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Ski areas go great guns to open

Blast of arctic air allows snow making, early start to season

Friday, November 21, 2008
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Jeff Fitzgerald, left, and Jason Baker adjust snow guns Thursday evening atop Willard Mountain in Washington County.
Photographer: Bruce Squiers
Jeff Fitzgerald, left, and Jason Baker adjust snow guns Thursday evening atop Willard Mountain in Washington County.

— Ski resort operators are welcoming an extended blast of arctic air by activating their snow guns and hoping for an early beginning to the downhill season.

“This is early for us to start,” Chic Wilson, owner of Willard Mountain ski center in Easton, Washington County, said Thursday. “But there is too much cold for too long a period of time not to take advantage of it,” Wilson said.

Wilson said turning on the snow-making machines this early in the year is a real gamble considering the high energy costs involved.

He started his 32 snow guns this week hoping the below-normal temperatures — just above freezing during the day and down into the upper teens at night — will allow Willard to open the Friday after Thanksgiving.

At Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock, Mass., the snow guns have been going all week and the ski center will open Saturday for the first skiing and snowboarding of the season.

Hunter Mountain in the northern Catskills will also open about nine of its dozens of trails on Saturday.

During the past 24 hours alone, the snow makers at Hunter have created between 1 and 2 feet of snow on some of the ski trails, according to the ski center’s Web site, www.huntermtn.com.

West Mountain ski center in the town of Queensbury had not yet started its snow machines because it is finishing major renovations to its main lodge and adding seven new ski trails, according to a spokeswoman. But West Mountain is also targeting Nov. 28 for its first day of skiing.

The Maple Ski Ridge ski center on Mariaville Road outside Schenectady has not yet started making snow, according to its Web site, www.mapleskiridge.com.

Killington ski area in Killington, Vt., is already open with 16 of the resort’s 191 trails, including Pico Peak, covered with manmade snow. The Okemo Mountain ski center in Ludlow, Vt., has been making snow all week and will open for the season today, according to the center’s Web site, www.okemo.com.

Closer to home, all the snow guns were in action as of Tuesday at the Royal Mountain Ski Area in Caroga Lake. The state-operated Gore Mountain ski center in North Creek is also making snow full throttle this week in preparation for opening day on Nov. 28, the day after Thanksgiving.

The National Weather Service in Albany is predicting another five days of colder than normal temperatures for November.

“The cold is definitely below normal,” said meteorologist Hugh Johnson. But it’s not record cold.

Johnson said, for example, the low temperature on Thursday was 18 degrees, but the record low for that date was 6 degrees in 1986. Thursday’s high was 35 degrees, as recorded at Albany International Airport.

The normal temperature for late November is about 40, Johnson said. The arctic air from Canada is being pulled down into the Capital Region and eastern states by a strong, consistent weather system, he said.

He said this system will continue the frigid pattern for the next five days or so.

Things may warm up slightly late Tuesday or Wednesday when warmer, moist air from the Gulf Coast could move into the region, bringing with it the possibility of rain or snow.

Johnson said this system is too far in the future to say whether it will happen or not, but the potential is there.

Back on Willard Mountain, Wilson said he really thinks hard and long before starting his snow guns so early in the year. He said his electrical bill includes both a usage fee and a demand fee.

When the snow guns go on, it means he has to pay a demand fee for the entire month.

“These are big dollar gambles that we take to get us up and get us going,” Wilson said. “We could lose [the snow]. There is just no way to know.”

Cathy Hay at the Alpine Sports Shop on Clinton Street in Saratoga Springs said the cooler-than-usual temperatures and occasional snow flurries get people thinking about buying new ski equipment.

“We’ve been doing OK this fall,” said Hay, who owns the shop with her husband, Jack. “We are pretty optimistic.”

 
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