Winter Drought

Sebastian Arreola

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    Global warming has increasingly become a vital conflict throughout time and much of it has been linked to human activity since the industrial revolution. Global temperatures have been rising year after year, causing sea level rise, warming of oceans, and, one that most impacts the mountainous areas: decreased snow cover.

    Expecting for snow to arrive by late fall, many throughout the Roaring Fork valley were beginning to prepare for the enjoyable activities and jobs that would be taking place throughout the winter. But as the days went by, the sun beamed brighter with little to no sign of snowfall coming at any time soon.

    Colorado is one of many states that are well known for their snowfall and classic wintery scenery. But as the year 2017 comes to an end, the Roaring Fork Valley has only received three snowfall days since mid-November. The most recent snowfall was on Dec. 14, accumulating only 3 inches of snow at Aspen and Snowmass. At the beginning of 2017, the valley had already witnessed 48 days of snow ranging from the months of January to April. The biggest snowfall of this year so far was in early January, where Aspen and Snowmass received 17 inches of snow within one day. The total amount of snow this year to present is 247 inches within 51 days. Comparing to the previous five years, 2014 was the year with the most snow, with a total of 346 inches within 67 days in total. The biggest snowfall at that time was on Jan. 31, with a total of 24 inches of snow received within one day. Since 2014, snowfall has been decreasing each year, introducing challenges for the valley.

    As the valley continues to wait for the delayed snowfall, numerous companies that rely on the winter season have been impacted by this drastic change, such as Groundskeepers of Aspen, located within the Airport Business Center in Aspen. This company is a full service landscape and snow removal company that provides high quality service to their Aspen customers year round. The owner and operator of the company, Glenn Loper, is in control of all business operations including management and organization of services. During the winter season, Loper and his team focus on snow holder blowing driveway or roads, snow plowing stamped concrete driveways, skid steer service, snow removal, and snow shoveling.

    As they began to prepare themselves for the long days of snow work ahead, this change in weather came to collide with the plans they had prepared.

    “We have been affected, but are thankful for additional landscaping and tree lighting projects,” said Loper, regarding the lack of snow that has taken place.

    Even though the company has not been active on the usual projects that they take on during the winter season, Groundskeepers of Aspen is still managing to do as much as they can by working on landscape and doing Christmas tree lighting jobs.

    Loper also said, “We received the majority of our snow last season in January and February. We have received little snow so far in November and beginning December.”

    Just last year, the company had completed 4,127 jobs in just the months of November and December and 8,320 jobs from January to April. In total, Groundskeeper of Aspen has achieved 12,447 jobs from the previous winter season.

    “We do not anticipate problems with our business since Mother Nature always comes through with winter storms,” said Loper.

    In spite of the slow start to the winter, Loper still has hopes for the company to recover later this month and the future months to come of next year.

    Even though the lack of snowfall has come to impact many companies such as Groundskeepers of Aspen, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA) located at the historic Aspen Powerhouse building, continues to do well with or without snow. ACRA is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the business community and enhancing the visitor’s experience. The CEO of the Aspen Chambers, Debbie Braun, is responsible to oversee the implementation of the strategic plan, the dispensation of the annual budget, the day-to-day operations of the office, and the performance of the staff. Their mission is to attract visitors to the resort, foster a dynamic Aspen experience, and provide valuable member benefits to support a sustainable economy.

    “The lack of early snow does not seem to be changing people’s vacation. The snow is excellent higher on the mountain and there are many in-town activities to keep everyone busy,” says Braun.

    Even though there has been little to no snowfall present at the time, ACRA knows how to satisfy the tourism that come to play a role in the winter season.

    “Currently Aspen is enjoying high occupancy in the month of December, peaking the last two weeks of December around 92%. Our occupancy is up 7% year to date,” says Braun.

    During the winter, the ACRA focuses on publicizing popular events that will take place within the season. According to Braun, “The Aspen Skiing Company takes the lead in the winter… we work with our resort partners, like the Aspen Skiing Company to promote early season packages and promote special events like Winterskol and X-Games.”

    As Braun mentioned, snow doesn’t significantly impact the decision of guests to book a destination vacation. With or without snow, tourism will continue to flow in and out of Aspen due to the events and attractions ACRA helps to plan and promote.

    “Everyday you meet new people, and get to share your love for Aspen. Helping local businesses connect and engage with the community is very rewarding,” says Braun.

    Even though tourism continues in Aspen, smaller skiing industries such as Sunlight Mountain Resort, located in Glenwood Springs, have been more severely impacted by climate change. Marketing and sales director, Troy Hawks, is responsible for marketing the resort as well as managing the downtown Ski & Bike shop, through advertising and sponsorships. He’s been living in the valley for almost three years, and claims that this season has been finicky.

    “We were scheduled to open Dec. 8 but had to push that back to Dec. 21 due to a lack of snow,” says Hawks.

    As for the recent snowfall that had occurred, Sunlight only received two inches of snow. It did help, but the resort needs more snowfall to maximize its winter activities.

    “Generally both the snow and economy have the greatest impact on skiing. When those are good, business is generally up. When those are down, we general see slight declines in revenues and overall visits to the resort,” said Hawks.

    As to receiving little to no snow this season, Sunlight has to look into other options in order to get through the winter season. According to Hawks, “Our backup plan is to make our own snow. We can cover about 1/3 of the mountain, and are looking for ways to expand and increase that.”

    The making of snow is costly and is an obstacle that Sunlight must face. Hawks continues to have hope for the future months of January and February, which he’s hoping will bring back average snowfall.

   As the year 2017 comes to an end, snowfall is still highly anticipated. This drought has come to have an impact throughout the valley, but many continue to manage through this change and will await for snow to appear soon.

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