Clinging to winter: N.H. ski resorts winding down for the season

  • Roxy, the official mascot of Pats Peak makes her way near the ski lodge, Wednesday, March 22, 2017 in Henniker, New Hampshire. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • A skier makes their way down a groomed slope at Pats Peak on Wednesday in Henniker. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A member of the ski patrol makes their way up the chairlift to the top at Pats Peak in Henniker on Wednesday. The view is looking north with Mount Kearsarge on the left. Plenty of snow still covers the area in late March. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • A snowboarder makes his way down the Cascade basin at the top of Pats Peak. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Thursday, March 23, 2017

As a roller-coaster winter has come to a close, the days left in the ski season are also numbered.

Some ski areas, like Pats Peak in Henniker and McIntyre in Manchester, are calling it a season this weekend.

Barring another significant snowstorm, Gunstock and Ragged mountains in the central part of the state expect to close up shop on April 2.

Other resorts are fighting to keep skiers and riders as the weather gets warmer, hoping to stay open until the end of the month or beyond.

Despite the winter’s inconsistent temperatures, those in the ski industry aren’t complaining after last year’s low snowfall totals.

“We always go for the last weekend in March, so we’re right on schedule,” said Kris Blomback, general manager of Pats Peak. He said the resort’s annual snowmobile hill climb, co-sponsored by the Weare Winter Wanderers snowmobile group, will be held as scheduled the first weekend in April. The event had to be canceled due to a lack of snow last year.

While there is still plenty of snow on the mountain, midweek traffic typically starts to slow to a crawl as spring draws closer.

“We’ve actually had some strong midweek days toward the end of the month, but once the golf courses and spring sports begin, people start to think about other things,” Blomback said.

Sporadic stretches of warm weather did little to stop the season early, including a 60-degree stretch that occurred toward the tail end of New Hampshire’s February school vacation that left stretches of the state brown and bare. Those patches quickly disappeared in the wake of last week’s nor’easter, and the mountains saw a surge of visitors despite the storm’s lesser snowfall to the south.

“There’s an old saying in the businesses that 6 inches of snow in Boston beats 3 feet in the mountains,” Blomback said.

Despite opening on Dec. 10 – a little later than usual – and engaging in some last-minute snowmaking during school vacation, Pats Peak eked out 107 ski days this year, according to marketing director Lori Rowell. They were confident the season would last past the warm spell, she said.

“It’s hard for people to believe that when the snow is melting in their backyard, we still have 3 feet of base pack on a lot of the trails,” Rowell said.

Ski New Hampshire spokeswoman Jessyca Keeler said a big factor this year was having snowstorms at the right time. Storms during Christmas vacation week, the weeks leading up to February school vacations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and even the most recent storm all spurred near-record visits during those time frames, Keeler said.

While she declined to give direct numbers, Keeler said 10 resorts that regularly report to Ski New Hampshire – including Loon Mountain, Gunstock, Sunapee and Cranmore – were up 18 percent in visits during the Presidents Day week from last year, and were up 9 percent from 2015 visits.

“It doesn’t really extend the season for us because we already have the base, but it extends the season in people’s minds, keeps it fresh for them,” she said.

End dates get a little shakier farther north. Waterville Valley and Attitash Mountain tentatively scheduled their last days for April 2, but skiing may be available on those peaks as late as April 9 if the weather cooperates. Cannon Mountain is planning to close April 9, but officials there said they would like to stay open until April 16, and Loon Mountain Resort and Bretton Woods are holding out until April 16 or 17.

Then there’s Wildcat Mountain, perched to the east of Mount Washington. Peak Resorts Director of Marketing Greg Fisher said the mountain is known for being the last to close, a tradition they don’t intend to break this year.

“If I’m being perfectly frank, we’d love to go till Memorial Day,” he said. “We don’t have a definite date for Wildcat, but we have intentions of going until May for sure.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)