By this time last year, Stowe Mountain Resort had poured tens of thousands of dollars into ads trying to convince Massachusetts residents - who were still basking in fall-like weather - that there was enough snow covering the Vermont slopes to ski down.
But so far this year, after two snowstorms pounded New England in the past week, Stowe has spent only 20 percent as much money to attract outdoor enthusiasts. Mother Nature has taken care of the rest.
"When you get a northeaster, it's always a reason to jump up and down and do the Snoopy dance," said Michael Colbourn, vice president of marketing for Stowe, which was covered with more than 38 inches of snow over the past week. "But to have it hit before the holiday in a widespread area of New Hampshire and everywhere else, it's just good for our business."
New England ski areas are enjoying their strongest season opener in at least a decade, thanks to a chilly November that let them run snow-making machines sooner and the heavy December downpours of powder from the skies. That's helping the cost-burdened industry bounce back from last year's disastrously warm winter and generate buzz among skiers and snowboarders for the all-important holiday week.
"This year we're off to the best start in 10 years" Stowe's Colbourn said. "There were a few days in December last year when we had no other choice but to close the resort. It was 50 to 60 degrees."
The busy December holidays, from Christmas through New Year's, can generate 25 percent or more of the ski season business at the region's resorts. Last December's sparse snowfall knocked down Vermont ski areas' revenues by 60 percent for the month. When the season ended in mid-April, revenue was about 15 percent lower than in the previous year.
"Things were pretty bleak," said Tori Ossola, vice president of marketing for Ski Vermont, a trade organization. "When we don't have the snow conditions for people to enjoy, they don't come and stay with us. It really affects us completely."
While it's too early to tell how many skiers will storm the slopes this season, ski resorts expect brisk business during this year's holiday stretch. In Vermont, 80 percent of the terrain is already open - compared to only 15 percent this time last year, and 60 percent to 70 percent historically. And Ski New Hampshire said 459 trails were open across all 19 ski areas yesterday, compared to 83 trails open across only 14 ski areas a year ago.
"People are making reservations and keeping them," Ossola, from Ski Vermont, added.
AlpineZone.com's Northeast Skiing and Snowboarding Forum was buzzing yesterday on the topic of "Could this be our best season ever???" And so many people sitting behind computers wanted to peek at the Killington Resort's powder Sunday via the Vermont ski area's user-controlled Web cam that they had to wait 10 to 12 minutes for a turn, rather than the usual 3 minutes and 41 seconds.
Today Killington plans to open more terrain, giving skiers access to Bear Mountain 10 days ahead of schedule and closing in on being 100 percent open by Saturday.
Other ski resorts used snow-making machines to open early: New Hampshire's Attitash used the machines to open top-to-bottom routes on Nov. 18, a full month ahead of last year's openings.
Now, there's plenty of natural powdery goodness to attract skiers. Killington received 31 inches of snow during the past week, boosting the season's total to 81.5 inches as of yesterday - almost three times as much snow as last Dec. 17. And Attitash received 13 inches of snow in the last seven days, bringing the season's total to 31 inches - already half as much as fell throughout last season, which ended April 1.
Psychologically, it also helps that Mother Nature has doused Boston with 19.6 inches of snow through yesterday, compared to only 0.8 of an inch by last Dec. 17.
"When you get walloped, you think Vermont must have snow," said Arthur Woolf, an economist at the University of Vermont who follows the regional economy. "That's important for the day tripper people or the marginal skier who's deciding whether to come up or not."
Nicole C. Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.