HELENA — Spring is in the air, birds are chirping, bees are starting to buzz, and green is returning to the trees and grass. But the beginning of a new season means the end of another-the ski season.
However, it's not always a lack of snow that prompts many ski areas to close.
The signs of the end of the ski season are all around us. It can be a pond skim, a mannequin jump, or some other end-of-season special event.
Over the past weekend, Great Divide, Showdown, Discovery, and Lost Trail stopped spinning the lifts.
Snowbowl, Bridger, Teton Pass and Whitefish Mountain Resort will close the following weekend. And Red Lodge, Lookout and Big Sky will close later this month.
Most ski areas still have a lot of snow on the trails, certainly enough to ski. And more could always fall. Big Sky has had years where it has received over 7 feet of snow after the mountain closes.
Right now, Lookout Pass has a depth of nearly 80 inches. There's lots of snow over every inch of Showdown, and Whitefish has a base of 108 inches...that's 9 feet.
But many ski areas in Montana operate on National Forest lands under a special use authorization. For many ski areas, an easement exists through private property owned by the area to access National Forest lands. These leases typically have dates for use that begin in late fall and end in the spring. The Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest hosts two private downhill ski areas on lease land within the forest: Teton Pass and Showdown.
So not only does a signed lease with the forest expires, but people are on to other outdoor activities. Golfing, boating, yard cleanup, all the sports that you cannot do in the winter, people start doing in the spring when temperatures warm up... even though there's still plenty of beautiful snow still on the slopes.