New England ski areas hope monster blizzard turns around dismal season

Thursday , March 06, 2014 - 10:38 AM

Erik Matuszewski

NEW YORK — New England ski resorts are anticipating what’s being touted as a “historic” winter storm that may cover their slopes with two feet of fresh powder after a season with uncharacteristically low snow totals hurt revenue.

A blizzard watch is in effect for the Boston region starting Friday morning and running through Feb. 9, according to the National Weather Service in Taunton, Mass., which projects 18 to 24 inches of snow for the area.

The past year’s season total for the Boston area was 10.7 inches of snow, well under the 30-year average of 25.5 inches, according to the National Weather Service, and a spokeswoman for Pats Peak Ski Area in Henniker, N.H., said revenue suffered. This weekend’s storm may boost income and snow totals at nearby Massachusetts and New Hampshire ski resorts.

“It definitely builds some excitement from our end,” said Al Fletcher, the president and general manager of Nashoba Valley Ski Area, less than an hour northwest of Boston in Westford, Mass. “We’ve already had calls from people asking about what kind of terrain we have open and what we have going on over the weekend.”

The ski industry in the United States produces direct spending at resorts of $5.8 billion, according to the National Ski Areas Association. In Vermont alone, the direct economic effect is about $750 million, with billions involved across New England, according to an October 2012 congressional report.

While Boston area residents prepare to contend with the heavy snowfall, Chris Garland of Ski Bradford is among the region’s operators who are getting ready to keep their parking lots plowed and trails maintained. Ski Bradford is about 35 miles north of Boston in Bradford, Massachusetts, just below the New Hampshire border.

“The impact of people seeing snow in their backyard increases our business dramatically,” Garland, the property’s snow activities director, said in a phone interview. “People think that we may not be open if there’s no snow on the ground for some reason. It’s that whole mentality of seeing it outside, it brings them right in. It’s a welcome sight to see some of that white stuff floating around.”

There have been six snowstorms of 20 inches or more in Boston, according to weather service records that date to 1892. The record snowfall for the area was 27 1/2 inches on Feb. 17- 18, 2003. If more than 18.2 inches fall this weekend, it would rank among the area’s 10 biggest winter storms, the weather service said.

“Last year was a departure from normal,” said Fletcher. “Usually you get a few snowy periods in the eastern Massachusetts marketplace. But last year was kind of an anomaly. We didn’t really get anything.”

The lack of snow hurt the bottom line for resorts such as Pats Peak, about 90 miles north of Boston. Lori Rowell, a spokeswoman for the resort, said revenue was down last year, without giving specifics, and that a fresh snowfall serves as a good reminder for those in the city that they can hit the slopes.

“The timing the way they’re talking is snow falling during the night on Friday into Saturday morning,” Rowell said by phone. “That will make way for a good day on Saturday and another great day on Sunday for powder skiing and riding.”

The storm arrives near the 35th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978, which killed 99 people, destroyed 2,000 homes, drove 10,000 residents into shelters and paralyzed eastern Massachusetts and northern Rhode Island for a week. While officials caution that this weekend’s storm may cause power failures and travel disruptions around Boston, it’s a welcome winter change for area ski resorts.

“We’re actually happy about the storm,” said Fletcher, of Nashoba Valley. “Even though it’s going to produce a lot, it’s going to do it over a long period of time, which gives the road crews a better advantage of keeping things safe on the roadways. In the end, that helps us. We need people to still be able to get here.”

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