Park City suffers through a dry start to winter, adding to the ski season challenges |

Park City suffers through a dry start to winter, adding to the ski season challenges

Park City has suffered a dry start to the winter, leaving the lower elevations largely without snow at the beginning of December. A National Weather Service meteorologist says a high-pressure system in the area has influenced the track of storms, pushing them to the north.
Tanzi Propst/Park Record

The continued spread of the novel coronavirus is a challenge for the mountain resorts.

So is the economic uncertainty caused by the sickness.

And the early weeks of the ski season have brought another one: a dry start to the winter.

Park City Mountain Resort opened in November and the scheduled start of the Deer Valley season is days away. The recent weather, though, has delivered little snow to the area’s mountains.

The temperatures have dipped low enough for the resorts to make snow, but the lack of natural snow is evident across Park City and the Snyderville Basin. The lower elevations were largely clear of snow until Monday night’s dusting and there is little snow at the upper elevations at the start of December.

The National Weather Service, which tracks snowpack, indicated the amount of snow at a monitoring location on Sunday in Thaynes Canyon, at an elevation of 9,230 feet, stood at 50% of a typical year for this time of the winter.

There was snowfall earlier in the season, but the weather pattern has since shifted, a National Weather Service meteorologist said on Monday. Glen Merrill, who is also the hydrology program manager in the National Weather Service’s office in Salt Lake City, explained a high-pressure system remains intact in the area after several weeks, bringing warmer than average temperatures. High pressure also pushes storms to the north or south.

The track of storms follows the jet stream, which has spent several weeks flowing across Canada. He said the storms during that time have moved across British Columbia.

“The spigot just shut off,” he said as he described the impact of the high-pressure system on precipitation.

He said the warm November temperatures led to the melting of some of the snow at lower elevations of south-facing slopes in the Park City area.

Merrill said a La Nina pattern of weather has taken hold this winter. In La Nina years, he said, the Northwest typically receives precipitation that is above normal while the Southwest experiences below normal precipitation. Utah is in between the two.

The National Weather Service forecast for Park City early in the week called for sunny conditions through Monday with high temperatures mostly in the 30s and 40s. Merrill said there are early signals the jet stream could move south in the middle of December, meaning the storm track would more likely move across Utah.

The dry start to the winter is especially notable at the outset of the first full ski season since the spread of the coronavirus forced an early end to the 2019-2020 season. Park City Mountain Resort is requiring reservations for skiers and snowboarders. The resort has limited terrain open at this point as it awaits the snows. Once more terrain is open, the resort is expected to increase the number of available reservations.

The lack of early snow could also influence those who are considering whether to vacation in Park City during a difficult time for the travel industry. Area public works managers, meanwhile, closely watch snow totals since the spring runoff supplies drinking water and water for irrigation in the summer. Merrill noted it is early in the water year, the 12-month period that starts each year on Oct. 1 and is used for annual measurement purposes, with time to build the snowpack.

“Things can change pretty quickly,” he said.

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