A bright fourth of july sun beams down on Squaw Valley, California, as local photographer Keoki Flagg lounges by the pool, enjoying a beer while bikini-clad women roam about. But it's not the view or the sensation of sun on skin that he always remembers. It's the sound. "I can never forget the flapping noise windbreakers make when somebody's ripping down the hill," Flagg says. "You hear it all morning. Then, after an hour or two of pointing it, everybody just peels off a layer and heads to the pool."
Squaw Valley is one of the few resorts in the country that annually pushes the ski season as deep into summer as possible, making it to July about every other year. Though the joy of late-season skiing is almost universally agreed upon, and though some of the biggest storms of the year inevitably fall the week after the lifts stop, most resort operations still shut down weeks-sometimes months-before the snow is gone.
But this may be changing. Twenty years ago, about the only people making summertime turns were U.S. Ski Teamers on Oregon's Mount Hood or Mt. Bachelor. Lately, the growth of spring and summer camps at places like Colorado's Arapahoe Basin, Vermont's Killington, and British Columbia's Whistler-along with an increase in off-season group visits to ski areas around the country-is helping to keep more of the nation's lifts running longer.
"We get some of our biggest storms late in the season," says Suzie Barnett-Bushong of Wyoming's Grand Targhee, which opens for skiing a couple weeks every June. "Our summertime group business is strong, and the fact that we offer skiing is one of the reasons why."
It's a commonly held belief among ski-town locals that the spring stoppage is a result of early closing dates mandated by the Forest Service. But the majority of the nation's ski areas could run their lifts as long as they want without violating government leases. The real issue, resort officials say, is simply a matter of economics.
"Most of our tourists are golfing by then," says Mt. Bachelor's Chris Johnston. "Even if we have the snow, the only people who ski very late in the season are locals with season passes."
Yet some resorts persist, creating programs that will ultimately attract the loyal late-season skiers of the future. A-Basin's spring training camps, which run through Memorial Day weekend, are becoming more and more popular every year. And Snowbird-another perennial late-season contender-sometimes sees skier numbers rise late in the year. "If you stay open long enough, the interest picks back up again because people just like to say they skied in July," says resort spokesman Dave Fields. "It becomes a novelty."
Financial considerations aside, tradition alone can keep some resorts committed. "Summer skiing is just Alex's thing," says Squaw Valley's Katja Dahl, referring to Squaw's owner Alex Cushing. "It's the whole 'ski the sun' theme. Even if we didn't make any money, he'd still open the mountain on the Fourth just so all the locals could ski it."