January brings “too cold” closures to Twin Cities ski areas

Just how cold has January been for the Twin Cities? Cold enough to close ski areas. Repeatedly.

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To get a sense of how often skiing and riding has been disrupted, I reviewed the Facebook fan pages of Afton Alps, Buck Hill, Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area, Trollhaugen, Welch Village, and Wild Mountain.

The worst day so far was yesterday, Monday, January 27, when all six were closed. Today, Monday January 28, and Monday, January 6, were second, with four areas closing. Curiously, only Wild Mountain and Trollhaugen, the two northernmost resorts, were open that day.

Altogether, the six resorts have been closed for 17 days this month. But the disruption has not been limited to stopping the bullwheels for an entire day. On 18 days, resorts have closed early or opened late. All local resorts had shortened hours on Tuesday, January 7. Four areas had shorter-than-expected hours on Sunday, January 5.

Nobody at a ski area relishes closing for business. It means a disruption to guests and workers and a disruption to the brand. Still, safety does matter, for guests and workers alike.

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Afton Alps closures: January 6, 27, 28

Buck Hill closures: January 5, 6, 27

Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area closures: January 6, 27

Trollhaugen closures: January 23, 27, 28

Welch Village closures: January 6, 27, 28

Wild Mountain closures: January 6, 27, 28

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Cold enough to close ski areas in Minnesota

Cold temperatures, combined with winds, have shut down a number of ski areas across the Midwest, for at least a portion of this last weekend and into tomorrow.

Here in the Twin Cities, Afton Alps, Buck Hill, Trollhaugen, and Welch Village were all closed on Sunday. Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area and Wild Mountain kept the wheels turning until 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., respectively.

At this point, Afton Alps will be the first area to reopen (9:30 a.m. on Tuesday), while Wild Mountain will be the last (noon on Wednesday). Aside from Wild, all areas plan to join Afton in reopening on Tuesday. Welch Village has announced it will reopen at noon; Buck Hill, Hyland, and Trollhaugen plan to reopen at 3:00 p.m.

In an e-mail blast sent out on Saturday morning, a spokesman for Trollhaugen said, “For those looking to get their ski/shred on in any weather, we salute you! However, even with my impressively manufactured facial hair, –42 [predicted wind-chill] doesn’t sound so delicious.”

On his blog, Welch Village VP Peter Zotalis lamented the ratings-driven fear-mongering that can appear in media outlets. While news readers and weather forecasters focused on a coming “polar vortex,” Saturday, he says, was a fine day to be on the snow: “In fact, it was full sun, blue skies, very light winds, and about 20 degrees still at mid-afternoon.”

But he added, “We are closing mostly because it does appear to be very cold tonight and Monday.  However, we are also closing because people are probably too scared to ski & ride based on what they’ve heard.” He said that “thousands” of people had stayed home already, due to news reports.

Media outlets are what they are, and there’s not much we can do about them, except perhaps to turn to niche publications such as this one. But there are other reasons why a resort may decide to close. The most notable is the safety of employees. Lift attendants, in particular, don’t move around a whole lot, and unlike their customers, can’t just zip into a chalet to warm up.

On its website, the Three Rivers Park District says that Hyland “will close when wind chill temperatures reach -40F or the air temperature reaches -30F as measured at the ski area. We reserve the right to operate the facility in accordance with weather conditions, skier traffic or slope maintenance.”

Fred Seymour, a senior alpine manager for the district, said in a personal e-mail, “we did not want to expose outside staff to the predicted wind chills and financially it would not have made sense to be open.” He added that Hyland had closed for consecutive days sometime back in the 1990s.