West weather turns July 4 into skier's paradise
Sunday, July 3, 2011
As the Fourth of July weekend kicks off, people across the West are donning shorts, bikini tops and Hawaiian shirts — and then they're hitting the slopes.
Ski resorts from California to Colorado opened for the weekend to take advantage of an unusual combination of dense lingering snow from late-season storms in the Sierra Nevada and the Rockies and a high-pressure system ushering in warm air from the east.
Resort operators were reporting large crowds, balmy temperatures and plenty of bare skin.
"I've seen bathing suits, funny costumes like Hawaiian skirts and silver sequined pants. Shorts are very standard today," said Rachael Woods, a spokeswoman for California's Alpine Meadows, which has offered Independence Day skiing just one other time in its 50-year history. "People are coming off the slopes and putting on flip-flops."
The weather at the base of the mountain was in the upper 50s.
At Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort in Utah, 783 inches of snow this season smashed the old record of 688 inches set in the winter of 1983-84. By the time the resort closes for the season after Monday's holiday, it will have been open a record 202 days.
Colorado's Arapahoe Basin Ski Area drew more than 1,500 skiers and snowboarders Saturday — about half as many people as a regular-season weekend day, said spokeswoman Leigh Hierholzer. The resort, located 70 miles west of Denver, last offered skiing on Fourth of July weekend in 1997, she said.
The weather allowed some of the more adventurous skiers at Arapahoe to try "pond skimming," a blend of snow skiing and waterskiing in which an individual picks up as much speed as possible going downhill and then attempts to coast over the top of a mid-mountain lake.
But while snow-sport enthusiasts are celebrating, the peculiar conditions are proving frustrating — and even deadly — for visitors to some of the West's popular camping and hiking destinations. This year's massive snowpack is thawing, causing rivers and streams to surge and prompting flood warnings.
At Yosemite National Park in California, one hiker was killed and another remained missing after they were swept off a bridge into a reservoir Wednesday by unusually high runoff. Several of the park's popular high-country campgrounds, cabins and other amenities remain closed due to snow.
Officials at nearby Stanislaus National Forest have had to turn away disappointed visitors seeking permits to hike the popular backcountry this weekend, said Karen Caldwell, summit district ranger for the forest, located primarily in Tuolumne County.
Much of the terrain above 8,000 feet remains blanketed in snow, while some lower-elevation areas are blocked by high- and fast-running creeks and overflowing rivers.
"Many people from the (Central) Valley have been stopping at the ranger station with the expectation they can go backpacking to their favorite destinations ... They are under snow," Caldwell said.
Oregon and Wyoming both saw their second-wettest spring in 117 years of record keeping as a result of late-season snowmelt and abundant rain, according to the National Climatic Data Center.
Despite the potential hazards, chilled rivers and snowy mountains might sound pretty good to those battling scorching heat that reached triple digits in some places.
In Phoenix, a 10-year-old record high for the date was broken when the city reached 118 degrees.
The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory for the San Francisco Bay area, warning the elderly, the very young and the infirm to avoid spending too much time outdoors. Farther south, Santa Barbara County planned cooling centers in libraries, senior centers and other community facilities in seven cities.
Of course, not everyone has the option to travel to beat the heat. In Arizona's Maricopa County, Sheriff Joe Arpaio ordered a box truck filled with thousands of bags of ice to be delivered to the county's outdoor jails.
Arpaio said inmates would be able to have as many bags of ice as they needed and could use them as they saw fit — including to sit on.
Associated Press writers Martin Griffith in Reno, Nev., and Tim Reiterman in Dardanelle, Calif., contributed to this report.
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