Ski industry is hopeful about MLK weekend

Waterville Snow Day.jpg

A winter sports enthusiast enjoys ample snow at Waterville Valley, which, along with other New Hampshire ski areas, has a hefty snow base, even though Arctic conditions have limited skier visits going in to this weekend’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. (Courtesy photo)



LACONIA —Ski area operators, whose business has been limited by subzero temperatures so far this season, saw steady rain Friday leading into the traditionally busy Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

A wintry mix and fog was forecast to continue Saturday, with Sunday and Monday expected to feature mostly sunny skies with temperatures around 20.

Karolyn Castaldo, spokeswoman for Ski NH, the state's ski area trade association, said the hope was that early rain would not put a damper on MLK holiday skier visits. 

Hopes for this weekend are especially high, given that the week from Christmas to the start of the new year, another traditionally busy time, was greeted by an Arctic freeze that dropped temperatures well into the negative numbers. Strong winds made it feel even colder.

If large numbers of skiers come this weekend, and if things go well through school vacation time in late February-early March, this could be a good year.

“We're still set up for a good season, despite crazy weather patterns lately,” Castaldo said.

“The snow conditions have been great for natural snow and snowmaking.”

Looking on the bright side, she said rain Saturday could help firm up the snow base.

At Loon Mountain, spokesman Greg Kwasnik said the frigid conditions earlier this season could bode well for business going forward.

“There may be pent up demand from people who may have stayed home during the holidays,” he said.

Good base

Most ski areas in the state have a snow base of about three feet. The weather service's climatological report for December showed 20 inches of snow fell, which was 5.6 inches above normal.

The main thing for a good ski season is weather cold enough to allow snowmaking activities.

“Warm weather tends to be more challenging,” Castaldo said. “Snowmaking technology has come a long way.”

The 2015-16 season was disappointing.

“That was one of the worst seasons we have seen in the last decade,” she said. “It came down to snowfall was always followed by rain. Then, it was too warm to make snow, so that was a tricky year.”

The 2016-17 season was considerably better.

Big industry

The ski season is important for the state's economy.

A Plymouth State University study, prepared in 2014 for Ski NH, found that 3.26 million people visited New Hampshire ski areas over a year's time, spending $359 million. A combined total of direct and secondary spending was about $1.1 billion.

The study also found that the industry supports 11,000 jobs and $61 million in state and local tax and fee receipts.

Gunstock Skiers.jpg

Skiers make their way down a trail at Gunstock Mountain Resort with Lake Winnipesaukee in the distance. Resort operators were hoping that rain at the start of Martin Luther King Jr. weekend would not interfere with a traditionally busy holiday period. (Courtesy photo)