foresee an absence of that pesky Ridiculously Resilient Ridge. So even though southern California is looking at an El Niño winter, things are looking up for snow in the mountains. Increased volatility in the weather may provide dry seasons, but also some whopper snowfalls, which the industry must position themselves to take advantage of. He adds that other events from the Iron Man Challenge to weddings will keep Squaw valley busy, even before Squaw Valley’s ski season open date of the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.

Twenty-five years in the mountain resort industry have given him considerable experience making judgments about the weather and snow cover. Since 2010, he’s taken Squaw Valley through a $70 million upgrade from facilities to mountain planning. He serves on numerous winter sports related committees, such as the Lake Tahoe Winter Olympics Committee and the Executive Committee of the California Ski Industry Association.

Andy Wirth’s early career as a back country ranger harmonizes with his attitude toward the mountains. Wirth sees himself and his fellow ski resort business operators as resource managers, with a responsibility to leave a bright legacy in the mountains. Squaw Valley is reducing its carbon footprint, trying to move toward cleaner energy sources. This, combined with business savvy and years of experience seem to promise a bright future for skiing the California mountains.