Ski resort operators in the region said a cold snap in mid-November gave them an early start to the ski season.
Blue Knob All Seasons Resort opened Wednesday but closed for Thanksgiving.
“We will be opening to very limited terrain at this time, until we have more natural snow or we can continue to make snow,” said spokeswoman Donna Himes. “It brought us 6-8 inches of natural snow in three days and allowed us to start snowmaking operations to open before Thanksgiving, which doesn’t happen very often.”
Himes said Blue Knob is open today, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We will close during the week and reopen at the weekend, weather and conditions permitting, until closer to the Christmas holiday period when we open daily,” said Himes.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort opens today for daily ski and snowboard operations.
“This (cold snap) has had a positive impact, anytime you can start snowing and open in November is fantastic. We took advantage of this cold weather. This had an impact on the start of our winter season,” said Vice President/General Manager Brett Cook, who also holds the same position at Hidden Valley Resort, as both are owned by Vail Resorts. Hidden Valley hopes to open on December 23.
Tussey Mountain Ski Resort in Center County hopes to open in early to mid-December. The cold snap got people in the mood for the season.
“It got people excited, the phones are ringing, people are now in the ski season mood,” said Aaron Weyman, spokesperson for Tussey Mountain.
Although the season is off to a good start, it is likely to be difficult for the resorts.
“We are seeing a below average winter coming, below normal snowfall and above normal temperatures. Winter in general will not be good for the ski industry, but there is always hope,” said Accuweather meteorologist Tom Kines.
The operators agree that last season was not excellent.
“It was a little below average. We had very patchy weather, ranging from hot and rainy to sudden frosts after the rain. We were open 77 days for skiing and snowboarding last year, compared to 93 in 2020-21. We received 66 inches of snow in 2021-22 versus 83 in 2020-21,” said Himes.
“I would call last year an abnormal year, we were able to open for a few days in November, had to close and then reopen in mid-December. Last year we had 77 inches of natural snow, a little below of the average”, Cook said of Seven Springs. “We count the number of open days; we were open 105 days. We have reached the milestone of the century.
Cook said Hidden Valley was open for 74 days.
Area resorts have made several improvements for this season. Many improvements have been made to Blue Knob.
Steps have been repaired or replaced from the Summit Lodge to the lower parking lot. Additional water and air lines were installed to accommodate additional snow cannons and compressed air to increase snow production at the tubing park and at the top of the mountain. Workers created and/or repaired diversion ditches on various slopes and trails to improve drainage and Blue Knob conducted an engineering survey on site throughout the summer to assess the snowmaking system to suggest ways to make it more efficient, Himes said.
The Blue Knob Rental Shop is rolling out a rental gear overhaul.
“To help expand our rental capabilities, we have ordered new ski boots, helmets and 130 pairs of new rental skis. We also ordered new snowboard boots and 25 new snowboards as well,” said Himes.
Improvements have also been made to Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.
In Seven Springs, 28 new snowmaking towers were installed on Giant Steps and the snowmaking hose on Phillip’s Run was replaced. In Hidden Valley, seven new HKD portable snow guns have been added.
Resort operators continue to face challenges.
“Weather is an important factor for skiing on the East Coast. Some people don’t think about skiing if there’s no snow in their backyard.” said Weyman. “We have a strong demand from children and adults to learn to ski. We need to find good instructors to help us give lessons.
“Our number one (problem) is climate change, whether you believe it or not. The weather is the hardest part of the industry,” said Cook. “The next challenge is to get new, additional skiers interested in the sport.”
Despite forecasts, operators remain optimistic.
“We are hoping for a typical Center County winter. It can be up and down. We will keep an eye on the fronts. We hope the big storms will hit us,” said Weyman.
“We just hope there are long stretches of weather and snowmaking conditions, as well as natural snow in our path. We’ve kind of learned not to believe those snowy forecasts until the snow is on the ground,” said Himes.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 814-946-7467.