Several inches of fresh, natural snow is great for skiing but doesn't always cut it for area ski resorts hoping to lay down a base for the winter.
December's balmy temperatures have left many smaller local ski areas without much base. That means some are still trying to produce enough manmade snow to open primary trails, even as a massive storm is poised to dump upwards of 8 inches on parts of the Capital Region.
Evan Heller, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany, said a storm moving into the area should bring snow from late this afternoon through late Thursday. He said the storm is expected to dump its highest accumulations west of Albany. A winter storm warning is in effect from 7 p.m. today to 7 p.m. Thursday in counties including Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Fulton, Montgomery and Albany.
Most of the area will see upwards of 5 inches of snow, which may sound like a lot considering the Capital Region vastly escaped large accumulations of snow last winter. The Albany area got 5 inches of snow on March 1, Heller said, following a storm that delivered 4 inches the previous day.
The forecast of snow for this week can be both a blessing and a curse, explained Willard Mountain's Charles “Chic” Wilson. Getting the natural snow is always a help, but sometimes gives skiers the false idea that the entire mountain will be open.
“The last thing we want to do is disappoint people,” he said.
Willard, in Washington County, is close to opening for the season but still a couple of days away. Wilson said the forecast of snow is encouraging but doesn't necessarily mean he'll be able to open any more of the mountain than he had originally anticipated.
“Don't get me wrong, it would be wonderful,” he said of the forecast, “but you can't ski on 7 to 8 inches of snow.”
If temperatures cooperate, Willard will have at least three trails open by Friday, in time for the Easton ski area to capitalize on some of the all-important holiday week traffic. Wilson said the widely fluctuating temperatures lately have made it difficult for him to get any appreciable amount of snow on the mountain's main trails.
“It's slow going in this weather,” he admitted. “We just can't seem to get any consistent cold that will allow us to spread out.”
Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam, which opens for the season today, often faces the same issue due to its lower elevation and location. That means planning ahead when cold temperatures are in the forecast.
Instead of blowing snow on its trails, Maple Ski Ridge has accumulated large piles of snow that don't quickly melt off when the temperature warms. Manager Kate Michener said the piles can then be spread over the trails once a cold snap comes around.
“We're just as weather-dependent as the farmers,” she said.
Of course, it's the natural snow that brings customers out. Michener said snow in the forecast makes people think about skiing, which translates into more business.
“It brings people out,” she said.
Other small ski areas are already getting into the swing of winter. Royal Mountain, in the Fulton County town of Caroga, has been open for the past three weeks and should have up to 70 percent of its trails running by today. Owner Jim Blaise said the weather forecast, coupled with the light snow on Christmas morning and the mountain's snowmaking ability over the weekend, should help open the remaining runs.
“By Sunday or Monday, we anticipate being 100 percent open,” he said, “Things are going well.”
The larger mountains at higher elevations have been steadily opening trails throughout the month. Gore Mountain has received roughly 19 inches of new snow over the past week, allowing for it to open 11 lifts and 37 trails — or about 56 percent of the mountain — during the Christmas holiday.
“We have a lot of terrain open, and it's going to be a great holiday weekend,” spokeswoman Emily Stanton said in a voice message.