Warm weather delays Alyeska Resort opening

Posted: Friday, November 17, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Skiers and snowboarders will toss their old equipment on a bonfire at Alyeska Resort this weekend to appease the snow god.

They hope the annual ritual will bring a blast of Arctic air to the resort. That's what's needed to drop temperatures into the mid-20s at night so Alyeska can get its million-dollar snowmaking machines churning out the white stuff.

Alyeska said Thursday it would not open as planned this weekend but would begin operations on Thanksgiving because unseasonably warm temperatures had left the mountain with too little snow cover.

''We have received minimal natural snow at the base, and the temperature has not been cold enough to make it ourselves,'' said general manager Larry Daniels.

The 3,939-foot mountain needs about 20 more inches at the top and midway down. Dave Kasser, director of sales and marketing, said the resort also needs a stretch of cold nights so that snowmaking machines can build up the 8-inch base at the bottom.

Alyeska, with 68 runs and 1,000 acres of skiable terrain, is Alaska's largest ski resort, attracting 150,000 to 200,000 visitors a season.

Last year, the resort opened the weekend before Thanksgiving.

Delayed openings because of warm weather are not unusual for the resort 40 miles southeast of the heart of Anchorage, but once the snow starts falling there's usually plenty of it, Kasser said.

''Two years ago we had this kind of thing and we got 85 feet of snow over the year,'' he said.

Kasser said the resort makes up for any delayed openings on the other end.

''We always ski to the end of May,'' he said.

Temperatures really are warmer than normal, said John Stepetin with the National Weather Service in Anchorage. Temperatures during the day are averaging about 34 degrees, seven degrees above normal. It's even warmer at night, about 24 degrees, or nine degrees above normal. Snowfall is 10 inches below normal for this time of year.

The warmer weather is being caused by a persistent low pressure system pulling warm air up from Hawaii. What's needed is cold air from the Arctic and Russia, but, ''We don't see that happening for a while,'' Stepetin said.

Kasser said temperatures at the resort have been between 27 degrees and 37 degrees, just enough to keep snowmaking machines silent. The mercury must fall to at least 27 degrees by 10 p.m. to make snowmaking worthwhile, he said.

Francis Byerly, a 24-year-old head chef at the Chair Five restaurant in Girdwood, said he's going to attend the bonfire.

''Every year we do that ritual, burning of the skis to bring the snow, and it seems to work,'' he said.

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