It’s cruise time!
That is ski cruise, of course, the time each year when days are longer, the weather moderates and people from the New York metro area turn their attention to spring activities not requiring a drive north. What a great time to go skiing.
This year has been interesting. Early snow and snowmaking temperatures allowed areas in our region to be up and running by early December. But unusually cold temperatures over the popular Christmas-New Year holiday week kept many people indoors and off the slopes.
The second big holiday in the ski season is the Martin Luther King celebration in mid-January. Warm weather and rain, followed overnight by plunging temperatures, made skiing more challenging than tempting this winter during the three-day holiday.
With less than ideal earlier holidays, the recent President’s Day weekend and school vacation week was even more important than usual from a ski business perspective.
The week started with a bang. Record crowds turned out over the weekend and the standard complaint this time was not about conditions on the hill, but the number of people on the slopes. With modern high-speed lift systems getting people up the hill quickly, the old grump about long lift lines is gone, replaced now by gripes about crowding on the trails. After the weekend, the question of limiting the number of tickets sold in a given day came up again. No public area in our region does that now and, with the unpredictability of weather and attendance, chances are none will soon.
How big was the Presidents Weekend? Well, Gore reported more than 7,200 skiers at the area on Sunday, an all-time one-day record. The parking lots were full and cars were alongside the access road almost down to Peaceful Valley Road. Okemo reported the largest one-day attendance figure since they instituted the electronic data lift card system a couple of years ago. At Catamount, south of the Capital Region on the New York-Massachusetts border, area vice president Rich Edwards reported that there may have been a few spots left in the parking lot by mid-day, but attendance was way up for the weekend.
Then, you may recall, warm weather happened. Average snowfall and aggressive, efficient snowmaking earlier this winter built a good base for area hills. But when temperatures reach almost 70 degrees, snow melts. By mid-week, ski areas had sizable wet spots and even bare ground in places. The record crowd that weekend melted away, too, as the holiday week went along.
So what does that mean for the remainder of our ski season that usually goes on into April?
With continued mild temperatures, especially when there is little wind, the skiing has been very good this week, despite the fact that most areas by this time have shut down, or at least seriously curtailed snowmaking activities. It is unlikely that any will start regularly again, even if there are extended periods of temperatures below 27 degrees, when the guns operate efficiently. It is a budget decision.
The burden of making ski conditions appealing now falls mainly to the groomers who work the trails between dusk and dawn. What snowmaking that is done is largely limited to building piles in central locations where it can then be moved for trail patching as needed.
The process seems to be working just fine. Most areas remain open and still have good trail counts. And the groomers have done their magic to make the ski surface very good. A good snowfall will help and history suggests we’ll get a couple this month, maybe not in local backyards, but certainly at elevation where the ski trails are. And the bonus soon to arrive is Daylight Savings Time and the warmer, longer days that brings.
Very important now, especially as we get further into March, is checking first on-line with the areas you plan to visit before hitting the road. Not only will that give you current information on ski conditions, but it will also alert you to lift ticket deals and special events which are plentiful at this time of year.
So, with the Olympics over, and plenty of groomed snow at ski areas throughout the region, you can still unleash your inner Mikaela Shiffrin or Shaun White. Go take a ski cruise.
Section II skiers came up big at the state championships earlier this week. Competing at Bristol Mountain near Rochester, Queensbury’s Hunter Montgomery and Hannah Klingbeil of Schuylerville won state Alpine championships. In the Nordic events, which were moved to the North Creek Ski Bowl at Gore, Brian Beyerbach of Queensbury had the best area finish with a second place in the boys’ 10k. The top Section II girls’ finisher in the individual event was Emily Atamanchuk, also from Queensbury, who, with teammates Bailey Gangel and Maggie Borgos, won the cross country overall team championship.
The next edition of the Winter Olympics will be in 2022 in Beijing, China. The location of the 2026 games will not be determined until next year. It appears there will be no U.S. city in the running. The last Winter Games held in the U.S. was at Salt Lake City in 2002. Salt Lake, Denver, Colo. and Reno, Nev. are the places being mentioned as candidates to host the 2030 Games.
HEIDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
My choice for the greatest Olympic performance ever by an athlete is Eric Heiden and his five speedskating gold medals in each of the five races — 500 meters to 10,000 meters — at the Lake Placid Games in 1980. Until last weekend, Heiden, now an orthopedic surgeon, had never been back in Lake Placid since winning those medals 38 years ago. His visit to the town was sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee and Heiden made a public appearance at the Olympic outdoor oval on Saturday. There were lines of people there to meet him. He had actually arrived in town two days earlier, and with his wife and two teenagers had strolled around the village on Friday. No one recognized him.
Phil Johnson can be reached at [email protected].