Warner Canyon ski season over before it begins

A distinct lack of snow this winter has drought concerns heightened for the summer, but it’s already having an economic impact for winter sports enthusiasts in Lake County.

Warner Canyon Ski Area, Lake County’s lone ski resort, has canceled its 2017-18 season entirely, without opening for a single day this winter. Operated just north of Lakeview, Warner Canyon normally offers an alternative to skiers and snowboarders seeking a getaway with short lines and less-expensive lift ticket prices, rather than the often-packed runs of Mt. Ashland or Mt. Bachelor.

Normally, Warner Canyon Ski Area opens the last week of December and continues operations as long as snow permits, but this year a severe shortage of consistent snowfall across the region has forced the Fremont Highlanders Ski Club, operators of the ski hill, to close for the entire season.

The closure has a negative economic impact not only on operators of the ski area, but ancillary businesses as well, including Lakeview’s ski rental locale, M&B Ski Shop, operated out of Affordable Fitness. Whether open or not, managing Warner Canyon’s finances and upgrades is a year-round venture. Members write grants, plan maintenance, coordinate schedules and handle what can at times be tenuous finances during seasons when the snow has been lean.

During the summer, Warner Canyon still gets use, most notably with a large annual 3-D archery shoot, and it has been often suggested it may someday be converted into a stop for mountain bikers.

The ski season’s closure has an impact on winter life in Lake County from a social standpoint, too. It is a long-standing tradition that the people’s hill, dubbed “the world’s largest babysitter,” is something that local residents have invested in to keep it going as a safe and supervised place for parents to drop off kids for the day.

The regional snow shortage hasn’t only affected Warner Canyon, as the annual Chemult Sled Dog races were also canceled in January, and Mt. Ashland’s ski season started late awaiting snow, and closed again on Monday until further notice, pending additional snowfall.

The ski season cancellation at Warner Canyon has become an all-too familiar scenario in recent years. Warner Canyon failed to open for the 2011-12 season, was open only for a short stretch the following year, and did not open for the 2013-14 or 2014-15 ski seasons.

Despite some lean years, overseers have been diligent about upgrades to the facilities thanks to a federal grant and support from Lake County. Upgrades have included remodeling the lodge kitchen following a burst pipe, constructing a new lodge deck, clearing and expanding trails, and acquisition of 40 acres for additional parking and camping space.

The ski hill is known for its annual Snowfest, an end of season extravaganza with races, dinner, an auction and torchlight parade down the hill. With no snow available, organizers are adapting the tradition and instead planning a “No-Snow Fest” to celebrate to the best that conditions permit. Preliminary planning stages for this event suggest a barbecue on the lodge deck at a to-be-determined date.

For more information about Warner Canyon Ski Area, see www.warnercanyon.org.

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