Anybody hitting the cross country ski trails at Whitehorse's Mount McIntyre this weekend will see something odd — a snow-making machine hard at work.
"We do hope we'll get some more natural snow, but just in case, we'll make some," said Claude Chabot, chief of competition for the Haywood National Ski Championships, a major event coming to the trails in March.
"We want to have, ideally, a good, solid 15 to 20 centimeters of base [snow] for good conditions, good grooming. Right now, we're pretty low," Chabot said. "We couldn't survive a big melt, if we had a January thaw."
Organizers have identified several spots on the trial system that are considered "risky" if the weather warms — for example, open areas and south-facing slopes.
"Our goal here is to just pre-emptively coat all of those [and] get a real good base laid down. So if we do get a melt, we're going to be okay for our races."
'Taking its sweet time'
Chabot said even though the snow pack is low, there's still enough for good skiing right now.
It's a different story for snowmobilers, some of whom have been frustrated by rocks and ice where typically there would be smooth trails and piles of soft snow at this time of year.
"It's kind of bleak," said Doug Caldwell at Yukon Yamaha. "Usually, we've got a good few feet to play with."
He said some snowmobilers have even been injured on unexpectedly rough and rocky trails.
Caldwell said he's hearing there are areas outside of town that have better conditions for snowmobilers, such as Atlin, the South Canol area and the White Pass. But he's hearing "mixed things" about the normally popular Haines Summit.
The snow is "taking its sweet time this year," he said.
An abnormal year
"It's really hard to say what's going on," said David Millar, a retired Environment Canada meteorologist and avid weather-watcher. "Overall, it has been kind of dry and mild for the Yukon."
"It just seems to be an abnormal year. It could be part of climate change. We've had variations in our temperatures over the last few years, and it's been quite mild."
Millar believes one possible factor is a warmer-than-normal Pacific Ocean, effecting the way storm systems move into the region. The snow, he says, may be getting diverted into Alaska, or B.C.
That wouldn't surprise Chabot.
"I talk to the guys at Whistler [B.C.] all the time, and they have over four meters of base right now, laid down," he said. "And I say, 'Why can't we get some of that?'"