CAPITAL REGION — Christmas week was not ideal but also not bad for ski areas in the greater Capital Region.
Natural snow was in short supply, but operators were able to make artificial snow on the colder nights as quickly as it melted on the warmer days.
The holiday week ended with a damp and windy New Year’s Day, but with optimism that more artificial snow can be made in the coming days if the real stuff doesn’t come floating down.
“This past December break was the busiest we’ve had in a very long time,” said Dana Walton, snow sports director at Maple Ski Ridge in Rotterdam.
“I think the early snow definitely had people thinking about signing up,” she said, adding that the family-oriented ski area advertised more than it usually does. “I also think that our programs have become stronger over the last three or four years.”
This week, there were 54 students in the three-day ski school, plus two to five students taking private lessons each day.
“There have definitely been some uncooperative days,” Walton said of the weather, but not enough to curtail the activities on the slope. “Whenever the temperatures have been dropping, whenever it allows, our snow guns have been on,” she said.
Next up: The six-week slope school, which starts Saturday and has a good crop of novice skiers and snowboarders already signed up.
Royal Mountain owner Jim Blaise said his ski area, located in Caroga in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, has been lucky to have no fewer than five three-day stretches cold enough that he could run the snowmakers 24 hours a day.
So he put down enough of a base that he could carry through the warm days.
“We’re 100 percent open, so we’re ahead of a lot of places,” Blaise said.
A really strong end to the 2017-2018 ski season and some natural snow in autumn 2018 built up enthusiasm for the 2018-2019 season in the skiing public, he added, so there were lots of smiling faces and new ski gear on the slopes this past week. “Our little kids program has had the best year ever.”
Which is a good thing — Christmas week and February recess week are critical bookends to the season for a ski area.
“If you don’t get a good Christmas week, the rest of the season is a struggle,” Blaise said.
That said, as the weather warmed on New Year’s Day, snow conditions were moving closer to springtime than winter. Time to crank up the snow guns again.
Willard Mountain in Easton had skiable but not perfect slopes this past week and good but not great attendance, owner Chic Wilson said.
“It’s doing exactly what we thought it would do and exactly what we staffed it for,” he said. “It’s as busy as I could have hoped for with the weather the way it’s going.”
Most of the best snowmaking weather this season was in November, but December also had some good nights, Wilson said.
“We really haven’t had much cold,” he said. “The cold we’ve had has been in November. It really doesn’t matter anymore, we can max our system out at 20 degrees. So it really doesn’t matter if it’s 20 degrees or 10 degrees below,” he said Monday.
“We had marginal snowmaking last night, 26 degrees. We had snowmaking the night before, it was 18. That’s good, we made a lot of snow.”
It’s too early to predict this year’s ski season — the weather can change repeatedly for the better or for the worse — but Wilson is happy with the kickoff.
Preseason sales were strong, he said, “I think because of the nice March we had last year. Our best skiing was right in March; I think people were remembering that.”