Ski resorts booming as school vacation week arrives

Sunday News Correspondent
February 18. 2017 9:53PM
A skier at Cannon Mountain Ski Area plows through powdery, fluffy snow on the mountain's trails on Thursday. (COURTESY GREG KEELER, CANNON MOUNTAIN)

GILFORD -- Granite State ski resorts are expecting a boon this week when visitors - many on school break - pack chairlifts for some great downhill runs. Winter storms the last two weeks have dumped many feet of snow, packing slopes already experiencing a good year.

In the days after Christmas, many resorts were full, their tickets sold out, officials said, and lift-ticket sales have been strong ever since.

Meanwhile, cold temperatures this year have made for especially fluffy and powdery snow that has put smiles on the faces of resort employees.

"This may be the best snow I've ever seen," said Carol Wohlers of Rochester, a ski instructor at Gunstock Mountain Resort.

"It's incredible snow," said Megan Burch, director of sales and marketing at Mount Sunapee Resort. "It's a very white, powdery fluff, and there's a ton of it. We're skiing on every trail this year, and it might be the best skiing we've ever had."

Last year was one of the worst in history for ski areas in the Northeast. The warmest winter on record left most resorts without many customers, while bills piled up. The number of nights cold enough for snow making was down to the point where some ski areas closed for days at a time. The winter of 2015-16 was marked by more rain than snow.

This winter has been the polar opposite. Several resorts, like Cannon Mountain Ski Area, may break attendance records if conditions like this continue.

This week, traditionally one of the busiest ski weeks of the year with Massachusetts and neighboring states on school vacation, should be a "spectacular success," Burch said.

"We're ready for them. Come on up," she said. "You won't be disappointed."

About 200,000 to 225,000 snow riders could visit Granite State ski resorts between Saturday and Feb. 26, said Jessyca Keeler, the executive director of Ski New Hampshire. The week represents roughly 35 percent of the resorts' seasonal business, she said.

Snow totals up

Leading up to Friday, Cannon Mountain had had one snowless day in two weeks. Cannon officials say 28 inches of snow fell in the in the middle three days of last week, and 50 inches fell in the seven days before that.

February has already brought 77 inches of snow to the mountain. This season, 181 inches of prime snow has fallen, said Gregory Keeler, Cannon's director of marketing and sales.

"At this point last season, we had only received 60 inches of snow in total," he said, adding that Cannon has already surpassed its season average of 160 inches.

Cannon's numbers are not unique. Most New Hampshire ski resorts have seen 6 feet of snow fall thus far in 2017, according to Ski New Hampshire officials. Waterville Valley has had 150.5 inches this winter - about three times as much by this time last year and twice as much as the entire 2015-16 ski season. Ragged Mountain Resort officials have measured 113 inches of snow, compared to 29 inches that fell all of last winter, said Keeler.

A total of 160 inches had been measured at the summit of Bretton Woods Mountain Resort by Friday, compared with 53 inches that fell in the same period last year. Loon Mountain Resort officials have measured 143 inches to date, while only 66 inches had fallen at this time last year.

"Year-to-date totals are also two to four times what they were for last year, and the areas that I've heard from have all surpassed last year's snow totals for the entire season, and we still have one and a half to two months left in the season," she said.

Mountain forecast

On Thursday, Gunstock was marginally busy, as it tends to be midweek in February, resort officials said. But by this weekend, the parking lots and ski trails were mostly full. This week, school vacation skiers will find outstanding conditions, and high quality of snow, Wohlers said.

"Honestly, the skiing doesn't get much better than this anywhere," she said.

With excellent snow already on the trails, sunny, somewhat warmer days will greet February vacation skiers this week. Temperatures are expected to range from the mid-20s to the high-30s.

Ski resort officials statewide were down at this time a year ago, and could only hope for a better ski season this winter.

Resort officials predicted a rebound this winter. But no one foresaw this good a season.

"It's a gift from Mother Nature," said Ski New Hampshire's Keeler. "To have all this great snow fall, and to have it happen right before the long weekend and the February vacation period, is awesome for New Hampshire's ski industry."

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