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Philip Johnson's Ski-Lines
by Philip Johnson


A Daily Gazette sports blog
Ski season in Upstate NY

Gloom and doom forecasts affect ski areas

Once, when asked why his reports were so accurate, the legendary Boston television meteorologist Don Kent said that after he studied his instruments and wrote up his forecast, the last thing he did before going on the air was to open a door and look outside.
That would have been good advice for our local broadcast media last Saturday.
Reports called for temperatures below zero and suggested that it was a day to stay inside. But there I was at mid-morning, standing next to the novice lift at Royal Mountain, talking to owner Jim Blaise. It was a bright sunny day, and there was no wind. It was a perfect day to be outdoors on the slopes and trails enjoying the excellent conditions from the snowfall a couple of days earlier.
But there was lots of room in the parking lot. Why? Could it have been the cold weather forecast the night before that kept people away? Blaise thinks so.
“They are just killing us,” he said. “It is January, and here we are living in the northeast. What do they expect?”
The “they” Blaise was talking about is broadcast media outlets that offer weather commentary that suggests harm to listeners who dare venture out of doors that day.
“We see the impact of these forecast instantly” said Blaise.
Too bad for those who stayed indoors. They should have looked outside. It was a great winter day.
For ski area owners and others whose businesses and incomes are based on outdoor activities in snow season, which in our area is at least a quarter of the year, the broadcast media forecast is not just interesting, it is directly related to their livelihood. No matter how nice it turns out to be, if people stay home, their money does too.
Now, you would think that anyone living in our region for more than a week would know how to deal with cold weather. If not, winter becomes a very long, unhappy season every year. People are not designed for hibernation.
Long-time area meteorologist Neal Estano, who reports the weather on weekends for Channel 13, is a fine skier and long-time outdoor activities enthusiast. Asked about how he frames his forecasts, he said both listener enjoyment and safety are important to point out.
“It can be cold out there. And when it is, I have an obligation to report that. But extremities won’t fall off just because it’s cold.” he said. “You prepare for it. A proper forecast for last weekend would have been, ‘Get outdoors and enjoy the new snow. But be sure to dress warmly, and make sure to cover the extremities and protect your face.’ ”
I don’t think anyone could object to such matter-of-fact reporting. But not every forecast is like that, I find, certainly not those by certain on-air folks who begin whimpering when the first frost hits in the fall.
The best bet is to pay attention to the forecast, but keep it in perspective. After all, it is winter.
Check area websites before you leave for the hill in the morning to make sure there are no special considerations. Then go have fun.
If there is a question about comfort, I often rely on a three part principle in choosing where to go: “Short, close, and covered.”
A cold day is a perfect time to try one of the smaller areas in our region. I am often coldest on a chair-lift ride to the top of the hill. The shorter the ride, the less cold I am. With a short ride, you get more round trips on the hill and you are never far away from the base area, where there is warmth in the lodge as needed.
Close can be very helpful on a cold day. First, close means less travel getting to and from the hill.
Second, close can mean a surface lift like a poma or T-bar or a chair lift built close to the ground below the tree tops. That can keep the chilling effect of the wind away. As a downhill ski alternative, try cross country skiing or snowshoeing.
Covered refers to gondolas that protect you on the ride back up the hill after a brisk trip down.
I have long believed that the skiing between New Year’s and mid-February has become much more pleasant since gondolas have become more common. Not every place has a gondola. Those that do get my vote on a cold day.
With improvements in clothing in recent years, better lifts, and much more appealing base area lodges, a cold forecast the night before does not mean that you have to stay home in the morning. The ski season is short enough, so get out there and enjoy it when you can.
Of course, there may be days where staying inside is the correct decision. But most of the time in winter, there is plenty of fun if you just prepare properly for being outdoors. If in doubt, open the door and look out.
Give U.S. Alpine ski star Lindsey Vonn credit for pulling the plug on her Olympic dreams before she reached the starting gate. By announcing earlier this week that she wouldn’t go to Russia next month, she saved a spot on the U.S. team for another skier and put herself in position to move up necessary knee surgery and have a longer rehabilitation period for next year when she will be 30, about middle age for top Alpine ski competitors.
NBC will be the most disappointed. Their Sochi coverage prom­otions had been heavily focused on the telegenic Vonn.
Spots on the U.S. freestyle ski team in the aerial and mogul team will be decided at Lake Placid next week at the World Cup event Wednesday through Saturday. One sure starter will be Hannah Kearney of Norwich, Vt., who has been a dominating World Cup skier for the past four years.
Kearney, 27, is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the moguls event. Off the hill, she is one of the most pleasant, articulate athletes on the U.S. roster.
The Gore Triple
On a busy weekend day when the crowds get big, the Gore triple chair lift that dates back to the first days of ORDA in the early 1980s is a welcome alternative to the gondola for trips up the mountain.
It broke down over the Christmas holiday. Officials at the area expect the lift, once state-of-the-art, but now more than 25 years old, to be back in operation by the Martin Luther King weekend.

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