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For local ski resorts, winter was a welcome bonanza

Skiers rode a lift at Sugarbush in Warren, Vt. in February. The resort closed to skiing Saturday.

Toby Talbot /Associated Press

Skiers rode a lift at Sugarbush in Warren, Vt. in February. The resort closed to skiing Saturday.

PORTLAND, Maine — 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 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 visits the previous winter.

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David Behany of Brewer said it was one of the best ski years he has 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, US 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.

The lack of snow and high temperatures made for a dismal 2011-12 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.

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

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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 last 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 midwinter 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 will not 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.

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.

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.

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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