A light dusting of snow on Metro Vancouver’s North Shore mountains on Saturday offered some relief — and hope — to snowboarders, skiers and mountain staff alike.
By early evening at Cypress Mountain Resort, alpine enthusiasts rode up chairlifts amidst falling snow.
The West Vancouver ski hill’s snow ruler had recorded one centimetre of fresh powder by 6 p.m., according to webcams.
It was welcome weather for the popular ski resort’s general manager, Matt Davies.
“The forecast actually looks quite promising,” he told CBC News in an interview at the resort’s highest-elevation Sky Quad lift, the only intermediate and expert terrain Cypress could open all week — which required skiers to hike up a short hill to access another chair down the mountain at the end of their day.
The snow comes after heavy rains and unusually high temperatures, as well as snowpack in the region’s mountains being nearly 60 per cent below normal, according to the B.C. River Forecast Centre.
This year’s warm and wet weather, experts say, can be partly explained by regular global cycles, but climate change will likely worsen the trend as temperature records shatter year after year.
“It’s not the kind of ski season that we’re used to,” Premier David Eby told reporters Thursday. “There’s a lot of concern this might be the new normal for many parts of our province.
“This is an industry that has good years and bad years without question — and they are accustomed to those ups and downs — but I think the worry is this might be an extended down.”
After a month that’s seen local ski resorts struggle to open runs, Davies admitted this weekend’s expected 20 centimetres of much-needed snow won’t do much more than dust the barren lower elevations.
More importantly, however, has been the return of sub-zero temperatures, he said.
Freezing conditions allow Cypress to take advantage of its recently purchased array of 59 artificial snow cannons, each with a mini-weather station to adapt to conditions.
Each night this week, Davies said the high-tech system has pumped out more than six million litres of snow onto the resort’s runs, and runs day and night except when temperatures climb for a few hours after midday.
It’s an expensive investment, but one Davies said will become increasingly essential to overcome warmer winters. So far this year, he said the resort has created 130 million litres of artificial snow.
“We’re producing snow everywhere that we do have hydrants and can place guns,” he said, as he rode a chairlift over barren slopes Friday, some with open streams flowing across what once were ski runs.
“Sustained cooler temperatures through next week … will really sustain our snow making system — and increase the number of runs we can have open.”
Resorts like Cypress and others nearby — Mount Seymour and Grouse Mountain — do not offer refunds for bad weather. Instead, several offer future credits if pass holders pay for an optional guarantee they’ll be open a minimum number of days each season.
As of Saturday, Cypress was open 66 days this season, just 10 short of its guaranteed opening days.
Davies disputed the notion — one he’s seen expressed on social media — that opening the resort with only a tiny fraction of its terrain is a way to avoid crediting those who bought the insurance.
He said he’s been able to make it through a dismal snow season without laying off staff, and still open runs for all experience levels.
He said although the snow certainly isn’t the best it could be, it’s better than not skiing at all.
‘I lost some money this season’
The limited terrain and warm conditions hadn’t stopped skiers and boarders from making the small hike and lift on Friday, before Collins run opened.
“Not so much snow but very exciting,” Bruno Felix, a snowboarder and Cypress season pass holder, told CBC News. “I think I lost some money this season, but it’s OK, it doesn’t matter.
“Let’s go have some fun today.”
Skier Gosia Regdos was up with her friend on Friday and said although conditions weren’t the greatest, she was glad she came after missing many days she’d normally be on the slopes.
“Last year I came up 20 times,” she said. “This is my third day this season.
“So I’m really hoping that the rain forecast for the city will be snow up here — it’d be great.”
The bad-weather strategy chosen by Davies — of opening only the upper-elevation area to advanced skiers this week, reducing night skiing hours, and focusing snow-making on a few key runs near the mountain’s base — appears to have paid off.
By Saturday, the resort was able to open the top-to-bottom Collins run on one of its two mountains, meaning skiers no longer had to trek uphill in their heavy ski boots between two lifts.
Like many B.C. resorts, Cypress has invested heavily in activities other than skiing. It now has a patio eatery with firepits, a summertime rail ride down its slopes, and Davies said they are set to expand those offerings this year.
“We’ll continue to come up with new and creative strategies to make sure that we’ve got snow where we need it, when we need it,” he said.
“And we’re working on building out our summer business … There’s more coming for this summer.”