Warren’s World: Ninety-Nine Feet of Snow

By Beacon Staff

The itch to turn your skis begins in earnest at about the same time the leaves start changing in the fall. There is some scientific correlation between photosynthesis and ultra violet light shining on the top of a helmet at the top of a snow-covered mountain. After watching this annual phenomenon happen for the last 71 years, the chances of skiing before Dec. 15 anywhere below 9,000 feet are less than 25 percent at any ski resort that doesn’t have a lot of artificial snowmaking machines.

But then there is the other side of the equation at a resort like Mammoth, Alta or Mount Baker, where they get over 30 or 40 feet of snow every winter. A few years ago, Mount Baker had a record 99 feet of snowfall. In May the snow banks in the parking lot were still 35 feet high. Ninety-nine feet of snow is a lot. It happened before and can happen again, maybe this time in Colorado.

What if a resort such as Vail got the same 99 feet of snow? The interstate would be shut down for the winter and trucking costs would be 20 percent more because of it. Eisenhower Tunnel would be closed for the winter and if it happened in one violent storm some people would spend the next two weeks trapped in the tunnel freezing to death. All of the guests and employees who had left their cars in the Vail parking structure would have to bed down in the lobbies of the hotels. The money earned to pay their bills would come from the high wages people would get for shoveling the roofs of the houses, condos and big-box stores; at least those ones that had not already collapsed from the weight of too much snow. All of the electricity would have to be shut off because the power lines would be buried 40 feet under the snow. Food would get scarce, except what could be brought in from Glenwood Springs by snowmobile, cross country skis or dog sled.

No ski lifts could run because the snow would be 60-feet deep over the top of the bull wheels. Communication could only be by radio until they eventually dug out the cell phone tower.

In the meantime the daily report of how many structures had collapsed would be available only on Denver radio.

The glacial action of such deep snow slowly creeping down the steeper slopes would bend and break all of the trees regardless of size. The ones riddled with Pine bark beetles would lie everywhere on every ski trail as the snow slowly melted in the spring.

The deepest snowfall in the shortest amount of time that I ever experienced was in 1943, when Mount Waterman, less than 50 miles from the Los Angeles City Hall, had 24 feet of snowfall in 24 hours. The cars that were buried up there weren’t dug out until three months later and their roofs were flattened right down to the level of the hood and all four tires were flattened as well. Deep snow-falls bury everything and if you can somehow get to a ski lift that is running the terrain is fabulous. It does take a perfect storm to make it that way, however, because the earth is covered with whatever blemishes it might have.

So give up on your eagerness for six feet of snow by Christmas, because it just might keep on snowing until the snow is deeper than the lift towers are high and then what?

Most ski lift towers are only 40 to 50 feet above the ground to accommodate the maximum snowfall in that part of the world. How tall are your lift towers and what would happen at your resort if it had a 99-foot snowfall? Imagine what would happen to the Olympics at Whistler if it got that much snow. The British Columbia government would have invested $1.5 billion dollars to stage the events and everyone would be stuck in their hotels without enough food to last until all of the races were finished and the long road to Vancouver got plowed.

Skiing is the world’s best freedom sport, so let’s not overdo this early-season-pray-for-deep-snow-dance-around-the-old-elm-tree. Let’s just be happy with what normally falls out of the sky and the snow guns. None of this 99-foot-snowfall stuff.