At times, frigid temperatures can be both a blessing and a curse

  • Lindsay Cowan of Manchester, Mass., celebrates the conclusion of a run at Mount Sunapee Resort on Saturday. Temperatures topped out at -2 degrees at the ski area. Michael Pezone / Monitor staff

  • Davy Cowan of Manchester, Mass., wearing two sets of long underwear, braves the cold at Mount Sunapee Resort on Saturday. Michael PezoneMonitor staff

Monitor staff
Monday, January 08, 2018

It’s the of best times and the worst of times for New Hampshire ski areas right now – if by “best” you mean “snowiest” and “worst” you mean “too cold to go outside.”

“Too cold” is the conclusion the Concord school district came to when it decided to cancel its Friday afternoon Nordic ski meet at Proctor Academy. With a projected high of 6 degrees, but a windchill of -12 degrees in Andover, the district knew it was better to be safe than sorry.

“We take a look at the misery index and go from there,” said Concord athletic director Steven Mello. “I mean, this stuff is supposed to be fun.”

Concord’s decision to cancel reflects the way recent Arctic temperatures have put a damper on what otherwise would be a sensational December for ski areas.

“This is some of the best skiing we’ve ever had this early in the season, but the cold temperatures did keep people away. ... Not everyone is excited about zero degrees,” said Jessyca Keeler, executive director of Ski NH, an industry group for most state downhill and cross-country ski areas.

But at Mount Sunapee on Saturday morning with temperatures topping out at a balmy
-2 degrees, there were still short lines to get on at least one of the resort’s eight lifts.

Chappy Paul of Woodstock, Conn., said he felt a slight obligation as a season-pass holder to get out on the slopes – if only for a bit – despite the frigid weather.

“I’m definitely not going to be taking as many runs as I normally would, but I mean, I want to get my money’s worth with this season pass, so I try and come here and ski as many days as I can,” Paul said.

Lindsay Cowan of Manchester, Mass., was at the mountain with her son Davy, and planned to use the free hot chocolate vouchers they received to entice him to stay as long as possible. Cowan, who is also a season-pass holder, said she likely wouldn’t have made the trip if she needed to purchase a pass for the day.

“It’s okay to just do one or two runs and not have to worry about it,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about getting $100 worth of skiing in today, we’ll just do what we can.”

John DeVivo, general manager for Cannon Mountain, said they were well ahead of last season in terms of business until Christmas week, which he called “disappointing.”

“Fantastic conditions, but sparse crowds due to the extended cold temps,” he wrote in an email.

Still, DeVivo said Cannon is right in line with its seven-year averages in terms of visits and revenue, and expects to bounce back from a lackluster Christmas week.

Kris Blomback, general manager of Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker, put it more colorfully: “When the media was calling us up and asking if we were closing, we were responding with: Does the beach close when it’s too hot?”

Blomback noted that even as the thermometer plunged, the air had stayed calm, at least until Thursday’s snowstorm.

“It was cold out for sure but the wind was almost nonexistent during the holiday week,” he said. “Wind chill is applicable if you’re skiing naked.”

Wind chill was the main factor in Concord’s decision to cancel its Nordic ski meet, Mello said.

That’s because the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association gives clear guidelines on what temperatures are safe for students to ski in, but it’s ultimately up to the schools to cancel events, NHIAA executive director Jeff Collins said. For Nordic, they recommend no skiing once it hits -4 degrees; for Alpine skiing, that threshhold is -10 degrees.

Concord’s Friday night event would have been well within those guidelines since the NHIAA doesn’t have anything to say on wind chill.

“We expect schools will do the most they can to protect their athletes,” Collins said. “You have to think, if you’re on the side of the mountain and it’s 30 degrees, but with a wind chill factor of zero degrees, that’s not going to be healthy for the athlete.”

Collins said most schools do a good job of factoring weather into their competitive events.

Or, as Mello put it: “There’s plenty of season left,” he said, noting Concord has a meet on Tuesday.

There’s certainly enough snow to support winter activities of all types.

New Hampshire ski areas reported getting anywhere from six to 18 inches of new snow from this week’s storm, on top of a full month of steady snow-making and natural snow. Virtually all areas have all their runs open, which isn’t common at this point of the season.

“We are set up for some really amazing conditions,” Keeler said. “Once this cold snap lifts, we’ll be in really good shape.”

The extreme cold, caused by changes in wind patterns that have brought Arctic air over much of the eastern U.S. for two weeks, looks likely to change this week. New Hampshire temperatures are projected to rise back to seasonal levels, much closer to freezing.

Of particular importance for New Hampshire ski areas is that there is lots of snow in Massachusetts, avoiding the dreaded “backyard effect,” when Bay Staters are less inclined to head north for skiing because conditions look bad where they live.

“This isn’t the situation where there’s snow in the mountains and nowhere else. This is snow everywhere,” Keeler said.

“Whatever we may have lost in the last week from the cold temperatures, we’re going to get back,” she predicted.