Maybe the first sign that this would be a hearty day for business on the slopes of New England was during the morning drive through Boston.
While I wouldn’t exactly liken the traffic in the Tip O’Neil Tunnel as anything comparative to the typical, weekday snarl, nor was the amount of cars on the road the norm for 6 a.m. on your average Sunday.
But with the final flakes still falling from Saturday’s evening’s storm (not to mention — gasp — the Patriots’ absence in the AFC Championship game later Sunday afternoon), it prompted skiers and riders across New England to make a point of heading to the hills.
After the previous weekend’s thaw, up to two feet of snow fell during the week in pockets throughout New England, putting the mountains back into midseason form.
It was just in time for the MLK long weekend, one of the most pivotal periods on the industry’s calendar.
For resorts like Sunday River, the result was huge.
“I can confirm that this was one of the busiest weekends we’ve had in at least 10 years based on historical records,” Sunday River spokesperson Karolyn Castaldo said. “With eight inches of new snow overnight, from Saturday into Sunday, it was the perfect storm for clear travel to the resort on Sunday morning for visitors, and we opened a significant amount of terrain due to the new snow, which helped with crowds.”
Crowds were a significant factor throughout the region on Sunday, with lift lines spreading as quickly as the fresh snow fever. That did lead to some grumbling on social media, with many posts showing some wild lines at a number of base areas. But Boston Herald ski writer Moira McCarthy had a great retort to the complaints on Facebook. McCarthy posted an image showing the long lines at Attitash, and explained why she liked the sight of them. It means that people are skiing, she wrote, and controls the crowds on the trails.
Agreed. Crowds on MLK weekend should be expected. The level that New England saw should be celebrated in some way, speaking to the vitality of the sport.
It all made for an historic stretch. In fact, Ski New Hampshire president Jessyca Keeler said that she heard from multiple ski areas in the Granite State that said they didn’t only see record numbers for the Sunday of MLK weekend, but in the ski area’s entire history.
“All in all, we had two snow storms that couldn’t have been better timed – right before the weekend on Thursday, and right smack in the middle of the weekend on Saturday night and early Sunday morning,” Keeler said. “And to have all the snow, and have Sunday be a day without follow-up winds or rain but instead just a blue-sky beauty, was awesome for the industry.”
At Mount Sunapee, where one worker said he’s never seen the ski area as busy as it was on Sunday, lines were long, but manageable. The single queue was about a 10-minute wait for much of the peak period of the day. Skiers at other areas were reporting waits of 20-plus minutes.
Parking became the bigger issue, with reports that Bretton Woods, Wildcat, and Gunstock, among others, ran out of space by mid-to-late morning. When I arrived at Sunapee at 8 a.m., I was able to park in the second lot. By 8:15, drivers were being directed to the third lot, and soon after that, shuttled from the nearby state park,
At Stowe, things were a bit more hectic for those who didn’t get an early start. Some stuck in traffic on Mountain Road Sunday morning reported a two-hour backup.
“In addition to snowy road conditions, we were made aware that traffic flow was held-up twice during the morning,” Stowe spokesperson Jeff Wise said. “Once, to allow the state snow plows up the road and again to escort Stowe Mountain Rescue vehicles into the Smuggler’s Notch recreational area to help an injured person.
“From a resort parking standpoint, our parking team continues to refine and reimagine our strategic parking program, and we continuously parked cars at the resort all throughout the day Sunday without turning any vehicles away.”
Elsewhere in Vermont, Sugarbush reported a record day, while Jay Peak general manager Steve Wright said the resort welcomed the largest number of skiers and riders it has seen in three seasons. Jay’s total lodging capacity of 900 rooms was “100 percent sold out.”
It may not have been the perfect storm in a meteorological sense, but in terms of timeliness, especially following the previous weekend’s thaw, it was the ideal way for the industry to recover.
As for the message that those unhappy about the crowds should take from all this as we look toward February and Presidents Day weekend? Just hope that we see a similar storm pattern.
And get there earlier.
Staking a claim
At this time last year, the snow stake atop of Mount Mansfield recorded a snow depth of 80 inches. This week, it hit 40 inches for the first time this season.
The average, historical snow depth for this week is 45.2 inches, which, believe it or not, means that we’re not that far off from normal.
Snow-starved skiers and riders might have thought differently, particularly after the disheartening thaw that hit New England earlier this month. The snow stake was sitting at only 18 inches on Jan. 12, which means last week’s rebound in terms of precipitation was a much-needed boost.
So, has it been a bad snow year? Well, it hasn’t been great so far, but it’s still, technically, early in the season. Nor are we that far off from an average winter either.
But with last year’s record depths still etched in our memories, it’s hard sometimes to experience average.
Is New Hampshire about to tax skiers?
New Hampshire’s WMUR has the latest on state lawmakers hoping to extend a nine percent rooms and meals tax to one, two, and three-day lift tickets.
“Probably the biggest issue is it’s going to fall disproportionately on the smaller, independent family operators that rely heavily on daily lift ticket sales,” Pats Peak general manager Kris Blomback told the station.
Precisely. In a world of multi-mountain passes, the walk-up customer might become the most dependable for smaller ski areas. Taxing them an extra nine percent might keep them away.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu has already said that he will veto such a ski tax. So, this seems like a proposal going nowhere.
Steals and deals
Mad River Glen’s annual “Roll Back the Clock” promotion takes place on Tuesday, with lift tickets available for $3.50, the cost at the window when the ski area opened in 1948.
New England Ski Journal on NESN
Tune into NESN tomorrow night at 6 and again on Jan. 30 at 2:30 p.m. for the latest edition of New England Ski Journal TV with a visit to Loon Mountain Resort and Lincoln, N.H. New episodes will air in February with visits to Wachusett Mountain and Ski Bradford (Friday, Feb. 7 at 1:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 11 at 5:30 p.m., and Friday, Feb. 14 at 2 p.m.), as well as Cranmore Mountain Resort and North Conway, N.H. (Friday, Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, Feb. 25 at 4 p.m.)
You can check out our earlier episode above with a trip to Black Mountain in Jackson, N.H.