By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
First, I did not blame the media for the fact that many people in Southern California don't realize how much snow we can make or how good it can be. I only said I wish we could get more help from it to get the word out—this season being a case in point.
There are too many other errors and distortions in his article for me to respond in detail, but I will comment on his central theme–and belief in–declining natural snowfall in Southern California. I repeat my earlier comment that, no, I don't believe we've seen such a decline in the nearly 60 years I've been on the scene, the last 42 of which has been in ski area management. And now I'll elaborate. For most of the '50's we were in a drought, with hardly any natural snow. Big Bear Lake was nearly empty and Snow Summit would have gone out of business without the introduction of snowmaking here in the early '60's. We continued to be short of natural snow for many seasons in the '60's and '70's and relied, as now, on snowmaking to survive (now, actually, we can prosper). There was a natural snow drought in the entire west from 1976 to 1978 in which Snow Summit did great on man-made snow while other resorts were closed, or nearly so. There was another snow drought in the mid '80's to early '90's in California that forced Mammoth and other Sierra resorts to put in snowmaking systems. Conversely, we have had a number of wet, snowy winters over the years, including recent ones in'98 and '05. As Sheila Hamilton at the MWD noted,
the Big Bear Lake's low/full cycle has historically been about 10 years, a reflection of both rain and snow precipitation.
I would add that I estimate that at least half of our winter precipitation over the decades has fallen as rain. I have vivid memories of huge, intense rain storms commonly occurring since I was a child, called the "pineapple express," from Hawaii. Warm winter weather in Southern California in the form of heat waves and rain in the mountains has been an integral part of our business experience from its inception. (Coker repeatedly confuses the issues of drought with that of snowfall; that is, precipitation with that of temperatures.)
In our snowmaking world, cold air is more important than natural snowfall, and as far as winter temperatures go, we make snow nearly every time it's cold enough and we have not seen a decrease in the number of hours each season available for it, which has averaged about 1100 hours since the middle '60's. This might be the strongest evidence (but not proof) that our average winter mountain temperatures are not warming.
All this, of course, is anecdotal, but there is some actual snowfall data. Take a look at the Western Regional Climate Center's monthly total snowfall (in inches) for Big Bear Lake for every year since the 1960-61 season, (www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/cliMONtsnf.pl?cabibe) (There are some missing day's and month's snowfall measurements, but they would only add to the total.) We have plotted the data on a graph and added a 5 year moving average trend line, which indicates a trend of decreasing snowfall from the mid '60's through the '70's, an increase from then up through the mid '90's and then a decrease in the past 10 years. (Remember, this is only for Big Bear, not all of California.) We also added a linear trend line for the entire 46 year period, which shows a slight upward trend as well as a polynomial line that shows an increase through the period until about the mid '90's and a slight decrease since then. You can interpret these trend lines anyway you want, but no one could conclude there is a long term trend one way or another of the annual amount of natural snowfall in Big Bear.
[The data we've linked to and Mr. Kun refers was faxed, emailed and snail-mailed to us, also.]
Matt Coker responds: My story began with me asking Dick Kun whether he follows natural snowfall trends. He answered with an emphatic no. Now he sends this letter and faxes me reams of data that show he follows these trends intimately. That's what I assumed when I asked him about it, and I would have incorporated this new information had he provided it in the first place. As it was, I went out of my way to make sure everything he and his staff told me about snowfall, snowmaking and global warming were in my story, which must be among the most comprehensive stories ever printed about Big Bear Mountain Resort's truly impressive snowmaking operations. As for errors and distortions, I did not say Kun is in denial, a Big Bear environmentalist did. I called Kun a pragmatic businessman. Based on his obvious misreading of my story, perhaps that was an error and distortion. If so, I apologize.
Just a minor correction for Matt Coker's piece about Southern California's snow business. The bears encountered by the first Europeans to visit today's Big Bear were not "black bears," but rather the subspecies Ursus arctos Californicus, the now-extinct California grizzly immortalized on the state's flag. While less dramatic, Snow Summit owner Richard Kun and other winter resort operators are following in the explorers' footsteps in their single-minded pursuit of profit at the expense of wildlife.