Slippery slopes: Hot weather bodes ill for resorts
Thursday, March 22, 2012
NEWRY, Maine (AP) — Skiers stripped down to shorts and bikini tops to keep cool Wednesday as they got in a few final sun-drenched, slushy runs, bidding what could be an early goodbye to a season that has disappointed all around.
An unprecedented spell of record temperatures soaring into the 80s had New England skiers dodging dirt patches and exposed rocks as melting snow spelled potentially millions in losses for those who make their living off winter tourism and sports.
“It’s like ‘swinter’ — summer and winter combined,” said 15-year-old Allie Ward, who wore only a bikini and boots during a break from skiing at Sunday River. She was joined by a sunburned friend, both of North Shore in Canada’s Prince Edward Island.
A year after ski resorts reported a record 60.5 million visits, the season opened last year with early snow and high expectations. But optimism was short-lived as Christmas arrived with little or none in many parts of the country. And the trend carried through the winter, with a few notable exceptions, like parts of Alaska.
Only a few of Maine’s 22 ski areas were open Wednesday. Sugarloaf, the state’s tallest ski mountain, tried to put a good face on the warm temperatures, tweeting this week about sun-drenched “slushy goodness” on its slopes.
Colorado Ski Country USA estimated that the number of visits at its resorts in the nation’s biggest skiing state is down 7.4 percent so far this season, spokeswoman Jennifer Rudolph said Wednesday from Denver.
That represents losses of millions of dollars in revenue for ski resorts, retail stores and hotels. Cross-country skiing and snowmobiling also suffered.
In the end, the December-to-February period was the fourth-warmest in the continental U.S., and was one of the three warmest on record from Washington, D.C., to Caribou, Maine, said Jessica Rennells, of the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.
This week, the warmth reached epic proportions.
In Bangor in central Maine, the temperature surged to 83 degrees on Wednesday, smashing the old record of 64. In neighboring New Hampshire, the capital, Concord, enjoyed a summerlike spell the likes of which has never been seen in 144 years of record-keeping.
“There’s only five days in March where the record was 80 or higher in Concord. And we’re going to do that five times in a row this week. That’s unprecedented,” said John Cannon of the National Weather Service.
In Seattle, Larry Waldman said he’d been skiing at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont since he was 6 years old. He had already bought his plane tickets for a time-share next week and acknowledged it would be too expensive to cancel.
“It is what it is. There’s nothing you can do about the weather. You just roll with it,” he said. “It’s just a pain in the butt.”
Skiers have to be wary because of the changing conditions. “The biggest challenge is there’s a lot of dirt and exposed rocks. You have to pick your way down the mountain and avoid the obstacles,” Kevin Gray of Eliot, Maine, said after skiing a few runs at Sunday River.
To the west, some resorts are in better shape, thanks to some late-season snowfall in Utah and California’s Sierra Nevada, allowing them to stay open longer.
In the Northeast, larger resorts like Maine’s Sunday River and Sugarloaf and Vermont’s Killington usually stay open well into April, and sometimes even May. And they remain optimistic that they can hold out for several more weeks, pointing to a cooler forecast this weekend that gives a glimmer of hope that the little snow that’s left won’t melt.
“I don’t know that any one of us have seen a week of 70- to 80-degree heat in March, but I wouldn’t say it’s a killer,” said Sugarloaf spokesman Ethan Austin. “We’re definitely not packing it in yet.”
On Wednesday, 15-year-old Sydney Warren said she was grateful that she and her friend, Allie Ward, brought swimsuits for their weeklong ski vacation, thinking they’d be used for the resort’s swimming pool. But she needed some sunscreen, as well.
“I didn’t think I’d be in a swimsuit out here. But I’m glad I can be,” she said, sporting a sunburn on her face and shoulders. “I’m burned to a crisp.”
Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to his report.