Area ski resorts: A no-show for snow
FINGER LAKES --"Dear Santa--All I want for Christmas is snow!!!" This was the first of--so far--three pleas for the cold white stuff posted on Swain Resort's Facebook page in December. For skiers, the season is getting off to a slightly slower-than-usual beginning, though those who take a longer view say the delayed start to the season is not completely unusual.
"We hope we'll start making snow by the end of next week," says Dawn Broderick of Bristol Mountain Ski Resort. "This is my sixth season, and we've opened a different time each year. Last year was one of the earliest years--we had 139 ski days. The year before that, we opened a week later. There was one year we opened Christmas Eve. We're looking for cold temperatures in the mid to low 20s and low humidity--with low humidity you can get more snow produced and out faster."
The natural stuff is nice, she adds, "But in this part of the country, we don't often get enough natural snow to get a base. One foot of natural snow grooms down to one inch of snow."
However, the resort is busy despite its current lack of skiers. There's a shop selling outerwear and ski equipment, a "Tuning shop" where winter gear is readied for the season, and a new attraction--a three-hour "Zipline canopy tour" offering a tree-top tour of the area with two guides helping up to a dozen people in harness get a bird's-eye view of the area as they travel from one tree-top platform to another, eventually returning to home-base either via a chair-lift or on a retired military all-terrain vehicle. Broderick says the zipline is intended for the whole family, though there's a weight requirement--participants must weigh 80 pounds or more, up to 250 pounds.
They also have three eateries, including one lodge halfway up the mountain, specializing in Belgian waffles for those who work up an appetite skiing.
Once they get going, the ski season typically lasts until the beginning of April, though, weather can make a difference at any point in the season. It's going to vary every year," Broderick says. "We're not worried. It's all up to Mother Nature."
"We would be really happy if it snowed, but we're not just waiting," says Jessica Sloma, vice President of Sales and Marketing at Greek Peak in Cortland, New York. "The weather has pushed us out quite a few weeks. Early on we were planning on opening just after Thanksgiving, and we've been fortunate the past few years to be able to do it. The weather patterns have changed, though, so we're looking at Christmas time."
Life at Greek Peak--among other places--goes on even without snow, she emphasizes. The resort is a year-round enterprise, offering lodging, a large indoor water park with a variety of activities, a heated outdoor pool and an outdoor hot tub; plus there's an "Adventure Center" allowing people to slide down the mountain even when it's bare of snow. "We're waiting for cold weather," she explains. "We have a large snow-making capability, so long as the weather's right and it goes below 26 degrees they'll start making snow. We usually make snow at night. We started already--but we've lost most of it."
At Swain Resort in Swain, New York, Erich Dobson is similarly philosophical. Mountain biking and disk golf are warmer-weather activities enjoyed there in the absence of snow, though Dobson notes the resort is predominantly based on skiing. So while their banquet facilities are currently humming with pre-Christmas parties, he says they're also keeping a close eye on the weather, looking for a window of opportunity to fire up the snow-making guns and start grooming trails. "It's all about waiting for the best windows for making snow. Then we'll focus all our energy on the trails and get two to three open as soon as possible. We can have trails open in 48 to 72 hours." At peak capacity, they'll have 33 open trails, including two "glades"--trails that wind around trees.
Their ski and snow-boarding school is also dependent on having snow to practice on. "If we were to open in the next couple of days, we would be two to three weeks later than normal," Dobson says. "But we won't be opening that soon." However, he says, the month of December, leading up to Christmas, is often a slow part of the season, with many people preoccupied with pre-Christmas shopping. Their busiest time is often the week between Christmas and New Year's. "If we don't open before New Year's, that would be a problem," he says.
It was a sunny 60 degrees on a day that could only look gloomy to those at a ski resort, but snow is being forecast for later in December. This means the ski season is definitely on its way. Not here yet, but something for skiers and resort owners to smile about--later.