Skiers and snowboarders ride through a man-made blizzard as cold daytime… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)
It's February and the weather outside is frightful — for ski resorts.
With unseasonably toasty temperatures in parts of the Southland, skiers and snowboarders who would normally head for the slopes at this time of year are instead visiting the beach.
"It's hard to think about skiing when it's like 80 degrees in town," said Wendy Brennan, an avid skier who helps organize two ski clubs based in Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach. "It's particularly hard to get people away from the beach and up to the mountains."
Mt. Waterman, a small resort in the Angeles National Forest, had had so little snow that it hasn't opened at all this season. Most area resorts, however, are operating thanks to snow-making machines and a series of snowstorms that drifted through the state starting in January.
Still, ski visitation numbers to two popular resorts — Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra and Mountain High in the San Bernardino Mountains — were down about 25% compared with last season, according to those resort operators.
Meanwhile, the number of visitors to Los Angeles County beaches over the recent Presidents Day weekend more than doubled to 287,000.
"It doesn't feel like winter for some people," said John McColly, a spokesman for Mountain High resort near Wrightwood, which has had 42 inches of natural snow so far, compared with the season average of 150 inches.
Mammoth Mountain resort in the Eastern Sierra has gone so far as to offer a $139 package deal that includes round-trip air fare from Southern California airports, plus one night of lodging and a lift ticket. Last year Mammoth offered the same deal, but without the flight.
This weekend's forecast suggests more of the same warm temperatures for the Southland.
Even if Mother Nature unloads heavy snowfall for the rest of the season, Bob Roberts, director of the California Ski Industry Assn., said the total number of skiers visiting the slopes this season will probably be about 6.2 million, compared with the annual average of 7.5 million over the last five years.
"We are going to take a hit," Roberts said. "There is no question about it."
Mammoth opened for the season in mid-November, as usual, but didn't have enough natural snow to open the entire mountain until a series of storms dropped several feet of powder in late January.
So far the mountain has only had 130 inches of snow, compared with the annual average of 400 inches. As a result, the number of skiers and snowboarders visiting Mammoth has dropped about 25% compared with last year, said Joani Lynch, a spokeswoman for the resort
"It's less about the economy and more about the very dry season that is happening all over the country," she said.
The resorts that circle Lake Tahoe near the California-Nevada border welcomed a storm last week that dropped 30 inches of snow. But visitors are still down and resort operators hope for more snowfall throughout the spring.
"Obviously we had a slow start to the season, but we had a good February," Michael Dalzell, a spokesman for Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
Sharon Stein, an avid skier and actress from Rancho Cucamonga, said she would love to spend this weekend skiing at Mammoth. But unless the resort gets fresh snow, Stein plans instead to visit her brother in Santa Monica.
"This weekend we would like to go to Mammoth but, gosh, it's so beautiful around here."