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The Power of Powder

The Power of Powder

Mark Silva spent his childhood racing down the snow-packed slope of Suicide Hill.
The Power of Powder
Folks take to the slopes at Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake on December 30, 2012.
Photographer: Stacey Lauren-Kennedy

Mark Silva spent his childhood racing down the snow-packed slope of Suicide Hill.

Watching the scores of joyous, terrified kids gripping saucer sleds over the steep bumps and hollows between Bradley Boulevard and Iroquois Lake in Schenectady’s Central Park, he figured the name still fits decades later.

“We used to start at the top in ice skates,” he said, “that’s how hard it was packed. The speed would carry us all the way across the lake.”

Silva traded in his Flexible Flyer for an out-of-state career two generations ago. His dad still lives in Schenectady not far from Central Park but much of the family is scattered. He came from his current home in Alexandria, Va., to give his grandson Noah, a 4-year-old from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., a taste of his own childhood.

The two of them coasted down Angel Hill, a tamer slope next to Suicide Hill, on a rusty old runner sled. Under dark, chipped varnish, the wooden seat read Flexible Flyer.

“It’s the same one I used on this hill when I was a kid,” he said. “My dad still had it in his basement.”

The trip was likely planned long before snow actually showed up. Sunday afternoon, a good base from two significant snows made for a slick run, but before Christmas the hill was basically grass.

“He came all the way here just for the snow,” Silva said, patting the heavily bundled kid on the back. “I’m glad he wasn’t disappointed.”

Noah grinned silently from deep in his padded hood. He wasn’t the only kid happy to see snow.

At nearby Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, a steady stream of cross-country skiers blazed a trail with an enthusiasm of unusual intensity.

“We were skiing down back alleys right after it snowed,” said Linda Smith, dressed in a bright purplish jumpsuit at the head of the trail. “We beat the snowplow out.”

The golf course is one of her favorite places to ski, even over alleys. In no mood to chat, she blasted down the trail at a stiff post, almost frantic to enjoy the snow.

Returning, exhausted skier Dave Mitchell explained, “last year I think we only got one snowstorm, and that was heavy and wet.”

This year, he said, everyone whose skis spent last winter in the garage rafters are anxious to get out there.

“It’s been pretty crazy here,” said Dave Tedeseo, who runs the golf course restaurant. “There have been about 75 skiers here every day since the snowstorm Wednesday night.”

The municipal golf course doesn’t groom trails or charge skiers for the privilege, so aside from a few cups of hot chocolate its business isn’t dependent on snowy winters.

Downhill ski slopes are a different matter.

On the phone Sunday evening, Jim Blaise, owner of Royal Mountain Ski Center in Caroga Lake, raised his voice over the happy din of his clubhouse.

“I think people are a little snow-starved,” he said.

Usually a heavy snow will actually discourage skiers because they don’t want to make a dangerous drive. This year, they came out in droves. Since Thursday, 600 skiers a day have bombed his slopes. After last year, he said, they’re desperate, and he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s a big relief,” he said.

Last year, he was able to make enough snow to cover his slopes, but with few actual snowstorms people didn’t really think about skiing.

“There’s no advertising that will get people to the slopes when their yards are green all winter,” he said.

Blaise isn’t the only one whose career involves many fingers-crossed hours watching the Weather Channel. A large portion of Goldstock’s Sporting Goods sales are dependent on heavy snow.

“We were doing a little snow dance here,” said manager Jeff Kausch, “and we finally got it.”

Everything from coats to sleds to all manner of skis and snowboards flew off their shelves with the first flakes of snow. With more than 80 ski models, the store depends on snow to stay open — the more snow the better.

According to Ian Lee, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Albany, snow enthusiasts may have to be satisfied with the snow already on the ground, at least for the next week. A few of what he called “disturbances” will pass over the region tonight, Wednesday and possibly Friday but will probably not yield much more than an inch of accumulation.

“The real issue is going to be the cold,” he said.

Highs will be in the teens, but for most of the week temperatures will likely dip down into the single digits at night. The weather center doesn’t expect high winds at this point, though even some wind will make the winter nights feel nearly 10 degrees colder.

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