With fall in full swing, temperatures around New England are finally dropping to consistently low levels, and this year, much to the delight of restless skiers and snowboarders, that means record-early opening weekends for several ski mountains in the region.
“It feels great to get people out here this early,” said Jamie Storrs, spokesman for Mount Snow in Vermont, which is having the earliest opening day in its 64-year history Saturday. “There’s a lot of pent-up demand; people haven’t been on skis since April. People are pretty fired up to be able to ski in October.”
On Wildcat Mountain in New Hampshire, the slopes will open for the first time this season Saturday as well, making it the earliest opening day in the mountain’s 61-year history, Wildcat spokesman Nate Ramsbottom said.
Sunday River resort in Maine and Killington resort in Vermont were two of the first ski mountains to open in New England this season. Both resorts opened Oct. 19, which marked the second-earliest opening day at Sunday River since it opened 59 years ago, said Karolyn Castaldo, spokeswoman for the resort.
Killington has been able to open as early as October three of the last four years, including this year, said Courtney DiFiore, spokeswoman for Killington. Ski mountains have been able to open early thanks to consistently low temperatures that allow for artificial snow-making, even when there isn’t enough natural snowfall, which has been the case so far throughout much of the region, meteorologists said.
“We really don’t have a ton of snowfall around the area right now,” said Robert Deal, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Burlington. “Any skiing or snowboarding right now is only going to be done on trails where they’re making snow.”
But creating snow doesn’t seem to be an issue for some of the resorts that are opening early. Mount Snow recently invested $30 million in its snow-making system, making it the most powerful such system in the Northeast, Storrs said.
At Sunday River, major renovations to the mountain’s snow-making system allow the snowblowers to now carry 15 percent more water, which means more powder for impatient skiers and snowboarders to shred, Castaldo said.
“We’ve had a couple of storms here and there, but it’s really been up to our snow-making system,” Storrs said. Just one of the 12 inches of snow base on Mount Snow is from natural snowfall, he said.
“No matter what happens with natural snow, the snow-making system is always the backbone of our resort,” Storrs said. “It’s the reality of operating in New England and North America.”
Even with about 15 inches of natural snowfall at the summit of Wildcat Mountain this week, the resort made its decision to open early, knowing that skiing and riding ability was going to depend on snow-making, Ramsbottom said.
“We had the temperatures to start making snow earlier than usual,” he said. “We rolled the dice, went ahead, and Mother Nature joined in. We thought, ‘There’s no way we can’t open.’ ”
Other mountains weren’t as fortunate as Wildcat Mountain in terms of snowfall leading up to opening day, but are deciding to lean on their snow-making systems to bridge the snowfall gap.
A few days before opening, Sunday River got just 1 to 3 inches of natural snow, but that snowfall was followed by 36 consecutive hours of snow-making temperatures, Castaldo said.
Killington has gotten just 2 inches of natural snow in the last seven days but has been able to make up the rest of the mountain’s 12-inch snow base with snow-making machines, DiFiore said.
As temperatures drop further in the coming weeks, precipitation on the mountains is more likely to come down as snow, but snowfall totals for the winter are largely unpredictable, meteorologists said.
Nevertheless, ski resorts seem to be optimistic.
“It seems like it will be a good season, and because we were able to open this early, it seems like that trend is going to continue,” DiFiore said.