A lack of natural snow has prompted area alpine ski centers to work their snow guns extra hard to handle the holiday rush to their slopes this week.
Ski Areas of New York, a trade group that monitors ski conditions daily, reports bases of between 2 inches and 40 inches on open trails among area alpine ski centers in and around the Capital Region. Local cross-country ski areas are reporting zero snow bases, and most remain closed.
Alpine ski centers have had to make snow because of unseasonable conditions, according to the National Weather Service in Albany. The service reports a total of 6.1 inches of fallen snow to date; the normal amount is approximately 13 inches. “A good part of the Northeast is at least half and less than that in terms of snowfall,” said meteorologist Kevin Lipton.
On top of that, temperatures have been above normal compared to a year ago, making it difficult for snow to stick once it falls or is made. “We are averaging 5.3 degrees above normal for the month of December,” Lipton said.
The area had 4.5 inches of snow by this time a year ago, but temperatures were 2.3 degrees below normal for the month, Lipton said. That meant ski centers could make snow that stuck.
This year, centers are having to make more snow more often to keep their bases up, Lipton said. “Even the higher elevations are having a tough time keeping it down. The amount of time and energy to keeping snow packed has been extensive,” he said.
Lipton said the long-term forecast for snow is not good. “We are not seeing a pattern of natural snow kicking in anytime soon,” he said. “It is depressing, but the winter of 2006-2007 started slow and then we got bombarded in February and March. A slow start this year doesn’t mean the whole season will continue that way,” he said.
Kate Michener, spokeswoman for Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, said the ski center has man-made snow covering 25 percent of its trails. “We were able to make snow Christmas Day and Christmas Eve,” she said. There were 150 people skiing and snowboarding Monday over beginner’s to expert trails on bases ranging from a few inches to 3 feet, she said.
Maple Ski Ridge, which opened Dec. 17, a week later than owners would have liked because of the weather, plans to make additional snow to get all its trails open. “We would prefer the temperature to drop below 28 degrees. The colder it is, the better it is to make snow,” Michener said. “People can count on us that once the temperature dips below 30 degrees, we will have snow guns going to make as much snow as we can.”
Emily Stanton, marketing director for Gore Mountain, said the ski center has been making snow 24 hours a day, using 160 snow guns. The mountain is 37 percent open for skiing on trails with an average base depth of 8 to 20 inches. “We have over 10 miles of terrain open. We have 23 trails planned for [today], serviced by eight lifts, and the trails will include terrain of all ability levels,” she said.
Stanton said December has “not been the snowiest December, for sure, but this has been an ideal time to use these guns. They allow us to get terrain open quickly.” Gore installed the snow guns this summer.
When the center is fully open, trails can have a base of 50 inches, she said.
Mike Kausch, co-owner of Goldstock’s Sporting Goods in Glenville, said the lack of snow on the ground has not stopped products from flying off the shelves.
“We have been slammed today,” he said Monday, “People have been buying skis and boots, even with no sale in place,” he said. He said snowshoes and cross-country skis are not moving because of the lack of snow.
“People are expecting snow and the mountains are making it. This is a peak, peak week. People are going to go and ski; they will find snow. They have been anxious to get out,” he said.
Kausch remains optimistic the season will turn out solidly. “The weather [for snow] is getting better; the economy is getting better,” he said.