Written by Staff Writer at CNN
That snowbird migration is well underway. This week, visitors to the California Sierra Mountains, Nevada Rockies and Rocky Mountains are witnessing an unexpected tourist-blockade.
Barely a week into the popular peak-season for tourist visits in these once-ubiquitous ski resorts, jurisdictions in and around some of the world’s most famous destinations are shutting their doors in fear of impending avalanches and other disasters.
Start with the foot-thick avalanche walls that prompted the cancellation of ski season in Austria’s Tyrol Region, following a 14-year-old’s death last week after he plunged into a deep, wet crevasse. Other resorts forced to close down due to the looming threat of catastrophe, including the Austrian resorts of Lech and Lech-Moser, will be working hard to leave the rest of the skiing season open — or at least skeletal — for business by reopening within days of the disaster.
As we cruise at 1,500 meters, around 3,500 feet above sea level, our shoulders are aching and our pants pockets are tighter than usual. It seems the only explanation for that rising desperation is that we’re in one of the world’s most dangerous snowbound locations.
Although there are hordes of Japanese tourists in town for the Kite Festival — a months-long free-spirited celebration of kite flying that extends into fall — is no report of any avalanches or other weather disasters. In fact, our flight home is no different from any other.
The threat of catastrophe comes almost daily to Idaho, too. More reports are filed each day of avalanches and similar events, including a small slide that closed one section of the Snake River Highway outside Rexburg today.
But even after the tenuous start to the high season in the Rocky Mountains, unseasonably warm weather and a few minor falls — much like the ones we’ve observed over the week we’ve spent north of Idaho Falls — have managed to elicit a question from our press guides: “Is it still safe to ski?”.
Not quite. Despite the current warm snap, temperatures are forecast to drop in the near future, and there are some only ill-timed snows, like the knee-high remnants that infested the peak above our window the other day, and the edges of the highway as we bounced along.
After the few splashes of water that fell to the icy road, our guides backpedaled along the highway in a haphazard effort to get to our destination, Utah Valley, via the ever-popular Crested Butte trail. But as in many ski areas, Colorado’s ski area industry is propped up by a $15.5 billion revenue stream that is quite literally dependent on snow and easy access.
Sadly, after a few missed turns, the float slowed to a trickle — and then dissolved back into the river below. Though we missed the natural sculptures — tiny, brightly colored bridges and rocks shined by the surrounding sunshine — we did not miss the major, colossal break in the highway that lasted until we finally made it to the road.