Fighting Mother Nature is only half the battle for ski-area owners like Max DeWardner at Yawgoo Valley in Exeter during this warm, dry winter. Persuading people to think about skiing when they have hardly seen frost this year, let alone snow, is nearly as difficult.
“It took us 20 years to convince people we can make our own snow,” DeWardner said Jan. 3, when a brief plunge in temperatures triggered a full barrage from Yawgoo’s snow-making guns.
“Now we need to convince people that man-made snow is five times more dense than natural snow and fairly impervious to warm weather,” he said. “This will not shut us down.”
After enjoying epic snowfall that made activities other than skiing difficult a year ago, New England ski areas have seen the tables turned so far this winter and are fighting to stay frozen.
Now well into the ski season, most mountains are weeks, if not more, behind last year’s pace of opening skiable terrain, which directly impacts their number of paying customers and bottom line.
Last year at Yawgoo, the only downhill ski area in Rhode Island, all 12 trails and the tubing park were open before Christmas.
This year, while there has been skiing since Dec. 26, the area’s snow-making crews were still working feverishly to get the tubing park and most of the ski trails open last week.
On Dec. 26, 2010, Yawgoo had 300 people working, 100 of them full time. One year later, there were 50 people working during the same period the week before Christmas.
DeWardner expects to finally be at that peak seasonal employment of 300 this week.
At Blue Hills Ski Area in Canton, Mass., which opened in mid-December last year, only two of a dozen trails were open as of Jan 3.
“It’s frustrating,” said Jennifer Heinen, manager at Blue Hills. “We get calls from people who want to come and ski and it has been a challenge for us to provide it.”