• Winter has returned to normal for skiers and snowboarders who flocked to the Gunstock Mountain Resort over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. But it remains far from ideal for snowmobilers, ice fishermen and sled dog drivers, all of whom are looking for more snow and extended cold weather to create better conditions for outdoor recreation.
"Winter has completely turned around for us after a warm December," says Gregg Goddard, Gunstock general manager, who said that all of Gunstock's 37 trails are open and snowmaking is going full tilt.
"Monday was our best day of the season. It was nearly a sellout and our Nordic Center has been really busy," said Goddard.
That's proved to be good news for the Marriott Town Place Suites in Gilford, which has experienced a 95 percent occupancy rate so far this year, according to Tricia Smith, one of the managers at the hotel which is located just off the Laconia Bypass.
At lower elevations, which rely on natural snow and ice, it's a different story. There are no snowmobile trails open in Belknap County and sled dog drivers are unable to get in workout sessions for their teams due to a lack of snow cover.
And in Meredith Bay, which is slated to host the New England Pond Hockey Classic Feb. 5-7 and the Great Rotary Fishing Derby on Feb. 13-14, there is so little ice that event organizers are concerned that, unless things turn around soon, the lack of strong ice will have an impact on the events.
'"We're not seeing many customers these days," says Harold Delucca at A.J.'s Bait and Tackle in Meredith, who says that ice fishermen are setting up on smaller lakes like Waukewan and Winona and the northern part of Lake Winnisquam but there's nothing yet in the Meredith Bay area.
"The wind is not helping. Even with cold nights, the ice is breaking up. I don't think The Broads (the deepest part of the lake east of Rattlesnake Island) will freeze this year. As long as there's wind, the ice won't catch and it won't freeze," said Delucca.
It would mark the second time in recent history that Lake Winnipesaukee hasn't completely frozen over. In 2010, Dave Emerson of Emerson Aviation, the official ice-out observer for Lake Winnipesaukee, reported that The Broads were briefly covered with skim ice one morning but that it broke up by the end of that day.
Organizers of the seventh annual Pond Hockey Classic, which has 260 teams signed up to play this year and draws several thousand spectators, are still hoping there will be a quick turnaround for ice conditions in Meredith Bay. They need about 12 inches of ice to hold the tournament. If the ice doesn't materialize by next week, organizer Scott Crowder said he is looking to move the event to Lake Waukewan, like he did in 2012 when faced with less-than-ideal ice conditions.
Lisa Meeken, manager of HK Powersports on Union Avenue in Laconia, said it hasn't been a strong winter yet for snowmobile sales.
"We're plugging along and doing alright, but we really need the lakes to freeze for people to be able to get out with their snowmobiles" she said.
Jon Bossey of the Belknap Snowmobilers said it's not only a lack of snow which keeps trails from being open, but also a lack of frozen ground.
"December was so warm that there wasn't any frost in the ground," he said. "Unless you have at least a little frost, the trails can get muddy real quick,"
He said the Belknap Snowmobilers are responsible for 60 miles of trail and have two grooming machines to do the work. "Last year we started grooming on Jan. 17, so we're already behind last season. What we need is a good storm with 10 to, 12 inches of snow."
He's pinning his hopes on a possible nor'easter this weekend, which the Weather Channel has already identified as tropical storm Jonas and has the potential for bringing at least 10 inches of snow in cities extending from Philadelphia to Boston.
Jen Lyman of the Lakes Region Sled Dog Club, which is slated to hold the Laconia World Championship Sled Dog Derby Feb. 12-14, said club members are holding out hopes that the storm system will bring at least a foot of snow to the area so that the derby can be held on schedule.
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