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Man-made snow increasingly critical to Utah ski seasons as winters become warmer, shorter

SALT LAKE CITY -- At ski resorts across the state of Utah, snow making equipment is working whenever the temperatures drop to ensure the estimated opening days are met.

Making snow early in the season is nothing new but it may become more important every year.

“Winters are starting later and they are melting earlier and that trend is just going to continue,” said Brian McInerney, a Hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City.

Citing statistical trends for a warming climate in Utah, McInerney said the outlook for ski resorts, particularly those at lower elevations, is not good.

“By 2035 to 2065, areas that are 100% snow-covered are going to be roughly 50% snow-covered or less at the lower elevations,” McInerney said.

With a base at nearly 8,000 feet of elevation, Snowbird Ski Resort may be less in danger than other ski resorts. All the same, 30 snow making guns are turning 150 gallons of water per minute into snow to ensure the resort is open on November 22. Mother Nature doesn’t always make it easy.

“Anything more than 28 degrees is just a little too warm for what we need to have in terms of making sure that the snow that we make sticks around,” said Brian Brown, Communications Manager for Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort.

Man-made snow tends to have a higher water content than natural snow.

“It’s a very dense snow, so it sticks around a lot longer, it melts slower,” Brown said.

It’s good for building a base, but far from the powder that earned Utah the nickname the “greatest snow on Earth.” Based on climate projections by the National Weather Service for Utah, man-made snow may become more important to keep Utah’s ski industry running.

“If you don’t have snow making, then you just won’t have snow early season,” McInerney said.

SkiUtah estimated the economic impact of the 2016 - 2017 ski season on the state at $1.43 billion.