The Mountain Times

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Skiing is fine, early season indicators up over 2011

Photo by Karen Lorentz
Bill Coffee rides on Header as the turkeys enjoy their meal.

Ski area personnel are reporting a good Thanksgiving with visits up over last year. While some rumors flew that reservations were canceled, visitation data shows they are just that-rumors.

Sarah Thorson, communications manager at Killington and Pico, said that skier visits were on par or better over the Thanksgiving period.

She added that advanced reservations for the season ahead were initially soft-thought to be due to Sandy-but have seen a bump-up after a lodging and lift ticket promotion was sent out. "There was a good response and bookings are strong now," she said.

Although central Vermont had not received major storms as of Dec. 10, the snow guns have been blasting and base depths are being built; skiing has been reported as good on the open terrain. By Dec. 5, nearly 20 percent of the state's terrain was open, "the strongest opening since the epic 2008-2009 season," according to Ski Vermont spokesperson Sarah Neith.

Thorson said that Killington fired up its snow guns in October and invited season passholders and Express Card holders to get the first turns on the upper mountain on Oct. 13 and 14, as part of an Appreciation Day (for support of Killington).

The area opened to the public on Nov. 5 and has been continuously open. Thorson reported that 40 trails (17 miles) were open by Dec. 4 with 32 trails on Saturday and 29 on Sunday due to weather events on Dec. 5. Despite those temperature fluctuations, the skiing has been described as "phenomenal" on some days and "darned good" on others, thanks to snowmaking.

"Okemo opened more than a week ahead of schedule, so we are up substantially in skier visits compared to last year. This year marked Okemo's fourth-earliest opening and the earliest opening since 2003," reported Bonnie MacPherson, director of public relations. She said Okemo "more than doubled visits during Thanksgiving weekend."

MacPherson also attributed the success of early season to the commitment to snowmaking. "The superheroes of skiing are the guys who are out on the hill day and night; they take the science of making snow and turn it into an art form. Their expertise and dedication are what earns Okemo its reputation for top quality conditions, no matter what Mother Nature offers up," she noted.

Much Snow Was Made
Killington's Director of Mountain Operations, Jeff Temple explained the "impressive snowmaking production season" by noting that the low humidity levels experienced in November enabled the guns to blast.

"The outside temperature adjusted for humidity gives us a number we call wet bulb. This means the lower the humidity, the lower the wet bulb, a very good thing in the snowmaking world. Low wet bulbs resulted in 95-million gallons of water [for snowmaking] on trails since opening in October, and we are ahead of our five-year average snow production numbers season to date," he reported in early December.

That meant even Superstar was open along with Bittersweet on Skye Peak last week-great slopes for advanced ability levels. But lower elevation Snowshed and Ramshead slopes were also open as were the upper-elevation North Ridge and Snowdon areas. The soft snow made for nice skiing and riding but with funny temps in the forecast, the guns were still blasting on Dec. 7 during the day - an indication that Killington was dedicated and determined to provide as much trail coverage as possible for the weekend.
Skiing is Believing!

I took my first turns Friday, Dec. 7. For a first day out, I was happy to find superb conditions on Ramshead. Snowboarder Bob Coffee came by and exclaimed, "This is nice!"

He and his friend Steve Lowe were happy to stay on Easy Street (a combo trail of upper Header/Caper, Timberline upper, lower Swirl, Header again, and lower Easy Street) and run laps. My sister and I couldn't blame them because conditions were surprisingly perfect! The sun came out and even the turkeys (on the grassy parts of Header where they had not blown snow) were having a ball and didn't mind us skiing near them.

Sister Bobbi Ballou and I took Caper over to the Snowdon Triple, skiing under guns along the way-happily so! Saw the terrain park up on Mouse Run-looked great, but we were headed up to the top so we took Killink to North Ridge, again skiing under roaring guns.

They were racing on East Fall so that option was closed to us. We took Rhyme to Reason and both marveled "It's winter up here." She noted it was technically still fall and that the sun was out, so I froze my hands shooting skiers and riders passing us on Reason.
With tiring legs, we headed back to Ramshead for some easy laps. Passed folks headed to Highline on the way and saw many on Snowdon's Mousetrap and Chute trails.

Three-and-one-half hours of non-stop skiing-except for the fast chairlift rides-for a first day of the season was a record for moi! (We took Caper to Chute to Great Northern back to our car in the old trailside "Vale" lot - perfect place to park if you only want 30 steps to your car!)

We totally enjoyed being back on skis. Always nice to find the legs remember what to do!

And it always amazes me that despite no snow in my yard at 2200 feet in elevation, the skiing was good-you couldn't ski that Ramshead Easy Street run on December 21 last year!

We second the "thank you" to the folks who know how to make snow! You rocked our day!
Business Outlook

Our friends to the south were affected, if not devastated, by Super-storm Sandy. Their joining us at Christmas and into February and the big Presidents' Week is a good question because some schools have cancelled their February vacation weeks.

Another question concerns whether folks will have the money to ski. One New Jersey skier noted that the snow storm of October 29, 2011 was followed by a wetter version on Oct. 29, 12-"people around here are now expecting storms like this yearly and are buying generators. One neighbor is considering canceling her Christmas reservation to Stowe to buy a whole-house generator! Hopefully she will come to her senses and choose the vacation," she added.

Another factor that makes for a more challenging holiday week is that Christmas is on a Tuesday this year. For most vacation skiers, that typically makes Wednesday the 26th a travel day and thus visitation comes in two forms: those who take a 4-day holiday (returning home on Sunday) and those lucky folks who manage to stay through New Year's Day before returning to work.

Asked about advance bookings, Sarah Thorson said Christmas is strong although Killington has continued to see later bookings-as have most areas. [The silver lining is latecomers might still find accommodations without having to stay in Glens Falls as we did one year  in the 1960s.]
Thorson noted that K-58 pre-sales of tickets did well and people are still purchasing Express Cards (deadline Dec. 31) and season passes. "We're continuing to make snow aggressively and that will continue right up to the holidays," she noted, adding, "We're expecting a lot of people as usual.
"We're preparing and with the guns back on tonight [Monday] through Friday, we'll be ready for the weekend, too," she added, noting the forecast looked like that could happen.
MacPherson reported that, "Thanksgiving is a popular time to plan winter vacation trips and Okemo's call volume was up 28 percent over the Thanksgiving weekend, compared to last year, portending a strong season ahead.
These are all good indicators that the ski season is off to a decent start despite some erratic weather and lack of snow in back yards.
Those who see a repeat of last year's 'snowless winter' to the start of this winter might consider that cold weather and the new efficient snow guns will provide for us, and that if history repeats, we could see a repeat of the epic 2008-2009 season. One can hope!