Pa. ski resorts adapt to the mild conditions
As the temperature steams toward 60 this weekend, one thought doesn't immediately leap to mind: "Let's go skiing!" Resorts in the Poconos and elsewhere must be melting in the faux spring, the runs awash in mud, you say. Managers must be cursing the heavens, you say.
As the temperature steams toward 60 this weekend, one thought doesn't immediately leap to mind: "Let's go skiing!"
Resorts in the Poconos and elsewhere must be melting in the faux spring, the runs awash in mud, you say. Managers must be cursing the heavens, you say.
But what do you know?
"Ski season is going pretty well," said Ryan Werst of Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Macungie, south of Allentown and about 55 miles from Philadelphia.
After less-than-frightful weather in early December forced a late start, most Pennsylvania ski areas report that business is not headed downhill - at least not yet.
They credit nighttime temperatures that were cold enough (below freezing) to build up a good base of snow and soften and freshen it when needed. That snow can hold them for about a week, until Mother Nature turns a colder shoulder to ski resorts and to neighborhoods where skiers live.
"On the slopes we do have open, we can easily get through this warm week," said Rick Buckman, co-owner of the Spring Mountain Ski Area in Montgomery County's Spring Mount. "But the challenge is people seeing a couple of 50-degree days and thinking we're not open."
When people do think of skiing, or tubing, or snowboarding, they come.
None of the resorts contacted would give revenue or attendance figures.
After the late start at Bear Creek, "we got a week of snowmaking weather and we were able to open up," Werst said, adding that 20 of 21 trails are open.
"Last week was one of the better weeks we've had in two years," said Chris Dudding, marketing director of Roundtop Mountain Resort in York County, about a two-hour drive from Philadelphia.
Of course, last winter didn't produce enough of the white stuff for even a mediocre snowball fight.
"Last year was one of those years that started late and then it was very inconsistent," Dudding said.
The mildness might be part of a trend in the Philadelphia region whose culprit could be global warming or another climatic phenomenon.
From 1981 to 2010, the National Weather Service showed an average annual snowfall of 32.9 inches between November and April at Lehigh Valley International Airport. November 2011 to April 2012? Less than six inches. Last month, 6.2 inches of snow fell. The average temperature was 37.7 degrees, compared with a 32.3-degree average for the month from 1981 to 2010.
Ski areas covet low temperatures more than heaps of natural snow.
"We actually don't depend on Mother Nature," said Heidi Lutz of the Blue Mountain Ski Area. Blue Mountain is in the Poconos town of Palmerton, about 20 miles north of Allentown.
They and other resorts rely on people with titles like "snow maker" and "snow technician," who use a recipe of low humidity, water, and air that, ideally, is about 29 degrees to create and shoot homemade snow out of a snow gun and onto slopes.
"We've been making snow every night," said Megan McHugh, marketing director for Camelback Mountain Resort in the Poconos.
They've also been making money thanks to a range of activities.
While most resorts also offer snowboarding and tubing, Camelback has a summer water park and an "adventure park" that features a mountain coaster and zip lines.
"Unlike a lot of resorts that last year had a hard time and went into this winter behind the ball, we had money in the bank because we had a great summer," McHugh said.
Montgomery County's Buckman said that although Spring Mountain missed part of the important Christmas week by not opening until Dec. 29, he hopes to make up the business over the rest of the winter, especially during the long weekends for Martin Luther King's Birthday and Presidents' Day.
That's more likely to happen if frigid days and nights return and stick around.
"I'm happiest when everyone else is complaining," he quipped.
at 610-313-8109, email@example.com, or @carolyntweets on Twitter.