Ski areas thrilled with perfectly-timed blizzard
A picture making the rounds again in Maine shows a lighted road sign on wheels barely visible through the swirling snow, urging motorist caution. It reads: “The Roads Are Wicked Slippery.’’
To many, this bit of homegrown humor is just another sign that states where skiing is king have a rather Bizarro World attitude toward monster snowfalls. While many New Englanders equate winter ice and snow with suffering, especially for travelers and commuters, snowsports revelers around the region this week were singing the same holiday classic: “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.’’
“This storm couldn’t have been timed much better,’’ said Karl Stone, marketing director of Ski New Hampshire. “Christmas week is usually the most valuable time of year.’’
While much of the media focus was on people sleeping in airports during a nightmarish backlog of holiday travelers, winter vacationers flocked to ski areas throughout the Northeast.
“When you hear a forecast like that of a huge dump in the mountains, you just know something’s going to screw up,’’ said Julie Riddle of Framingham, who was skiing with her family at Sunday River yesterday. “Either it’s going to peter out or turn to rain or something. But not this time. This time we really got what they promised.’’
The Christmas blizzard dumped up to two feet of snow across New England after a string of cold temperatures allowed most areas to stockpile many inches of machine-made snow.
“In Vermont the state’s alpine ski areas had 1,000 trails open yesterday,’’ according to Jen Butson of Vermont Ski Areas Association. “That’s 80 percent of all the state’s trails.’’
Mount Snow in Wilmington, Vt., went into the vacation period with 80 percent of its trails and slopes open. Then came the holiday dessert.
“With this snow we’ll be able to open the majority — if not all — of the natural [non-snowmaking] trails,’’ said Vinnie Lewis, a Mount Snow spokesman. “For us this is just phenomenal — maybe 97 percent open with beautiful champagne powder and great stashes in the trees.’’
The storm’s impact was overshadowed by the chairlift accident at Sugarloaf. And yet there was even a twist of good news, when it was revealed that many who fell were spared a harder landing by the two feet of new, ungroomed powder below.
To many observers of the ski industry, even the negative publicity of a crippling blizzard makes a positive impact because of what Stone calls “backyard syndrome.’’ Some storms confined to the upper elevations are not seen back in the cities and suburbs where many skiers come from. Not this week.
“This gets people thinking about skiing and riding,’’ said Crotched Mountain general manager Pat Terry, who counts the storm as “a blessing’’ for ski country.
“It gets everybody thinking about skiing and snowboarding. It pulls people into skiing across all the resorts, especially when the populated areas get the snow. It’s good for ski areas, local restaurants, and any overnight accommodations. It’s good for everybody.’’
While man-made snow packs the groomed trails and slopes, it takes big natural snowfalls to dress ungroomed terrain for skiers and riders drawn to glade or tree skiing.
“Usually you don’t get the glades open this early,’’ said Chris Carleton of Rutland, who was taking a break between runs at Killington yesterday. “But this is awesome. I got up to the lifts first thing for all the fresh powder. You don’t get it like this that often.’’
At Bretton Woods near Mt. Washington, the base depths of snow had most of the groomed trials open going into the vacation week, noted its director, Craig Clemmer. But the storm and its foot of fresh powder allowed the mountain to open about 30 acres of glade skiing, some for the first time.
“The families coming up here could not be more ecstatic. There was a little bit of a travel issue, but some extended their vacations.’’
Bretton Woods also has a Nordic center and extensive trail network, and the snowfall helped more of the woods trails open, though high winds blew snow off some flat areas and caused drifts in others.
One of the largest Nordic centers in New England, Jackson
“Well it’s a matter of nature gives and nature takes away,’’ said Thom Perkins, director of Jackson Ski Foundation and the cross-country center. “We had a really good start [with the storm] but then two days of high winds blew snow off all the fields. Up in the woods we got 10 to 24 inches, but the race course is spotty, and the golf course around the office here, the snow was blown away.’’
As a rule of thumb, the ski industry counts the Christmas vacation week for as much as one-third of the season’s business, with February another third and the rest of the winter accounting for the rest.
While no ski areas are tallying up revenues just yet, the well-timed storm just might get the new year rolling in the right direction.
“This is right up there with the best openings ever — maybe top two or three,’’ said Lewis, of Mount Snow. “It’s nice, beautiful snow, and it covered down country, too, so that brings people out.’’