Elusive ski season cut short
Warmth compounds woes at resorts around region
With goggle tans and bare torsos on display at ski areas around New England, resorts that got a late start because of unusually mild weather in November and December are facing an early end to the season because of sweltering temperatures in March.
Temperatures that soared into the 70s last weekend and into the 80s this week are wreaking havoc on spring skiing, driving some resorts to close several weeks earlier than usual. Just a few days ago, half the trails in Vermont and New Hampshire were open; now only about a quarter remain. This time last year, 85 percent of the terrain was still skiable.
Many resorts called it quits after last weekend’s balmy weather and more will follow it this weekend, including Mount Snow in southern Vermont, which is shutting down about three weeks earlier than usual.
“Mother Nature has not been kind,’’ said Dave Meeker, the Mount Snow communications manager.
Spring skiing is not a huge money maker for most resorts, but record high temperatures in March have made an already shortened season even shorter. Ski industry trade groups in New Hampshire and Vermont estimate that skier visits at some resorts fell by as much as 20 percent from last season, when it snowed early and often.
All the small community ski areas in Maine are closed, as they often are this time of year, but four of the state’s biggest resorts are operating this weekend, including Shawnee Peak, which closed during the week but will open one last time on Saturday.
In Vermont, which has a $750 million ski industry and is the nation’s third most popular destination for skiers, winter generates more visitor revenue than any other time of year. But a short, warm season has squeezed some hoteliers.
Bromley View Inn in Bondville, Vt., located within about a half hour of five ski resorts - four of which will be closed by next week - is normally sold out this time of year, but less than half its 17 rooms are booked this weekend. If Stratton Mountain cancels a ski race next weekend because of warm weather, innkeeper Kami Golembeski said she would lose all her reservations. “Ten, 12 room nights can add up to a mortgage payment,’’ she said.
Jim Narkiewicz, general manager of the Days Inn in Keene, N.H., which has three ski areas nearby, said snow making at the resorts kept skiers coming, but the lack of natural snow kept snowmobilers away. Only one snowstorm in late February generated enough snow to attract snowmobilers, who last year filled up to 10 rooms every winter weekend, he said.
Across New England, snowfall totals were about half what they normally are, according to AccuWeather, and temperatures ran 4 to 6 degrees above average. That is in stark contrast to last winter, when snowfall totals were double the average in some areas and many resorts reported near-record skier visits.
At Magic Mountain in southern Vermont, which closed Saturday, the season started two weeks late, ended three weeks early, and did not get much snow in between.
The ski area, which can only cover about half its terrain with artificially made snow, got 75 inches of natural snow - half its normal total. Even when it did snow more than a foot, as it did just once, rising temperatures kept it from sticking.
“Almost immediately after that [storm] - which has been typical for this winter - it got warm, rained. Then we had two weeks without any temperatures going below freezing, even at night, which is ridiculous,’’ said Geoff Hatheway, Magic’s marketing director. “The week before we closed, every day was 60-plus, which is a killer.’’
The balmy winter led to a significant decline in skier visits compared with last year, said Hatheway, who declined to give specific figures. Still, the once-struggling mountain sold enough $3,000 shares to become a skier-owned cooperative, giving it nearly $1 million to invest in snow making. Spirits were high on closing day, with skiers flying down the mountain in kilts, capes, and fake mustaches.
Some ski areas with extensive snow-making capabilities have not felt the pinch as much as others. Stowe Mountain Resort in northern Vermont only expects a slight decline in skier visits from last season. Still, it may have to close earlier than usual. “Because of the warm weather, the end of April might not be part of the plan anymore,’’ said marketing director Jeff Wise.
But many diehard skiers are not ready to give up. Randy Ross, a Somerville writer and Web consultant, is on his second ski trip to Montana this season because of what he describes as anemic snow in New England. He has been skiing in a foot of powder at Big Sky Resort and bemoaning the 80-degree temperatures back home.
“You’re always hopeful that the season will go on, that there will be another snowstorm,’’ he said. “I hate it when it’s sunny any time between December and the first or second week of April.’’
In Danbury, N.H., Ragged Mountain had hoped to reopen for the weekend for one last hurrah, but the high temperatures melted too much snow.
“That’s it,’’ said president Bob Ashton. “We’ll move on to golf.’’