By Chuck Slothower
Four Corners Business Journal
DURANGO, Colo. The San Juan Mountains could see a drier than average winter as predictions of a possible El Ni o pattern have not materialized, a meteorologist said.
Early forecasts of an El Ni o winter, which would likely result in plentiful snowfall, now look incorrect. Another dry winter could wreak havoc on everything from ski resort business to wildfire risk next summer.
Snow conditions in the San Juans depend greatly on ocean temperatures in the Pacific. The forecast for now is a wild card, said Joe Ramey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction.
"We have not reached El Ni o and it's looking more and more unlikely that we'll reach El Ni o," Ramey said.
Neither do climate models suggest a La Ni a pattern, Ramey said. "It's neutral, or what we call "no Ni o' years."
In three of the last four neutral-pattern years, the San Juans have seen a dry winter.
"Overall a dry year is probably the most likely
That would be bad news for Colorado ski resorts, which suffered through a lackluster winter in in 2011-12.
Skier visits for all Colorado resorts fell last winter to fewer than 6.2 million, the lowest in a decade, according to the industry group Colorado Ski Country USA. Skier visits were off 11 percent from the previous winter.
The organization does not release skier visits by individual resort.
Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort outperformed the statewide numbers, ending the 2011-12 season down by less than 1 percent, spokeswoman Kim Oyler said.
"We offered a great value for the product," Oyler said. "People still wanted to experience skiing and riding Colorado."
Purgatory benefited from an early opening and good snow throughout the season, she said.
The resort is scheduled to begin making snow on Nov. 1, dependent on the weather. The mountain is slated to open for skiing and snowboarding on Nov. 23, the day after Thanksgiving.
Regular daily lift tickets at Durango Mountain Resort will cost $75, the same as last winter. The resort is also offering a variety of ticket and lodging packages in addition to season passes.
New for this year at DMR: a redesigned website where users can purchase lift tickets and lessons online, upgraded bathrooms at Dante's restaurant and more paved areas in the upper parking lots.
The resort has also reached a deal with Rossignol to provide ski rentals. Purgatory will be the only Rossignol Experience Center in the Southwest U.S., Oyler said.
Snowboard rentals will continue to be Burton gear.
Wolf Creek Ski Area, east of Pagosa Springs, plans to open at some point in November, depending on snow, said marketing official Molly Textor.
"We're waiting on Mother Nature and the storm cycles to come through," she said.
Last season's opening Oct. 8 Êcame earlier than usual at Wolf Creek. Nature hasn't been so quick to bless Wolf Creek Pass this fall.
Wolf Creek increased prices slightly for the upcoming season for the first time in many years, Textor said. Adult daily lift tickets rose to $56, up from $54. Season passes also rose slightly.
New this year at Wolf Creek is an espresso bar and bakery. An expansion of the ski area has been proposed by owner Davey Pitcher, but is years away.
Wolf Creek received plenty of snow last winter, Textor said. "Last year was really great for us," she said.
Businesses that rely on snow are looking ahead to the winter. End Industries, formerly Aztec Ski Rentals, plans to open Friday, Nov. 2. The rental shop at 208 S. Main St. in Aztec will once again showcase Never Summer snowboards, which were a hit last winter, End Industries co-owner Richard Bodiford said.
Never Summer is a line of snowboards handcrafted at the company's factory in Denver.
"Everybody down here likes that stuff," Bodiford said.
Last winter was marked by an early start but a soft middle, he said.
"We had a bad warm spell in the middle of winter," Bodiford said. "It kind of hurts. Once it gets warm here, people start to lose interest even if it snows again in the spring."
Like others in the business, Bodiford is accustomed to working with what the winter brings.
"You just take what Mother Nature gives you and you go along with it," he said.