Kate Michener sat on a bench outside of the main lodge, looking out at a white strip of snow Saturday. Skiers and snowboarders were clambering onto rattling chair lifts and whooshing down Hickory Way as a bright November sun beat down on the hill.
“There’s a butterfly, do you see that?” she exclaimed, pointing to a yellow shape as it fluttered through trees directly ahead.
Minutes later, she would see kids shed their coats, notice a boy in neon green shorts and utter “oh my gosh” when a couple of bees buzzed by.
For the first time in decades, Maple Ski Ridge opened before Thanksgiving. Mother Nature didn’t grant the Rotterdam ski lodge an early winter season, but a streak of cold, dry days last week so inspired the staff that they decided to make their own snow and kick things off early.
The lodge officially opened Friday evening, with 57 people stopping by to ski or snowboard in just four hours. On Saturday, despite temperatures reaching nearly 60 degrees, dozens of adults and even more kids showed up in the morning to get an early start to the season. The warm temperatures didn’t seem to dampen spirits any, either.
“To skiers, it’s a big deal how early you can get on a hill,” said Michener, marketing manager of Maple Ski Ridge. “It really doesn’t matter what hill it is or how much snow there is or even how hot or how cold it is.”
Michener has worked at Maple Ski Ridge for at least 50 years now, and she couldn’t remember another time she and the staff decided to open early. On Saturday, she explained how the group discussed the possibility of an early season late last week, after a cold blast created the perfect conditions for making snow.
“It was this wonderful shot of cold, dry air, so we decided to get the snow guns out,” she said. “We can only make snow when it’s cold and dry out, so we all sat down and decided that if we continued to get enough cold days and nights, we would put down as much snow as we could so that we could open early. And then we were like, well, will it work? Will people come out? You have to balance how much it costs to make the snow and how much income you’re going to get in.”
So on Tuesday, they decided to flip a coin. When they couldn’t find a coin, they flipped a credit card. When they did that, they decided to go with the best two out of three, and then four out of seven, and so on.
“There were some nerves,” chuckled Michener.
The boy she spotted wearing shorts — 13-year-old Winston Douglas — was grateful they decided to open early. He’s been skiing since the age of 3, and for many like him, the first ski of the season is highly anticipated.
“I heard it was opening, so I had to come,” he said Saturday after two runs down the hill. “It’s good to open this early because, you know, you just wait so long, but then when it opens, it’s like, it’s finally here after all that anticipation.”
Other kids had shed their jackets, with some wearing just a T-shirt underneath. As for the shorts, Douglas said he never had any intention of wearing snow pants Saturday — not after Friday’s warm blast of air.
Troy Duval had unzipped his coat before stepping up to the chair lift with one foot in his snowboard and the other out. The 32-year-old Cohoes man showed up Saturday with his fiancée, who would have been skiing if her ankle weren’t sprained.
“I have never snowboarded this early in the year ever,” he said. “For the last three months I’ve been watching old videos of old championship runs, like with Travis Rice, one of the world’s best snowboarders. I’ve been waiting months for winter to hit. I was telling her a few days ago, like, ‘damn, I’m looking at the end of December for a first run,’ and now all of a sudden we heard this place was open.”
As a high noon sun melted the ridge’s homemade snow Saturday, Michener wondered aloud when they would be able to open again.
“I hear that it’s going to rain,” she said. “That’s bad. It washes away the snow. But then it’s going to get cold again, so then I’m thinking we’re going to make more snow. Every time it gets cold enough, we’re going to make snow. It’s good to see the regulars back and our local kids who love to ride. But we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. If the temperatures and the stars line up, we’ll make more snow and open as soon and as often as we can.”
Michener said all news regarding the next opening and hours will be posted to the ridge’s website at www.mapleskiridge.com.