Making lemonade during a winter of almost no snow 

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TELLURIDE, Colo. — Can you have a ski resort without snow falling from the heavens? That's the proposition Telluride and a good many other resorts have been unwittingly testing this winter.

There has been scant snowfall in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. Surveys conducted last week found snow depths 22 per cent of normal. To the north in Colorado, they were reported to be 65 per cent of normal. Aspen got 23 centimetres over the weekend, hardly worth mentioning in most years. This year, it's the equivalent of a man biting a dog.

In Telluride, the chief executive of the community's promotional arm reports no grim hits to the tourism economy — not yet at least. "It's not all about snow," said Michael Martelon, of VisitTelluride. "But if we had it, it would make everything else better."

Martelon is quick to note that Telluride differs from resorts close to cities in that its customers mostly come from long distances. Denver is six hours away, Phoenix eight. Snow is somewhat less important to its visitors than weekend skiing customers on Colorado's I-70 corridor or those from Utah's Wasatch Front.

Telluride still has skiing, thanks in part to $15 million in snowmaking investments in the last six years. But for many visitors, skiing is not the end all, be all. There are galleries, restaurants, and even the Jud Wiebe Trail. Located on the south-facing slopes above Telluride, it was still accessible even after the storm left 18 centimetres of snow over the weekend.

Christmas was strong, and the only repercussion so far has been a softening in bookings for spring break. Lodges require 45-day advance payment, he noted. But for the moment, bookings are pacing to be ahead of last year.

Martelon sees lemonade when others, especially locals accustomed to daily blasts of powder, see lemons. "It might be a blessing in disguise," he said. "Taking care of the guest becomes the absolute priority, because the snow isn't doing it for you."

That said, he suggested checking back in May, to see if his optimism was fully justified.

Elsewhere in the West's ski towns, Ketchum and Sun Valley reported a lucrative holiday season, better in most cases than the year before. Before, there was powder to ski in the morning. This year, there was little compelling reason to arise, so people stay out at night, explained the Idaho Mountain Express.

At the foot of the ski area, the Ketchum Ranger Station had no measurable snow on the ground on Jan. 1. That's a first since record keeping began in 1938, according to the National Weather Service.

In Aspen, there was optimism that snowmaking — helped by cold nights — will save the day for the X Games Aspen on Jan. 25 to 28.

"It really is impressive what the snowmaking and grooming teams have been able to do," Jeff Hanle, spokesman for the company, told the Aspen Daily News.

In California, an early January snow survey near the entrance to the Sierra at Tahoe ski area revealed an average depth of three centimetres of snow. The water in that snow is three per cent of the long-term average for the location, at about 2,020 metres in elevation, reported Lake Tahoe News.

Will this change?

"There is still a lot of winter left," Frank Gehrke, who conducted the survey, said. "January, February and into March are frequently productive."

Affordable housing body established

WINTER PARK, Colo. — A Winter Park Housing Authority has been established, a reflection of the tightening housing market in the resort town.

Full-time residence in housing within the town dropped seven per cent between 2000 and 2010, according to a housing needs assessment study, while construction costs now exceed $350 per square foot, reported in the Sky-Hi News.

In the adjoining town of Fraser, elected trustees have created a Community Housing Task Force and have given the body responsibility for identifying potential properties for development. The trustees had previously appropriated $500,000 for development of community housing.

First US$2 billion year for sales of real estate since 2008

VAIL, Colo. — Real estate sales by Thanksgiving had nudged ahead of US$2 billion in Eagle County for the first time since 2008. The county includes Vail and Beaver Creek. The Vail Daily reports that sales through the first 11 months of the year had exceeded those of the prior period in 2016 by 16 per cent.

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