Alberta ski resorts feeling effects of dramatic winter weather changes

Some Alberta ski resorts had a difficult time this winter due to extreme weather, with some shutting down operations for the first time during peak season times. 

Misery Mountain in Peace River had to end its season early

Misery Mountain Ski Area had to close a month early as dramatic changes in weather led to horrible skiing conditions. (Submitted by Misery Mountain Ski Area)

Some Alberta ski resorts had a difficult time this winter due to extreme weather, with some shutting down operations for the first time during peak season times. 

Temperatures well below –30 C, freeze-thaw cycles and rainfall made the ski season unique in the worst possible way.

Misery Mountain Ski Area in Peace River, 490 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, had to close on Feb. 24. In previous years it has remained open until the end of March.

"Our weather has been crazy," Misery Mountain president Jacy Knott told CBC's Edmonton AM on Tuesday. 

Knott said –40 C temperatures in December, and then rainfall in January, led to shutdowns.

Periods of snowfall were always followed by warmer than usual temperatures that would lead to melting. After the melt, temperatures would drop again, resulting in ice, she said.

"We either have spots of bare ground on our hill or we just have ice, which is so hard for us to try to groom or get rid of," Knott said.

In southwest Edmonton, Rabbit Hill Snow Resort suffered a similar fate. The resort had to close during Christmas, the busiest time of the season. General manager Derek Look said the hill also had to close due to rain.

"I've been here over 10 years and it's been the worst weather for rain, for cold and just bouts of everything in between," Look said.

Sara Hoffman, a meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said similar weather patterns are anticipated in coming years due to climate change. 

"It's not an exact science, certainly not right now," Hoffman said. "But it is something we expect to see."

She said that although cities and towns saw a lot of rainfall, the mountains had more snow this winter compared to previous years.

However, mountain areas did see stronger than usual winds.

Hoffman said Environment Canada learned from avalanche forecasters in Banff, Jasper, Kananaskis and Waterton that some wind-facing slopes were completely bare of snow due to wind.

"They all spoke about a great year for snow. Tough year for winds," she said. 

Brian Rode, vice-president of Marmot Basin, near Jasper, said winds gusted at 196 kilometres per hour one night in February.

"The following day the wind died down, but it was still so strong that we couldn't operate the upper part of our mountain," he said.

Skiers ski at Marmot Basin in Jasper National Park.
Ski patrollers hitting the slopes at Marmot Basin ski resort in Jasper, Alta. This winter Marmot was affected by low temperatures in December and strong winds in February. (Alyssa Golbeck)

Marmot also experienced incredibly low temperatures during December and had to shut down for a couple of days, Rode said. He said the weather didn't affect Marmot financially.

At Rabbit Hill, Look said that while the weather had an impact, it wasn't enough to force shutdowns or an early end to the season.

Misery Mountain, true to its name, was not so fortunate. 

Knott said despite making a ton of revenue in years 2020 and 2021, this winter season drained the resort's finances. 

"We operated at a deficit almost every day that we were open this year," she said.

She said planning for the future is underway to figure out what can be done better.


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