Warm, wet December proving difficult for Minnesota ski areas

Some ski resorts remain closed the day after Christmas, others open with modified schedules

Some ski resorts remain closed the day after Christmas, others open with modified schedules

Our rainy, warm December weather is posing challenges for Minnesota ski areas.

“We’re closed today, but we’ve got some pile,” declares Nathan Hakseth, the snow sports manager for Wild Mountain. “We’re going to push it out and make a good ski surface.”

“We’re seeing that resorts are having to postpone their seasons. They’re having to open and close their slopes,” adds Chris Morgan with Explore Minnesota. “Obviously, that inconsistency [is] due to the weather. It’s unfortunate.”

Managers at Wild Mountain, outside Taylors Falls, had hoped to open their slopes on Tuesday.

Instead, they’re using a huge machine called a ‘groomer’ to spread already-made artificial snow over green patches.

“We really haven’t had the best, but you know, when we have those windows, we’ve been able to make a ton of snow out here, and that’s how we’re able to recover and get back open after the rain,” Hakseth explains.

Those windows include brief cold snaps, and yes, some snow that arrived after Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Experts say right now, it’s still too warm to make man-made snow.

The ideal temperature for that — 28 degrees or colder — is what’s known in the ski world as the ‘wet ball temperature.’

“Obviously, warmer weather has an impact on the industry. But we’re hopeful the cooler weather is coming,” Morgan says. “We’re seeing a really good example of how Minnesotans are truly unique and resourceful by creating their own snow and really making the best of the situation.”

But the warm weather affects a lot more than just fun on the slopes.

The Department of Employment and Economic Development says the state’s nearly two dozen ski areas provided 2,778 jobs during the first quarter of this year.

Following a pandemic dip, it’s the highest number in a decade.

The Minnesota Ski Areas Association says the total economic impact for the 2021-22 season added up to $380 million.

The group says there were more than 1.4 million visitors to in-state ski resorts for the 2022-23 season.

“It can put a little stress on people, for sure, if they’re not working and stuff like that,” Hakseth notes. “But we’re trying to get everyone back to work and have a great season.”

Minnesota isn’t alone.

Ski resorts in the Lake Tahoe area are seeing a marked difference from a colder, snowier season a year ago.

“We’ve still got a lot open. We’ve been making snow since late October,” says Tom Fortune, the vice president of Heavenly Ski Resort. “Last year, we got natural snow. We had the whole mountain open by early December.”  

Closer to home, Buck Hill opened at 3 p.m. on Tuesday.

Welch Village initially announced a two-hour delay but has since returned to scheduled hours of operation.

Afton Alps, Hyland Hills, and Elm Creek in Maple Grove were also open Tuesday, with abbreviated holiday hours.

While Trollhaugen in Dresser, WI was closed on Tuesday, they plan to open back up on Wednesday.

Most areas advise skiers and snowboarders to check their websites for hours and availability of facilities.  

Hakseth says with the help of man-made snow, he hopes to open at least half his runs on Wednesday.

“There’s still a lot of winter left. It’s only December, so we have January, February, and March,” he explains. “It’s a bit tough when it’s raining, but you know what? It will be fine. Everybody will be good, there’s white snow out there, you can still slide on it.”