As the National Weather Service noted on Thursday, the temperature at Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport hit 94 degrees just after 1 p.m. Less than 150 miles to the north, the Killington Ski Resort was open for business.
It’s a stark New England example of the seasonal overlap.
Even as Bostonians begin to ponder installing their air conditioner units amid the first summer-like temperatures of 2018, a few will still sneak north for more skiing.
Approaching the weekend, four New England resorts plan to be open (with New York’s Whiteface joining the list of eastern resorts still going). Vermont’s Jay Peak, Killington, and Sugarbush will be open for business on May 5 and 6. Maine’s Sugarloaf, which will also be open, had more than 100 skiable trails last weekend.
How is this even possible?
High temperatures have been soaring in northern New England, just as has been the case everywhere else in the region.
“It was 80 degrees here yesterday, but we’re still planning to open this weekend,” Sugarloaf’s Noelle Tuttle explained on Thursday.
The ski areas have been able to remain open because of an immense snow base, much of which fell in the later part of the season.
It’s not unusual for resorts to stay open so late (Killington’s season ran until June 1 in 2017), but things looked bleak at times this winter.
“The beginning of March is when it really started,” said Killington spokesperson Kristel Fillmore. “Up until that point, the weather was kind of a rollercoaster. It was either negative 10 [degrees] or raining. March rolled around and we got six and a half feet of snow in the first two weeks, so it really turned the winter around for us.”
This was the case all over New England.
“From March 8-16, we picked up 43 inches of snow,” Loon Mountain’s Greg Kwasnik said. “That was a really good period. We had a fair amount of snow on the mountain heading into April. Some years there’s a lot less.”
Mount Washington, as usual, sets the standard.
While ski season is usually winding down in April and May, one particular place is just getting going.
Mount Washington’s Tuckerman Ravine, famous for its steep headwall, is an annual destination for skiers hiking up for a challenging run back down. Since the weather on the mountain is so extreme, it’s effectively impossible (and unsafe) to ski until the spring.
This season, a continuation of snowfall through the end of April delayed the regular skiing timetable.
A few days ago, we saw a pic from the Mt Washington Auto Road of the cleared snow along the "Cragway Drift" as they continue their work to clear the road for spring. Since we had a shift change today, we decided to snap our own versions around the same s… https://t.co/5h2q78yV80 pic.twitter.com/iUbHkJ3wBs
— MWObservatory (@MWObs) May 3, 2018
Avalanche danger has persisted:
Yet the season has finally begun to swing into its familiar pattern, with the annual flow of New England’s boldest skiers playing their part:
Bike, ski, golf.
One strange outcome of the spring season is that resort-goers can partake in sports that don’t traditionally mix. At Killington, for example, it will likely soon be possible to ski in one area and mountain bike in another.
“Last year, we had our Superstar lift running for skiing and snowboarding while at the same time we had the Snowdon lift running for mountain biking, and it looks like that’s going to happen again this year,” said Fillmore.
And if that isn’t enough, another element will soon be added to the outdoor event possibilities.
“Our golf course, mountain biking and adventure center will all open the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend,” Fillmore explained. “And as of now, it looks like we’ll still be open for skiing and riding that weekend as well. So ideally, you could do all three.”
How long will the season go?
Eventually, most resorts decide to close regardless of snow. At a certain point, it becomes less profitable to keep running chairlifts and staffing the mountain as crowds begin to turn their attention to non-winter activities.
And even in snowy bastions like Maine’s Sugarloaf, melting snow eventually becomes a factor.
“Lower elevation terrain is definitely starting to get patchy, but above the halfway points, there are still trails that have nearly wall-to-wall coverage,” said Tuttle. “It’s a tough decision [to close], but when snow is this soft, we’re not able to get the groomers up to really patch things up. So it really comes down to what’s actually feasible for us to do.”
Still, as Tuttle adds, “when the lifts stop running, we definitely still allow hiking.”
And for those willing to “earn their turns” by hiking, the season can continue right up until (and sometimes past) the official start of summer.
One place where skiers will find a running lift until the very end is Killington. Priding itself on having New England’s longest ski season, Fillmore offered a simple explanation.
“With our last lift, we run it until you can’t ski all the way down.”