‘Can’t control Mother Nature:’ Despite warm weather, local ski slopes report strong season start

Despite a warmer-than average first week of December, local ski slopes are reporting a strong start to their season.

Mark Gordon, general manager at Sundown Mountain Resort west of Dubuque, said the resort opened Nov. 26, and, after a few days off, began preseason hours on Dec. 1.

“Once the word got out that we were open last weekend, we had very steady lift lines with people that were eager to get out and enjoy what we were able to get open,” he said.

While the entire resort is not open, two long runs to the bottom of the hill are available, along with the entire beginner area and some terrain park features.

Meanwhile, Stewart Stoffregen, marketing director at Chestnut Mountain Resort, said the Galena, Ill., ski resort partially opened its slopes for the season on Dec. 2 and 3 and hosted “nice crowds.”

With temperatures well above freezing this week, Chestnut closed during the week but plans to reopen about eight runs today and Sunday, Dec. 10. Hours next week will be dependent on weather, Stoffregen said.

“We got a lot of snow made in those weeks when temperatures were colder,” he said. “Right now, we’ve had a little warm spell, so it’s kind of tough for us … We can’t control Mother Nature.”

Tim Gross, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Quad Cities office, said Dubuque’s average temperature for the first seven days of December was 34.1 degrees. Every day in that week was above normal for this time of year based on the 30-year average.

“Normal for the first week of December for Dubuque is highs in the lower 30s and lows in the upper teens,” Gross said. “(Thursday’s) high in Dubuque was 51 … and the low was 30, which is close to the normal high temperature for this time of year.”

He said the most recent year in which Dubuque’s December started out so warm was 2015, when the average temperature for the first week was 33.9 degrees.

According to Stoffregen and Gordon, 28 degrees or colder is the best temperature for making snow.

“You better believe I know exactly when it’s going to cross over into that (temperature) threshold: about 6 p.m. this Sunday,” Gordon said. “Our snowmakers will gear up and they won’t stop until it gets back up above 28 again.”

Gross said although temperatures are expected to return closer to normal on Sunday, the mercury is poised to climb again next week.

“For the Dec. 13 through Dec. 17 time frame, we are showing a 65% chance of above-normal temperatures,” he said.

Both Gordon and Stoffregen said their businesses will continue to post updated hours of operations — including open runs — on their websites and Facebook pages, and staff will keep a close eye on the thermometer.

“We know how the weather goes. We’ve been here long enough to know what we can do and what we can’t do,” Stoffregen said. “We were happy to be open this early … and we’ll keep making snow so everyone can come out and enjoy the slopes.”