Celebrating snow

Northern NH ski resorts bolstered by recent snowstorms

Union Leader Correspondent
March 16. 2014 9:18PM
Above a group of skiers on the slopes, one of the resort's two aerial trams descends the 4,080-foot summit of Cannon Mountain on Friday afternoon. (JOHN KOZIOL PHOTO)

FRANCONIA — Although it's unclear if and how long the recent, prodigious snowfall will extend their seasons, ski resorts in the northern part of the state are reporting that conditions are excellent and that the new white stuff may help them now and next year, too.

Although Mother Nature was generous all over New Hampshire, she was particularly kind to Cannon Mountain, which last Wednesday into Thursday received a whopping 25 inches of snow, bringing the season-to-date total to 161 inches and counting.

On average, Cannon gets 160 inches of snow per season, Greg Keeler, the resort's director of sales and marketing said on Friday, although Cannon has had as much as 248 inches in 2010-2011 and the record is 284 inches in 1968-1969.

Keeler and Cannon General Manager John DeVivo said Cannon is unique in that, like last week, it's the beneficiary of what they called "Notch-effect snowfall" where storms coming up Franconia Notch encounter Cannon Mountain, elevation 4,080 feet, and dump snow all over its slopes.

The "Notch effect" funnels precipitation to Cannon and the mountain's height means that in winter, most of the precipitation is coming down as snow, whereas in the valleys to the north and east it's sometimes in the form of rain.

Keeler said the timing of last week's snowstorm was ideal, coming mid-week and thereby giving Cannon's trail groomers plenty of time to have the slopes ready for the start of the extended weekend on Friday. By contrast, snowstorms on Fridays "mess everybody's business up," he said.

Asked whether the new snow will mean a longer 2013-2014 season, Keeler said it's not clear yet. Echoing his industry colleagues, Keeler said the presence of snow, even lots of it, does not ensure that skiers will come north, explaining that once the snow starts disappearing downstate and in Massachusetts and Rhode Island — areas from where Cannon draws many of its visitors — people there will move on into spring activities.

Cannon annually shoots for having a 135-140 day season, said DeVivo, noting that in addition to natural snowfall, the resort makes its own, this season putting more than 200 new, high-efficiency snow guns into service.

By his math, DeVivo said the current season will likely turn out to be on par with last year's, pointing out that while everyone was talking about how much snow fell last week, fewer remembered that there was a three-week period in December when conditions were nearly spring-like with a resulting negative effect on the resort's bottom line.

The new snow helps, said Keeler, because it's a powerful lure and also a great selling tool for 2014-2015 season passes.Cannon is eyeing a mid-April wrap-up, said Keeler, although no final date has been set.

"The weather gets weird" with the arrival of spring, he said, with another consideration being that come April, the employees at Cannon are beginning to ease into their other duties at Franconia Notch State Park, of which the mountain is a part.

DeViVo said Cannon has extended its season in recent years, but doing so is a gamble and there have been times when the mountain was open and no one was on it.

Up the road and east of Cannon, Peter Smith, the director of the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, on Saturday said last week's snowfall improved conditions on the nearly 100 kilometers of trails from good to "excellent."

"We're 100 percent opened," Smith said, adding that the Nordic center typically closes "toward the end of March but we haven't decided whether to extend or not. A lot depends on the weather and at that time of year the participation of skiers drops off the edge. We'll just have to wait and see on that."

"Our typical season — in the last few years, nothing has been 'typical,' — opens around Thanksgiving and goes through the end of March. This year, for us in the northeast part of the state, our snowfall was not as great," said Smith, but fortunately, it's been more-or-less consistently cold.

The cold temperatures "preserved what snow we had," Smith said, but it also discouraged some people from coming out to ski.

That said, the trails are now in great shape and the warmer weather is bringing people to Bretton Woods. Unique among other cross-country ski areas, Smith said Bretton Woods has a lift to its upper terrain which might mean that some trails "could be open well into April."

At Loon Mountain Resort, Marketing Director Greg Kwasnik said the 19 inches of snow that Loon received in the last seven days was "perfect" for spring skiing and snowboarding. "At this point, we will stay open through mid-April," he said, "but we don't have a projected closing date."

Kwasnik said Loon opened on Nov. 8 this season, "which is the earliest we've ever opened top to bottom and we were able to do that with our snowmaking system which is the most powerful in New Hampshire."

It's been cold all season long, he said, which has helped with the snowmaking that supplemented, as needed, the natural snowfall.

"Last year was a very good year and we're on track to meet or exceed last year so we're very happy with how the season has gone," said Kwasnik.

One reason why Loon is having such a positive season is its ice castle, which opened after Christmas and which closed on Saturday, a full two weeks later than projected thanks to the continued cold weather.

The ice castle was created by Utah-based artist Brent Christensen and was the first of its kind on the East Coast.

The gigantic structure — which will gradually melt allowing its waters to flow into the nearby Pemigewasset River — was more than an acre in size and boasted a waterfall, ice slide and a gorge.

Karl Stone, the marketing director of Ski New Hampshire, contacted Loon about the ice castle after he was initially approached by Christensen.For the season, the ice castle drew more than 50,000 visitors, said Kwasnik, adding "We would love to have the ice castle come back next year and we are in discussions with them but no final decision has been made at this point."

Stone, in an e-mail, said last week's snowstorm provided "some free marketing leading up to a weekend period" and kept people "excited to ski and ride given these are some of the best conditions of the year."

"In a season like this where we have so much snow, the next month offers an incredible value," said Stone. "The areas roll out numerous deals on lift tickets to keep people hitting the snow and you have nearly 100 percent of the terrain available, uncrowded slopes and trails and more comfortable temperatures."


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