Why Do Ski Resorts With Snow Close Early?

by Simon Naylor | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

There's still plenty of snow, you might be thinking so why do ski resorts close early in the Spring rather than later if there is enough snow to continue skiing? Don't they want more business?

The truth is, after a certain point in the year as the temperatures rise, visitors numbers drop off significantly and it's simply not profitable for resorts to stay open longer when you take into account paying all the staff, ski patrol, lift operators, and extra work maintaining the dwindling snow.

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Why It's So Expensive To Run A Ski Resort 💸

The main reason ski resorts close earlier than you might like comes down to profitability. Even if there is tonnes of snow left on the ground or an unseasonably late snow dumping of fresh powder, there are simply not enough people turning up and buying lift tickets to outweigh the fixed expenses.

Resorts have to pay for:

  • Lift operators
  • Ski Patrol
  • Snowplows
  • Maintenance
  • Snow making machines
  • Water & electric bills
  • Insurance
  • ..many more expenses

Not only that but most ski resorts do not own the land they're on and must pay rent to the landowner or a permit to the national parks to use the land. Soldier Mountain Ski Area in Fairfield, Idaho for example pays between 3-5% of gross income per year to the U.S Forest Service (source).

In addition to this, if a resort doesn't own its own snowcats it can expect to pay upwards of $20-30,000 per year, per machine to rent one.

A huge expense also comes from making enough snow at the beginning of the season to open in time and to maintain the groomers throughout the season when the weather can't produce enough on its own. Some mid-size resorts may spend $30-40,000 per day just making snow (source).

As you can see these are just some of the costs ski resorts must face and for many smaller resorts with old equipment, turning a profit can be a challenge. Many smaller ski resorts are now managed by non-profits and are finding it hard to compete with the larger resorts with more cash behind them.

Seasonal Workers 📅

Because ski resorts are not open year-round or need different people for different jobs in the winter and summer months, most workers are seasonal.

The resort must find more new people each year than a traditional company because it cannot employ most of them year-round. Many workers are committed to other jobs or other events in the summer that they plan around the end of the ski season. So if a ski season were to stay open longer it would need to find more staff or have staff willing to extend their season which might not always be possible.

Season Ticket Holders vs Day-trippers 🎫

“Pass holders have already paid so there is no more revenue from the pass holder,”

Tim Cohee, China Peak Ski Area Owner

As the weather warms, other outdoor activities like hiking or mountain biking become available, which means fewer people come to the slopes even if they are open. Not many people plan a ski holiday in May or June which means revenue from day-trippers is unsubstantial and not enough to pay for the costs of staying open.

The Problem with Spring Snow 🌱

Even with late dumping of snow, the temperature will eventually rise and the snow is likely to get sticky and slushy at one time or another (the lower the resort the more likely this is)

While season pass holders can come and go while the conditions are good, those paying for a full day of skiing expect better conditions - and that might not be possible (source).

Not only that but Spring snow requires more labor to get the groomers into shape. With the snow melting fast in some areas, it's a constant battle to evenly distribute the snow into thin areas and touch up any exposed grass or rock that could damage skis or cause falls.

Every Resort is Different 📌

There is a significant drop in demand after Easter. Some resorts make the determination it doesn’t make sense after a date...

Michael Reitzell, California Ski Industry Association

Each resort makes the determination of when they're going to close based on calculations that look at previous years' footfall and the amount of snow that was still on the ground.

If the revenue to expense ratio makes sense they may look at extending the season. If they've been burnt in the past because of huge expenses or a lack of snow at a previously scheduled end of the season, then they're more likely to be more conservative.

Still, it can be bad PR for a resort to close too early when they could extend the season because of substantial new snowfall as Heavenly ski resort found out.

“Wow! Are you Kidding me?!!! Most of your Mountain and lifts were closed over half the season due to weather, Now...we can finally enjoy the mountain without storm or winds and you close half the lifts?”

Eric, Facebook comment. 

How To Ski in Spring Snow? 🍃🌤

Warm weather skiing counts as anything above 0°C (32°F) when the snow begins to melt. If you're skiing later in the season, here are some handy tips to have more fun and what to watch out for.

Slushy snow 🌡

In warm melting snow, the higher water content makes your skis slower and the surface feels stickier. I recommend making wider more rounded turns so you're not as tired at the end of each run and to wax your board with warm weather wax for a better glide.

Night time re-freeze 🌙

During the nighttime, snow or rainfall can re-freeze and make icy patches more common for early morning skiers. Don't dig your edges in as hard on ice and slide through a larger turn radius with a slightly wider stance.

These are some snippets from my much larger piece: Your Guide to Warm Weather or Spring Skiing

Why Do Ski Resorts Close Early In The Day? 🕒

Not only are many skiers frustrated with early closures, many wonders why the ski lifts close so early in the day?

My local resort, Sierra Nevada closes at 4:45 pm (the most southerly resort in Europe) while Whistler, Canada closes its lifts at 3 pm from November to January. Hours are extended by increments to 4 pm as the days get longer (source).

The main reason lifts close early in the day is safety. In the winter it gets darker earlier and much faster, so each resort needs to close the lifts before dusk sets in. The bigger the resort or the shorter the day; the earlier they have to close the lifts so that no skiers are stranded in the dark, tired after a long day.

Once the lifts are closed, skiers still need to make it back down to the resort, and this can take at least an hour or more depending on their speed or if they stop to watch the sunset.

Ski patrol will always do the last sweep to make sure no one is left out on the mountain on their own.

P.S If you're planning to ski late or near dusk always have a head torch in your backpack just in case.

How Much Snow Do Ski Resorts Need? 🌨

At the start of the season, ski resorts need at a very minimum a base of 20 inches (50cm) to open the lifts. Ideally, they need to double that. The final number depends on how even the surface is and whether the slopes are mainly shrubs or rocks.

At the end of the season, ski resorts need much more snow to stay open because it's melting fast and the snow canons won't be in use (too expensive to run and it needs to be -2°C (28°F) or colder for most snowmaking machines to work).

I go into much more detail about snow cover and what happens if it doesn't snow over here: How Much Snow Do Ski Resorts Need?

How Long is a Typical Ski Season?

5-6 Months from November to April/May in Europe and North America. In the southern hemisphere in countries like Argentina or New Zealand, the season typically runs from June to October.

To learn more about ski seasons around the world and one special resort that stays open through the summer! read my article here.  

Final Thoughts

As much as we would love ski resorts to stay open, when you do the math it doesn't make business sense. If each extra day was profitable, I'm sure the ski resorts would love to stay open even longer. More profitable ski days, more money.

The reality is almost no one plans a May or June ski trip - because if they did and the resort wanted to stay open - there simply might not be enough snow to ski!