Friday, July 13, 2018

Large Climate Vulnerability at the Proposed Nordic Valley Ski Resort

Nordic Valley is a small ski area near Eden in the Odgen Valley east of the northern Wasatch Mountains.  It has a base elevation of 5400 feet, the lowest in Utah, and a vertical drop of 1000 feet.

The owners, however, have recently announced major expansion plans (see this Salt Lake Tribune article published this morning and this Ogden Standard-Examiner article published on June 25th) that include the installation multiple lifts including a 4.3 mile long gondola from North Ogden and expansion onto 2800 acres of national forest.  The map below is from the Nordic Valley expansion plan web site (, which unfortunately is oriented so that north is toward the bottom.  The summit elevation would be around 8100 feet, a tad higher than the base of Snowbird and a tad lower than the base of Alta.

There are a host of concerns about the proposed project highlighted in the articles linked above, but let's talk about this from a weather and climate perspective.  This would be a remarkably low elevation ski area for Utah, with a base on the Eden side near the current 5400 feet and, if the map above is to be believed, 4725 feet on the North Ogden side.

In the climate of the late 20th and early 21st century, the area around Eden has been quite snowy for its elevation.  As I like to say, pound for pound it is the snowiest place in Utah.  Just to the north of Nordic Valley, the Ben Lomond Trail Snotel Site at 5971 feet has a maximum median snowpack water equivalent of 19.1 inches in late March.  Observing sites don't exist elsewhere in the Wasatch at that elevation, but I suspect there's nowhere in the range at around 6000 feet that compares to that.  Higher, at the Ben Lomond Peak site at 7688 feet, the maximum median snowpack water equivalent is 37.2 inches in early April.  This is higher than the 24.1 inches at Thaynes Canyon (9247 feet at Park City Mountain Resort) and just a bit lower than the 42.9 inches at Snowbird (9615 feet).  

However, the low elevation makes Nordic Valley the most vulnerable ski area in Utah to climate change.  The graph below illustrates estimates of the fraction of precipitation that currently falls as snow that would instead fall as rain at Wasatch and Oquirrh Mountain SNOTEL sites for every degree Celsius of warming.  By far, the highest sensitivity is the Ben Lomond Trail site, with a 20% reduction for 1˚C of warming, 40% for 2˚C, 55% for 3˚C, and 70% for 4˚C.  Ben Lomond Peak's sensitivity is lower due to it's higher elevation, but it is still larger than at Thaynes Canyon or the Snowbird SNOTEL due to it's lower elevation.  Snowpack sensitivity, not examined here, would probably be higher.  
Source: Jones (2010)

The bottom line is that the new Nordic Valley, even with expansion to the Wasatch Crest at 8100 feet, will still be the must vulnerable Wasatch Mountain ski resort to future climate change.  It is at an elevation where the fraction of wintertime precipitation that falls as snow will be decreasing the fastest and at which vulnerability to wintertime thaws and sublimation losses will be the highest.  

On the other hand, the owners don't seem to be too concerned.  In an interview with the Ogden Standard Examiner, James Colman, the resort manager said,
"There’s been climate change for millennia. There’s no question the Earth goes through cycles, there is climate change, in general the Earth has been heating up. It’s not something I worry about a whole lot myself. We do the best we can to deal with it, to improve our snowmaking, to improve the way we manage the mountain.  
"I just think there are bigger things I have to deal with, personally, that I can have more control over than the climate. I don’t think it’s conclusive, personally, that climate change is human caused. My home in Durango, 10,000 years ago, was under 2,000 feet of ice."


  1. ugh. the age of trump.

  2. Well, I guess it's the owners/investors money to chuck away if they want, but if I were a potential investor, I'd be worried. Snowmaking only helps if temps stay cool enough.

  3. Probably turn out to be Utahs first year round dh/lift served mtn bike park.