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Ski resorts hope for relief from lackluster season

Skiers waited for the lift at Loon Mountain, which was expecting 10 to 12 inches of snow Friday.

Cheryl Senter for the Boston Globe

Skiers waited for the lift at Loon Mountain, which was expecting 10 to 12 inches of snow Friday.

After enduring a January of wildly fluctuating temperatures, with memories of last winter’s scant snowfalls and 80-degree days still lingering, skiers and ski resorts were eagerly anticipating this weekend’s blizzard.

The storm is expected to drop up to a foot of snow on most resorts, much less than the 30-plus inches expected around Boston, but it’s a welcome blast of the white stuff nonetheless. And it’s arriving at a key time, right before February school vacation week, one of the three busiest periods for ski resorts, along with Christmas vacation and Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

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“Hopefully the people who haven’t made their February vacation plans yet, this is the kick in the butt that they need,” said Ethan Austin, communications manager at Sugarloaf Mountain Resort in Carrabassett Valley, Maine.

Last year, Northeast ski resorts had their worst season in two decades, with skier visits down by more than 20 percent. The winter featured above average temperatures, below normal snowfall, and 70- and 80-degree days in March that wiped out spring skiing.

So far, this season hasn’t been much better.

Mother Nature cooperated early on, dumping a decent amount of snow on the mountains in December, but snowfall totals are about half what they normally are in ski country by this time of year, said Mark Paquette, a meteorologist at AccuWeather. Most of the storms have been weak, dropping just a few inches at a time, and another storm early next week is supposed to do the same.

Several mild stretches in January — including a week in which temperatures climbed above freezing every day, once even into the 50s — have not helped.

‘I’m hoping that this puts us on the right path again.’

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“We were kind of on a roller coaster cycle there for a couple weeks in January,” said Sugarloaf’s Austin, noting that several rain/thaw/freeze cycles forced the resort to close about half the runs it had open, dropping the trail count to 40 — about a quarter of the total runs — on several occasions.

Nick Reuter had the good fortune to plan a trip to Sugarloaf this weekend, where he and about 125 members of his online skier message board, AlpineZone.com, plan to ski Saturday and Sunday. After a season of hitting sticks and rocks in the glades, and a disappointing January, the skiers are “extremely excited” for a plentiful dose of fresh powder, Reuter said.

“I’m hoping that this puts us on the right path again,” he said. “If we get a good base right now, it could set us up for a really nice late winter, spring.”

Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in central Massachusetts is getting more snow than many of its northern counterparts, with up to 40 inches expected, said marketing director Tom Meyers. The ski area can make snow on all of its 22 trails, Meyers said, noting that machine-made snow can stand up to fluctuations in temperature better than natural snow because it’s denser and packs more tightly.

“That’s really what gets us through the ups and downs of Mother Nature’s little hissy fits,” he said.

After last year’s dismal snow year, when the dreaded “backyard effect” kept people who didn’t see snow at home from heading to the slopes, Wachusett began airing a new commercial every week to let people know that its trails are open.

This weekend’s blizzard should also be a good reminder.

Officials at Loon Mountain would prefer to be getting more than the 12 to 18 inches forecast for the Lincoln., N.H., area, but they’re thrilled that Bostonians will be getting dumped on.

“They’re not thinking of pulling their golf clubs out of the closet,” said marketing director Molly Mahar. “That definitely helps.”

Katie Johnston can be reached at kjohnston@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
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