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Lack of snow leaves Blue Hills skiers blue

George Rizer for The Boston Globe

Blue Hills employee Cameron Hughes approaches a snow gun at the bottom of the ski slope to make sure it is pumping the correct mixture of water and air.

By this time of year, skiers and snowboarders usually are hitting the slopes of the Blue Hills Ski Area in Milton. But for the first time in three years, Blue Hills hasn’t opened before Christmas.

After a freak snowstorm in October, unseasonably warm and unpredictable weather has pushed back the season’s starting date and forced the ski area to start making snow - when it’s cold enough to do so.

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While Blue Hills staffers wonder whether they’ll be able to make up for lost time this season, the regionwide scarcity of snow could keep some local skiers closer to home if the snow guns can churn out enough white stuff to get the slopes open.

Blue Hills manager Kristin Orozovich said Tuesday that her staff has made snow twice, on the weekend of Dec. 9 and again last weekend. It will work, she said, but she’s cautious about using the snow guns too frequently since the weather has been so unpredictable.

“We need about 60 to 80 hours of 28 degrees and below to get a good base down,’’ Orozovich said. “We try to make snow whenever we can, but financially we have to make sure it’s a smart decision.’’

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When temperatures reach the right level, most often at night, Orozovich said, staffers place the 10 or so snow guns strategically around the ski trails. Water and air are then pumped through the machines onto the trails to create a base of at least 24 inches.

Orozovich said she hopes Blue Hills can have a “soft opening’’ sometime this week, allowing visitors to use the beginner area and the main trail.

According to a long-range forecast by the National Weather Service, the high temperature today will hover around 38 degrees, and will be around 43 degrees the next two days. However, lows of about 27 degrees are expected tonight and into the week - cold enough to keep any snow frozen.

Norwood resident Diana Girvan frequently schedules vacation time for the week between Christmas and New Year’s to hit the slopes. But with the lack of snow, she said, many of the mountains she normally visits will have minimal lifts and trails open, making it hard to justify a trip north to larger mountains with $70-plus tickets.

“In recent years, New Year’s Day is often one of my favorite days to ski, but it looks like I may be waiting well into January and February before the ski areas will have time to accumulate the snow needed,’’ she said.

With an average of 35,000 to 40,000 skiers a season at Blue Hills, Orozovich said the later the start, the bigger the financial burden. To make up for it, the ski area is relying on preseason sales and hoping to make up the difference once it opens.

“That being said, of course, we do still need the revenue we’d be making now if we had snow,’’ she added.

Area residents have been calling daily to check on the ski area and ask when it will be open. Orozovich tries to keep the Facebook page and website updated and reminds them it will come - eventually.

“I think because it’s so warm, everyone is itching to get out there, they are having a hard time working,’’ she said.

Plus, she added, schools are out for break this week and many families and students usually spend the time at Blue Hills.

Employee Joseph Wildes, a snowboarder, said he thinks the lack of snow so far this year, coupled with the over-the-top amount of snow last year, is making the wait even harder.

“Last year we had so much snow, everyone was really excited and loving it,’’ Wildes said. “So this year there’s all this extra anticipation.’’

Wildes and Gregory Leonard, another employee and snowboarder, said they’ve heard from many friends who are just frustrated because of the unpredictability.

“You never know when we’ll get out there, and for us, we also want to start working,’’ Leonard said. “I guess we just have to remember it will eventually come.’’

On a recent day at Blue Hills, managers and cashiers bustled in and out of the lodge, bright yellow groomers did their best to prepare the snow made the night before. But most of the ski area’s 400 employees were home, waiting for the white stuff.

“We’re ready to open and prepared to go, we’ll continue making snow as long as we need to and hope that Mother Nature starts to cooperate,’’ Orozovich said.

Until then, Girvan says she’ll continue waiting and plan on shorter trips that keep her close to home.

“I think I may be doing more trips to smaller, more local mountains with night skiing this year to make up for time lost,’’ she said.

Natalie Feulner can be reached at natalie.feulner@gmail.com.
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