Ski hills in Alberta, B.C. suffering from unusually warm weather

Unusually warm weather is creating rocky conditions for skiers and snowboarders in Western Canada and has lead to the closure of some ski resorts in Alberta and B.C.

Mountain resorts across Western Canada are struggling to provide good snow for skiers, snowboarders

Castle Mountain announced it was shutting down for the season on Feb. 16. (Donna McElligott/CBC)

Avid skiers and snowboarders wait all year for snow to fall in the Rockies, but this season is already proving to be a bust.

Unusually warm weather is creating poor conditions in Western Canada and is leading to the closure of some ski resorts in Alberta and B.C.

Castle Mountain, near Pincher Creek, Alta., stopped its chairlifts and shutdown for the rest of the winter.

Other resorts, including Mount Washington on Vancouver Island and Hemlock Valley Resort in B.C., are also closed because of warm weather, heavy rain and negligible snow.

"It's not normal for that many ski resorts to be shutdown basically in the middle of the winter," says David Lynn, president of the Canada West Ski Areas Association. "It will definitely be a challenging season."

Castle Mountain usually receives more than 900 centimetres of snow, but this year just 245 centimetres has fallen.

"How do you think I am?" said avid Castle Mountain user Allan Reese. "We've got season passes that we are not using."

In many areas of Alberta and B.C., skiers and snowboards are frequently running into thin snow covered areas at the bottom of ski hills and icy patches due to temperatures shifting above and below freezing.

"I skied some bumps that I normally love to hit and they were sheer ice. I couldn't hear myself think just grading over them," Katie Burrell said about a recent trip to Revelstoke Mountain Resort. "It's pretty bleak to be honest with you. Sorry I'm not more rainbows and unicorns."

El Niño cycles

Too little snow and too much rain has made the start of the ski season difficult at many B.C. mountains, including Mount Seymour shown here in December. Mount Washington made a deal to allow its season pass holders to use the runs at Whistler Blackcomb for free in January. (CBC)

The closure of some mountain resorts is unusual, but not completely unprecedented. Lynn says the industry is occasionally hit by a warm season.

"What we are experiencing this year is not global warming per se, it is warm weather caused by an El Niño system. And because that is a cyclical system, we would anticipate significantly better conditions looking forward to next year."

How the warm weather affects the bottom line of mountain resorts is not clear. Some ski hills are experiencing above average lift ticket sales, including in the Okanagan region of B.C.

The smaller ski resorts impacted by warmer weather will likely suffer financially the most. Larger resorts are often well developed and have year-round activities that generate revenue.

The majority of mountain resorts are privately owned.

Here are some of your comments:

feraldarryl -- "As much as we would like to think we have power over the weather, this is nothing to do with us or what we burn, just part of the natural cycle ... millions of years ago there were palm trees growing at the poles. I'm hoping this trend continues ... looking forward to trading in my parkas and snow boots for Bermuda shorts and flip flops!"

RBK in Alberta -- "After living for 40 years in Fort McMurray you would not believe how pleasant it is to look outside and see no snow and to be able to go outside in February in a T-shirt. Southern Alberta Chinooks ... I love them!"

Cynical Joe -- "I hear the Maritimes has some extra snow they could send to Alberta."


Kyle Bakx


Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.


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