Outdoor Adventures: Ski areas on solid ground
With March on the horizon, ski areas across the state are betting on a solid home stretch to put last year’s dismal season behind them.
More natural snow and better snowmaking technology are what’s driving a winter that’s putting smiles on skiers, riders and ski area operators.
“We’re up over last year in visits and revenue so far, and though we’ve had a few warm-ups, there has also been very good sustained cold weather in between and some well-timed snowstorms up here and down south,” Cannon spokesman Greg Keeler said.
With the Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire dominated vacation week at its end and a New Hampshire centric break about to begin, there’s some momentum carrying into March.
Loon’s communications manager Greg Kwasnik said the Lincoln resort is having a very strong season.
“Snow in southern New England has kept the excitement level high among skiers and riders, who seem to be making up for last winter,” he said. “Our recent snowmaking investments gave us a very strong early season, and helped us recover quickly from mild weather in January. The holiday periods have been strong, and we’re heading into March with great snow and plenty of open terrain.”
At Loon the other day, every trail was open in addition to its six terrain parks and Superpipe. With even more help from Mother Nature, it could open some gladed areas to have the whole resort nearly all open.
Of course, the weather also keeps snow nation on the tips of its boards. Wind chills, warm-ups and even wicked winds that hamper lift operations – like early last week across northern New England – are formidable foes.
But when it comes to cranking out snow, ski areas let the guns loose.
Keeler said snowmaking is different every year, but although early season was a challenge, Cannon had plenty of sustained cold weather in January and early February. The guns were on at the Franconia Notch mountain last week.
Kwasnik said Loon’s made more snow this year than last, allowing it to bounce back quickly during thaws.
“Even though the cold weather has been more consistent this year with more natural snowfall, we did have to recover from several considerable thaws earlier this winter,” he said.
Lori Rowell, marketing director for Pats Peak in Henniker, said this season has surpassed last season in many ways. The area has had a couple of record-breaking days, while the natural snowfall has come at the right time. Snowmaking continues to be aggressive and it’s allocating more of it to build bigger terrain parks.
General manager Kris Blomback said all of the trails and glades are open.
“We had a very strong President’s holiday weekend and we’re having a better than average holiday week,” he said. “We are optimistic for a solid New Hampshire vacation week.”
For Gunstock in Gilford, a slow start has faded, the storms have been timely, it’s weathered the thaws and things are on plan, according to marketing director Bill Quigley.
“Everything is better than last year,” Quigley said. “Season pass sales are better. Whenever we had great days, they were meeting or exceeding numbers from two years ago, which was a record year in the state of New Hampshire.”
Quigley pointed out the Sunday following the Blizzard of 2013 that dumped on Boston and southern New England was one of the busiest days he has seen in his eight years at the ski area.
“There really is a pent up demand,” he said. “People want to go out and play.”
Quigley calls the upcoming vacation week a “near-cation, not a stay-cation” as many of the vacationers make day trips coming from less than an hour away.
“We’re having a solid season and we are on plan,” he said. “In the economy we have, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
He believes March will be favorable, especially with natural snow.
According to Ski New Hampshire, skier visits are up between 4 and 37 percent at ski areas across the state over last year.
Though March is filled with zany events and spring skiing, it’s also the time when many people start thinking about other pursuits.
“We still have a lot of skiing and riding left,” Ski NH marketing director Karl Stone said. “We would love to go into early April and the resorts would love to see one or two big snowstorms in March to keep people skiing and riding.”
(Marty Basch can be reached through onetankaway.com.)