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February 17. 2014 9:28PM

With school vacation time here, NH ski areas celebrating 'white gold'


Skiers head up the Quadzilla Lift at Waterville Valley Resort on Valentine's Day. (JOHN KOZIOL PHOTO)

WATERVILLE VALLEY -- With another storm on the way today and "white gold" continuing to fall out of the sky, ski areas say they are well-positioned for February school vacations.

"This vacation period couldn't have set up much better with the snow falling just before skiers/riders are traveling for the week," said Karl Stone, marketing director of Ski New Hampshire, in an e-mail. "The downhill and cross country conditions statewide really are as good as they get. Our guests are savvy and keep an eye on that, so hopefully business levels will be high."

Schools in Massachusetts have this week off; winter vacation for many New Hampshire school districts starts next week. Cumulatively, the vacation period "is about a third of our business," said Becca Deschenes of Cranmore Mountain Resort in North Conway.

"We've had 20 inches of fresh snow since the beginning of February and 10 inches in Friday's storm," Deschenes said. "We're 100 percent open and our guests keep commenting on how great our conditions have been this winter. We've been really aggressive with our snow-making and been able to open more terrain and hold it open."

At Waterville Valley Resort, Pete Sununu, the marketing and communications coordinator, said conditions just keep getting better.

"We had a really strong early season and even with the warm-up in January, we've had great bases all season long," Sununu said. "The groomers have a lot of stuff to play with; there's fresh snow all the time and in between the storms, we've had beautiful days. It's like a broken record in here; somebody goes out and says the snow is even better than the day before."

Even so, revenues this year aren't quite as good as last year's, said Stone of Ski NH, which has 33 members representing both alpine and Nordic resorts.

"So far this season most areas are slightly behind last year's business levels, which was our fifth-best season on record," Stone said.

He added: "The past few weeks have brought serious momentum, with the natural snow falling and our skier numbers rising sharply."

Deschenes said Cranmore, like other ski areas, is banking on a big February vacation period.

Cranmore has ramped up its learn-to-ski efforts, she said, including the introduction of "terrain-base learning" with the overall goal being "to make skiing as fun and easy as possible."

As to the number of skier visits, "We're tracking slightly behind where we were last year at this time," Deschenes said. "I think it'll end up being very positive in the end. That storm on Friday really helped us out. It couldn't have happened with better timing."

John DeVivo, general manager of Cannon Mountain and Franconia Mountain State Park, said Cannon is on par with recent seasons.

"Right now, we're having a perfectly normal season. We're dead on with last year with revenues, visitors and snowfall, and believe it or not, we did a five-year spread last week and this is right in the middle."

In a "big year," Cannon will record between 140,000 and 150,000 skier visits, said DeVivo, with 5,000-plus on a peak day.

DeVivo said the February vacation period accounts for about 15 to 20 percent of annual revenues.

Like Cranmore and Waterville Valley, Cannon is basking in the ongoing glow of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia where athletes with ties to the resorts are putting on good performances.

DeVivo said the Cannon experience was heightened Monday because downhiller Bode Miller, a Franconia native who considers Cannon his home mountain "just won the bronze" at the Olympics, "so people are still buzzing about it."

jkoziol@newstote.com


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