No snow, little go at ski resorts
Operators make push to be ready for holiday week
Jeff Kline is the type of skier who always keeps his ski bag packed. He normally hits the slopes about 20 times a year, in all kinds of conditions: fog, whiteouts, below-zero temperatures. But he draws the line when there aren’t enough trails open to justify the ticket price, which can run about $80 on weekends. So far this warm, dry season, Kline hasn’t skied anywhere in New England.
“I’m not spending that kind of money, sitting on a bus for a total of seven hours, to ski on two trails,’’ said Kline, 55, of Boston, who has been checking trail condition reports online, and recently went on a ski trip to Colorado with Boston Ski & Sports Club.
Ski areas across the region are struggling to open terrain this year because of miserly natural snowfall and mild temperatures that have limited opportunities to manufacture the white stuff. Most resorts will be up and running for the crucial Christmas week, but the number of trails open is well below normal. In Vermont, only about 17 percent of the state’s 1,200 ski trails were reported skiable yesterday, compared with 45 percent this time last year. In New Hampshire, just over 20 percent of the slopes have enough snow to ski on, compared with almost 50 percent last year.
Average temperatures have been 5 to 6 degrees above normal this month, according to AccuWeather, and snowfall amounts are down by more than a foot in some parts of ski country. Snow showers could bring a few more inches to the mountains during the weekend and again next week - and colder temperatures should boost snow making - but the major storm needed to build a base is not in the offing.
“I don’t see anything on the horizon right now,’’ said AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Walker.
Despite the low percentage of snow-covered slopes, ski area operators stress that December is often hit or miss, and resorts that have not opened yet are working to do so by next week, one of the three busiest time periods of the winter season.
Some resorts are reporting below-average skier visits and lodging reservations, but larger ones with massive snow-making capabilities, such as Killington in Vermont, which opened Oct. 29 and as of yesterday had 32 of 140 trails open, say business is ahead of last year.
“We’ve been really fortunate to be one of the only resorts to be open every day,’’ said Sarah Thorson, a Killington spokeswoman.
Shawnee Peak in Bridgton, Maine, for example, had to close one day earlier this week because of poor road conditions caused by freezing rain. Attitash Mountain Resort in Bartlett, N.H., opened for a few days after a 15-inch snowfall at Thanksgiving, but then closed until Dec. 13.
Mad River Glen in Waitsfield, Vt., which has limited snow-making ability, has not been able to open at all, but spokesman Eric Friedman said the situation is not as bad as it sounds.
“A third of the time, it’s really good skiing at Christmas; a third of the time, it’s marginal at Christmas; and a third of the time, it’s closed,’’ he said. “And it’s been that way since 1948.’’
Some skiers, tired of going down the same trails again and again, are finding other things to do with their time: getting massages, going out to lunch, or gathering for beers at local pubs.
“Our pool has been very busy lately,’’ said Allen Connors, general manager at the Bethel Inn Resort near Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine. “We’re definitely seeing more people kind of hanging around the inn here and looking for things to do.’’
Bethel Inn has also had to make adjustments because of the lack of snow, giving horse-drawn wagon rides, not sleigh rides.
The lack of variety on the slopes is causing other skiers to look elsewhere for their snow fixes. Dan Schlossberg, 50, who is unemployed, planned to take advantage of his free time by skiing this winter and bought a weekday pass to Cannon Mountain in Franconia, N.H. But he’s only been once and was disappointed to find that the expert runs - something Cannon is known for - were all closed.
“I’ve been watching the Weather Channel on the Internet and watching the snow pile up [in Taos, N.M.] and thinking about taking a trip,’’ he said.
To offset the lack of natural snow, ski resort marketing directors have been pushing out press releases touting their snow-making capacity. For instance, Mount Snow in West Dover, Vt., boasted that its snow-making system “can fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool with snow in just 47 minutes and 17 seconds.’’
Starved for news about the foot-plus snowfall they need, many areas yesterday used their websites to gush about the few inches that fell Thursday night and into yesterday. When the much-anticipated big blast actually hits, they say, skiers will turn out in droves.
“We could be seeing a case of pent-up demand,’’ said Myra Foster at Stratton Mountain Ski Resort in southern Vermont, which is aiming to get a third of its terrain open for the holiday weekend.
The effort could be helped by this weekend’s expected falling temperatures, which will allow for more snow making.
But that will not likely appease purists who prefer the dry, fluffy flakes that usually fall from the sky over the more moist concoction that shoots from high-powered guns.
“Mother [Nature] knows best,’’ said Michael Klein, 30, of Charlestown. “When you have wet snow on top of drier natural or even drier man-made, you hit a patch of it, it’s like whiplash.’’
But Mother Nature hasn’t been particularly helpful lately, said Killington’s Thorson: “She’s slacking this year.’’