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Skier visits up 20 percent at Northeast ski areas

The lifts were crowded at Sugarbush in Warren, Vt., on Feb. 14.

Toby Talbot/Associated Press

The lifts were crowded at Sugarbush in Warren, Vt., on Feb. 14.

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Buoyed by plentiful snow and good weather, Northeast ski resorts rebounded this past winter from a lackluster 2012 season that was plagued by lack of snow and high temperatures.

For the 2012-13 ski season, ski areas in New England and New York had an estimated 13.3 million skier and snowboarder visits, according to the National Ski Areas Association. That’s up 20 percent from 11 million skier visits the previous winter.

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David Behany of Brewer said it was one of the best ski years he’s seen in his 45 years of skiing.

‘‘I’d say it was in the top seven or eight,’’ said Behany, 52. Behany, who works at Ski Rack Sports in Bangor, skied nearly 60 days this winter at western Maine’s Sugarloaf resort; his wife went 89 times.

Nationally, U.S. ski areas had an estimated 56.6 million skier and snowboarder visits during the season, an 11 percent increase over the prior winter and the largest year-over-year gain in 30 years, according to the NSAA’s preliminary year-end survey report. All regions of the country saw an increase. State-specific tallies were not available.

The lack of snow and high temperatures made for a dismal 2011-12 ski season for many New England mountains.

By contrast, this past winter was a snowy one, luring skiers and snowboarders back to the slopes. Portland, Maine, had nearly 100 inches this winter, up from 44 inches the year before. Concord, N.H., had 82 inches, up from 49 inches.

And with a cold April, ski mountains in northern New England stayed open longer than last year, when record-high temperatures in March forced many to shut down. Sugarloaf and Vermont’s Sugarbush and Killington resorts were still open this weekend.

At Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, spokesman Craig Clemmer said the season’s final ticket sales figures are still being tallied, but it looks like the season will stand as one of the top five ever. New snowmaking equipment allowed the resort to open with more terrain than usual, and there were mid-winter conditions consistently from Nov. 15 to April 15, he said.

‘‘Mother Nature smiled upon us and technology backed us up,’’ Clemmer said.

Some years, ‘‘all of a sudden the bottom drops out,’’ when the weather turns warm and the season ends abruptly, he said. This year, the resort considered staying open even longer. ‘‘There was phenomenal snow quality this year,’’ he said.

Although the season started off tentatively with the first major snowstorm not arriving until late December, New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley ended up being open for 147 days, the longest season in its history, said CEO Chris Sununu. Overall, the resort saw a 23 percent increase in skier visits this winter over last year, he said.

The Vermont Ski Areas Association won’t release its official 2012-13 ski numbers until June, but early indications are the season was well above average and far ahead of the 2011-12 season.

Spokeswoman Sarah Neith said the association has gotten a few end-of-season surveys and things are looking good.

‘‘Some are reporting double-digit increases over last year,’’ she said.

One of the keys to the season was that there was snow during all the major holiday periods, she said. Sugarbush set a one-day record for skier visits on Dec. 28, with a 9 percent increase over its previous high.

Scott Brandi, who operates West Mountain in Glens Falls, N.Y., and is president of Ski Areas of New York, said the state’s ski mountains were buoyed by good weather and a March that will be the benchmark for all future Marches. Revenue and number of skiers jumped 3 to 5 percent over 2011-12, he said.

‘‘As a rebound season for us in New York coming off the prior year, which was one of the worst in history, New York state did very, very well,’’ Brandi said.

The season also stretched from 90 to 100 days last year to 120 to 130 days this season, Brandi said.

In Maine, Freeport Ski and Bike shop co-owner Jamie Richardson saw a lot of people get skis tuned that looked like they’d been sitting idle for a while. Beginner ski sales were also up, he said.

‘‘That suggests that people who don’t tend to go skiing were getting out there,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘They’re a big part of it. The hardcore people always find their way to the mountains, no matter how bad the year.’’

Sunday River, Maine’s most-visited mountain with more than half a million annual skier visits, had a 7 percent increase this winter, said spokeswoman Darcy Morse.

‘‘Busy is good,’’ she said.

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Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vt., and Rik Stevens in Albany, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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