November 2012 was good for skiers, riders and mountain operators in the Northeast. After the truncated 2010-2011 season, which some say never really got started, there is plenty of pent up demand. According to the Snowsports Industry of America, sales and consequently skier and ridership was off between five and 40 percent. There was a lot of good skiing and riding available last year but you had to look for it and pick your days.
This year promises to be better. With so many skiers and riders itching to get on the snow mountain operators in the Northeast cranked up the snow guns earlier and longer. The weather helped too.
A comparison of the November daily temperature low and average temperatures indicates that 2012 was better for snowmaking than 2011. A review of weather data from three strategic locations in the Northeast, Saranac Lake, New York, Rutland, Vermont and Whitefield, New Hampshire indicates that the average November 2012 temperature was almost seven degrees colder than it was in 2011. The lowest temperature was almost three degrees colder.
Not only were temperatures colder in 2012 but dew points in New Hampshire and New York averaged less too, by 17% and 23% respectively. Snow making is easier and more efficient with lower dew points.
The seven percent colder temperatures have enabled resorts to start making snow earlier, and make more of it. More snow earlier resulted in a better base on more trails. "It's all about valve versatility" says Bonnie MacPherson from Okemo Mountain Resort in Vermont. Newer snow making equipment allows snow makers to customize the mix of water, air and temperature to meet specific needs. MacPherson added "cold temperatures in early November along with Okemo's incredible snowmaking team meant that the mountain opened for the 2012-13 season on November 8, the earliest opening since the 2003 season and the fourth earliest in Okemo's 57-year history." At the end of the month Okemo had 27 trails open and six lifts.
Whiteface Mountain in Wilimington, New York began blowing snow on November 6th. and continued to do so when the weather permitted right opening on November 16th. During this time it was 9.5% colder than it was in 2011. "The weather conditions and temperatures have been ideal for the last couple of weeks for snowmaking," said the mountain's general manager Aaron Kellett. "Everyone at the mountain is excited to be opening early and we're all preparing for what's shaping up to be a great season ahead." Whiteface continued to make snow throughout the month and by the end there was skiing and riding on 19 trails serviced by three lifts including the gondola.
Resorts in New Hampshire also started making the white stuff early this year. Karl Stone from Ski New Hampshire says "any opportunity to make snow early in the season is welcomed by our ski resorts. We always want as much open terrain as possible for the approaching holiday period. Another benefit is the fact that manmade snow is more resilient to warm weather than natural snow, so it provides a solid base for the season to come".
Loon Mountain in Lincoln, New Hampshire actually held off on snowmaking for a week in anticipation of a warm up during the first week. They made up for it in earnest and ended the month with four lifts running to 26 trails.
Mountain operators cannot control the weather. But they can capitalize on it and between equipment selection and timing they can lay down more and better snow in short amounts of time.
The 2012-2013 skiing and riding season is off to a good start. There will undoubtedly be warm days here and there until winter really settles in. Let's hope for a better year than last year.