With the ground mostly brown just a few days before Christmas, some residents of Telluride gathered old skis and burned them in an offering to Ullr, in Norse mythology the god of snowshoes and some other items. The next day it snowed 4 inches at Telluride, the Daily Planet reported.

Coincidental or causal? Whatever. The San Juan Mountains have been so barren that just 4 inches was tantamount to a big dump in some winters.

At Telluride and a whole ton of other resorts in Colorado, snowmaking is saving this Christmas from the Scrooge of a late-arriving winter. By Christmas Eve, snow had started whitening the landscape. But the effect was of a thin blanket, as you might use when watching TV, not a down comforter as appropriate for a cold winter night.

“It won’t be a disaster,“ said Chris Diamond, the former chief executive of the Steamboat Ski Area. He’s now a consultant and has authored a book, “Ski Inc.,” a roundup of his career in the ski industry from Killington in 1972 to his years at Steamboat.

In the Vail area, the story was the same. Not much snow and a lot of brown until Saturday afternoon. “It’s finally snowing,” said one Facebook poster. 

Actually, it’s been worse before. Most memorable in the modern ski area in the West was the winter of 1976-77 followed by another warm, dry winter of 1980-81. In that first winter, just 2.8 inches of snow fell at Crested Butte in all of December. The total that cold winter was 61 inches.

How does this winter compare? The Crested Butte News talked with Open Snow’s Joel Gratz, who has records for the past 36 seasons. “This year is low but eight other years were as low or lower with snowfall from Oct. 1 through Dec. 17,” he said. All is not lost, though. “Two of those eight years had near-average snow for the rest of the season,” he added.

In Vail, hotels would normally be full for the two weeks of Christmas and New Years. But this year may be different. The Vail Daily reported that guests were getting deferred reservations, postponing their stays until February and March in the belief that snow will come.

Jeanne Fritch, general manager of the Sitzmark, one of Vail’s oldest and most venerable lodges, said rates have been “slashed” for early season guests.

On the West Coast, the snowpack in the Tahoe Basin last week was 35 percent of average. The adjoining area around Truckee was at 68 percent. But some well-timed snow and snowmaking windows helped Tahoe-area resorts produce decent coverage, reported the Reno Gazette-Journal. 

DARK SKY RESERVE

In Idaho, Ketchum and Sun Valley are in the middle of a new 1,406-square-mile designation of the first dark sky reserve in the United States. It’s one of just 12 such designated reserves in the world.

Dark sky boosters in Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley had hoped to be first in the nation, but their efforts await approval of regulations that would limit use of outdoor lighting in new development.

The Idaho effort had been pushed along by Steve Botti, mayor of Stanley, a town of 63 located a little more than an hour north of Sun Valley and Ketchum. He referred to the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve as something not just for locals and other people from Idaho, but for “visitors from across the world who can come here and experience the primeval wonder of the starry night sky.”

Reserves can only be formed through partnerships of multiple land managers who have recognized the value of quality nighttime environment through regulation and long-term planning.

In Colorado, the towns of both Westcliffe and Silver Cliff have been designated dark sky status after each municipality adopted regulations limiting light pollution and light trespass. Next, retired architect Jim Bradburn, who designed the iconic teepee-terminal at Denver International Airport, had hoped to put Custer County under the dark-sky tent, but ran into opposition. The valley lies east of the Sangre de Cristos.

THOMPSON TRIBUTE

Almost 13 years since his suicide, the writer Hunter S. Thompson continues to be the subject of fascination and semi-idolatry.

One of those memorials is on the ski slopes at Snowmass, which altogether has quite a few in-the-trees, off-the-slopes assemblages to honor various causes and people. The shrine, the Aspen Daily News explained, is but one of dozens of quirky and unsanctioned on-mountain warrens of memorabilia tucked within the four local ski areas.

It consists of an American flag, a gloved arm with “gonzo” written on it, a lizard covered with multi-colored jewels, Tibetan prayer flags, and a copy of The Woody Creeker (he lived along Woody Creek, outside Aspen), among other artifacts.

The Daily News reported that Aspen Skiing Co. neither promotes the existence of the shrines nor advocates for their removal, as the company recognizes they are popular with some guests. Some ski instructors and mountain ambassadors get requests for directions.

Allen Best publishes mountaintownnews.net.