holy krap! its even warm in the cold country up north!!!!!


ALL SUN, NO FUN Lack of measurable snow so late in the ski season dries up profits for Snowbowl, Flagstaff businesses

Mark Shaffer Republic Flagstaff Bureau Jan. 7, 2006 12:00 AM


It's expected to be just another bright, sunny day near 60 degrees in Arizona's mountains today.

But with a noteworthy caveat.

Assuming there isn't a freak snowstorm, Flagstaff will break the record after midnight tonight for the latest date without a measurable snowfall in the 108 years that the National Weather Service has been keeping records. The latest snowfall on record is Jan. 7, 1930.

The long-term forecast calls for more sunny skies in northern Arizona, and there's not even a hint of the season's first snow, much less the two or three major storms needed to get the ski-lift lines moving.

The lack of snow this year is just the latest reflection of the drought that began a decade ago.

There has been no moisture in Flagstaff in 56 days, since 0.20 inch of rain on Nov. 11. Christmas Day 1999 saw the end of 93 straight days without moisture.

Arizona Snowbowl had its latest opening date on Feb. 23, 2000, and the ski area had its worst season when it was open only four days in the 2001-02 ski season.

Last year's 131 inches of snow brought record numbers of skiers and resulted in a record number of days Arizona Snowbowl was open. But the reprieve in the drought was short-lived.

Business owners throughout the city are feeling the effects of no moisture once again, said Joe Galli, government affairs director of the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce.

Snowbowl officials say the normal three-month ski season brings work for about 400 people and means about $20 million to the Flagstaff economy, although city officials say they can't verify that figure.

"All I know is that the lack of snow has a tremendous negative impact on the economy. It's shocking how much of a ghost town this can be," Galli said. "This is why we are backing improvements in the ski area, like snowmaking."

A U.S. District Court judge in Phoenix is weighing a federal lawsuit filed by Arizona tribes and environmental groups that, because of Native American religious concerns, would prohibit snowmaking using treated wastewater at Snowbowl.

Snowbowl officials have said the ski area would close if snowmaking was not allowed.

Sunrise Park Resort in the White Mountains, which has snowmaking, has been partly open for three weeks but with a minimal base because of the lack of snowfall.

Small ski areas near Williams and Tucson have no plans to open.

Ski areas in New Mexico and southern Colorado and Utah also have shallow bases because snow patterns have moved north of the region this season.

Mark Ross, president of the Flagstaff Hospitality and Innkeepers Association, said the city's Bed, Board and Booze revenue numbers indicate that when snow is sufficient to allow both skiing and sledding, hotel revenues increase by about 16 percent over periods when there is no snow.

"Playing in the snow is a big deal here," Ross said.

No one has to remind Brian Dierker, owner of Humphrey Summit Ski in downtown Flagstaff, of that.

Dierker's is the only ski-products business in Flagstaff that has managed to survive the drought, which has caused four of the worst ski seasons in Snowbowl's history.

"Fortunately, I kept the business small and then went into supplying the river-running industry in the off-season," Dierker said. "If I hadn't gotten U.S. government contracts to support boats doing Colorado River research in the Grand Canyon, I would have been out of business, too."

Mark Piller, manager of the ski shop, said last year's record season at Snowbowl, which attracted about 200,000 skiers during the 139 days the ski area was open, was "a total godsend."

"You always hope that will happen again with some regularity," Piller said, sitting in an elevated chair where he normally fits ski boots to skis.

Crystal Nicholson, a coach for the Flagstaff Ski Team, nodded her head.

"We've had to drive all the way to Telluride (Colo.) five times this season just to get in any training," she said.

"Now, we're going even farther for our first competition of the year in Crested Butte, Colorado. It's really starting to wear a lot of our racers down."

Meanwhile, Flagstaff's snowplow drivers are anything but road weary.

In fact, snowplow drivers are sick of doing things normally reserved for the summer, like patching city streets, cleaning storm drains and replacing street signs.

Snowplow operator Hayden Hamilton said he racked up a ton of overtime last winter.

As he cleaned a water truck in a city maintenance yard amid a convoy of parked snow-removal vehicles, he commented on the difference between last season and now.

"Now, all we see is sunshine."

Reach the reporter at mark.shaffer@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8057.

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