China Peak staying open despite drought

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- After a promising start to the winter, dry conditions have returned making times tough for skiers and snowboarders. Badger Pass has now closed until more snow comes, and several other resorts are doing the same.

Like a snowboarder on the Tollhouse run, the chances of profits at China Peak are descending slowly. The year started off flying high with big snowfalls. Lately, though, the weather's taken a turn, and the resort is left picking itself up off the ground. But China Peak is not ready to wipe out its season. Because of the warm temperatures and the lack of snow, some of the slopes are a little slushy. There are also patches which can't be skied, but in a change of heart, the resort will stay open on a daily basis.

"We thought about shutting down for a few days during the week to conserve funds basically, but we decided against that and we are open every day," said owner Tim Cohee.

The owners know attendance isn't likely to skyrocket without natural snow. It's at about half what they expected this year right now. But they hope staying open consistently pays off in loyal customers. And those who make the trip up the mountain are getting ski lifts to themselves and mostly good conditions on almost half the runs.

"It's very nice," said Scott Heitman, who was visiting with family from Tehachapi. "Not too busy. Not too many people and my son, daughter, wife are out here and having some fun for the holiday weekend."

The deserted slopes are also a boon for beginners, and first-timers are the silver lining in a dark cloud. The resort has sold more beginners packages already this year than all of last year. So the future is not as bleak as it could be, but the owners are feeling the strain of extended drought.

"When you have a multi-year run like this which none of us have ever seen in the history of the sport, perhaps in history period, basically what that does is require us to put in more cash and to delay improvements," said Cohee.

New hotel rooms, a chair lift and a children's facility are all stuck on the drawing board until the weather cooperates and the slopes fill up.

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