As Southern California ski operators watched a week's worth of rain wash their manufactured snow--and profits--downhill, resort officials in the High Sierra complained Wednesday about too much of a good thing.
"The ski industry is definitely getting clobbered," said Richard Kun, general manager of Snow Summit at Big Bear Lake, about 80 miles east of Los Angeles. Since a series of Pacific storms began more than a week ago, "things have deteriorated seriously," he said.
Business so far this season is off 25% to 50% at the "Big Four" ski resorts--Snow Summit, Goldmine and Snow Valley in the San Bernardino Mountains, and Mountain High in the San Gabriel Mountains--compared to a year ago, spokesmen said Wednesday.
At resorts in the High Sierra, meanwhile, the storms have created a different problem: Too much snow. High winds, road closures and snow prevented skiers from getting there for the Presidents Day weekend, normally one of the year's busiest.
'A Knockout Punch'
"This is a knockout punch taking skiers away from the season," said William Jensen, spokesman for Squaw Valley USA, the largest ski resort in the Lake Tahoe basin, which in the last week has received a foot of snow a day on the average.
Compared to last season, when a record 600,000 lift tickets were sold, Jensen said 1986 looks like "the Bears and the Patriots--no comparison."
Ski operators in the Sierra, however, are hoping that a big buildup of snow will allow them to stay open as late as July 4. Normally, few resorts stay open past the end of May.
"Our accountants may be singing the blues," Jensen said, "but I'm hoping we have a solid month in March."
"The storm might shut us down for a few days," agreed Pam Murphy, spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain ski area, "but it is also ensuring a long, good season to come. We don't believe in too much snow."
Southern California ski resort operators--along with the hotel, restaurant and ski equipment rentals that depend on them--will not be so lucky.
Hoped for Cold Weather
Still reeling from successive below-average seasons in 1984 and 1985, they had counted heavily on cold enough weather this year to turn on their snow machines.
Instead, "This year the storms out of the Pacific have been very warm," said Steve Kramer, general manager of Mountain High, near Wrightwood. "The customary cold shock behind them has been non-existent."
Indeed, many complained that no sooner had they manufactured a decent snowpack than another warm torrent turned it to slush. Lately, work crews have been laboring around the clock to minimize water and mud runoff and preserve the patches of snow that remain.
"As long as it rains there is virtually nothing we can do," said Benno Nager, spokesman for Goldmine Ski Resort, about a mile southeast of Big Bear Lake. "We had to completely rebuild snowpack last week to about two to three feet from six inches," he said. "Thursday it started to rain again and wore it down."
Other Businesses Also Suffer
When ski resorts suffer, so do related businesses.
"We've had astronomical amounts of cancellations," said Gary Frank, manager of Escape For All Seasons, a 126-unit condominium rental operation near Snow Summit at Big Bear.
"Business is afloat--just a little pun there--but not going under," he added. "We don't have three fingers up yet."
In fact, the entire city of Big Bear Lake has been hit hard.
"We are down 25% to 50% from last year," said Ed Curtis, president of the Big Bear Chamber of Commerce.
If there is a silver lining for Big Bear, it is that the lake has risen six inches in the last week, which should draw more fishermen, sightseers and campers to the area in spring and summer.