Skiers spend a day at the Loveland Ski Area on Monday. Ski areas are hoping the snow falls soon.
Skiers spend a day at the Loveland Ski Area on Monday. Ski areas are hoping the snow falls soon. (Kathryn Scott Osler, The Denver Post)

If the Thanksgiving weekend is any guide for the season, skiing and snowboarding in Colorado are up in the air.

Especially after last season's hugely disappointing dearth of snow, the lack of snow weeks into the ski season — and headed into the holidays — is unwelcome news to those wanting to hit the slopes.

With conditions forecast to be mild and dry in the mountains through the weekend, forecasters are working to determine whether the poor start serves as a future indicator.

"It's been a shaky start to the snow season," said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist with Colorado State University, who added that shifting climate patterns make forecasting the season difficult.

Klaus Wolter, research associate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said indicators for the winter are not favorable for skiers.

"There have been a bunch of years with similar setups to this one, and the majority ended up dry," said Wolter, who is giving his weather presentation to the Water Availability Task Force on Tuesday.

The present conditions of a cold north Pacific and a warm north Atlantic tend to mean a shortage of moisture across the country, Wol-ter said.

"This is not a good sign," he said.

Still, Doesken said there is a good possibility of a strong ski season as long as there are frequent smaller storms accompanied with cold temperatures.


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"Thanksgiving snow is never guaranteed," Doesken said. "There is not a lot of concern, yet."

However, should the snowfall not increase by Christmas, Doesken said there could be a problem — for ski resorts and for the longer-term prospects of another difficult summer.

Statewide snowpack as of Thursday was 57 percent of the 30-year average for the date. Reservoirs are low.

The lack of snow is partly to blame for resort bookings being down by 3.9 percent from the same period last year, according to the latest survey of property managers in 16 mountain destinations in four Western states by Denver's Mountain Travel Research Program, or MTRiP.

Against this precarious backdrop, ski resorts are offering first-of-their-kind deals.

Colorado Ski Country USA spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph said bookings may be coming in slower than resorts would like but have not stopped.

"People may be on the wait-and-see plan because of the economy and lack of snow," said Rudolph, whose organization represents 21 resorts in Colorado.

To entice fence-sitters, some resorts are offering weather-related deals.

Among those is Winter Park, which offers an "Early Snow Guarantee," allowing guests to reschedule their booking for a later date "if they are not satisfied with the snowfall totals at the time of their initial stay."

Arapahoe Basin is offering a "Double Down" pass, allowing skiers and riders to lock in a two-season pass at a lower rate.

Hope of a great season isn't lost on local skiers who said they have traditions and superstitions to appease the snow gods.

Ali McNally of Denver said animals help her know how the snow is going to be before she gets up the mountains.

"A good powder day is almost always guaranteed if I see the bighorn sheep along I-70 after the Loveland exit," McNally said. "I can't think of a time when this wasn't true."

Rock Strongo, also of Denver, takes a more active approach to producing powder days.

"Sacrifice old boards to the snow gods," Strong said in a Facebook posting. "If they are pleased, 14 inches of snow will cover the Front Range. A fluffy smooth white canvas of heaven, so you can carve your dream turns into the hillside."

Meanwhile, Al White, director of the Colorado Tourism Office, said he is not concerned.

"We are confident that those visiting our 25 resort areas in the midst of the winter season will not be disappointed," White said.

While it remains unknown how the season will play out, continued lack of snow could mean serious ramifications next year for water providers, Doesken said.

"We really drew down reservoirs this summer," he said. "We will need an average season to make headway to recover the reservoir shortage."

Ryan Parker: 303-954-2409, rparker@denverpost.com or twitter.com/ryanparkerdp