2012-12-13 / Front Page

Badger Pass Nordic ski center is open

By Erik Skindrud
GAZETTE EDITOR


Badger Pass was one of the nation’s first developed ski areas when it opened in 1936. With a base elevation of 7,200 feet, most of this autumn’s storms have fallen as rain at the location, however. 
NPS | Contributed Badger Pass was one of the nation’s first developed ski areas when it opened in 1936. With a base elevation of 7,200 feet, most of this autumn’s storms have fallen as rain at the location, however. NPS | Contributed

Badger Pass's Nordic ski center and trail system open for the season on Saturday, Dec. 15. With just a foot of snow on the ground, however, the ski area's lifts and downhill runs will wait for additional snow to open. 

"Rentals will be available starting at 8:30 a.m. for (cross-country) skis and snowshoes" on Saturday, spokesperson Lisa Cesaro said on Friday.

The limited snowfall as winter approaches has skiers’ woolen knickers in a twist. Interviewed last week, El Portal resident Phyllis Weber is concerned about her family’s annual Christmas ski trip to Ostrander Lake.

“Last year, there wasn’t a speck of snow,” she said. “We’re really praying for snow this year.”

Early this month, a storm set an all-time record for “high minimum” temperatures in December, the National Weather Service said.

By another measure, the year 2012 is shaping up to be the warmest year in U.S. history.

Several projections, including one from Stanford University last month, suggest that changing climate is already limiting skiing in the Sierra.

Computer models show that the western U.S. will be the world’s hardest-hit region in terms of lost snowfall, Stanford researcher Noah Diffenbaugh and coauthors write in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The models see more of the West’s winter precipitation falling as rain. That means less water held in natural snow reservoirs until spring.

It also means less snow at resort levels and shorter periods with snow on the ground at mid-elevations.

The loss of snowpack in the western U.S. will bring enhanced wildfire, pests, and midwinter flooding, the authors note.

With California ski resorts located at lower elevations than Rocky Mountain ones, the ski-industry fallout will almost certainly be heaviest in the Golden State.

Earlier this month, the Natural Resources Defense Council said current projections hold severe consequences for the nation’s $12.2 billion winter sports industry.

Sierra snowpack could decline from 40 to 70 percent by 2050, the report says.

“Snow is currency,” report co-author Elizabeth Burakowski said in a statement. “If that currency is undermined by climate change, that industry is very much put at risk. The stakes here are enormous.”

As one of just four California ski resorts that operate without snowmaking, Badger Pass is among the most vulnerable of winter-sports operations.

Longtime skier Weber said mid-elevation snowfall has declined noticeably since the 1970s.

At least one Mariposa County ski facility has disappeared since then.

Back in the ‘70s, Yosemite operated a Nordic ski center at Crane Flat—located at 6,200 feet, Weber recalled.

“The snow level was definitely lower more often then than it is now,” she said.

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