Thursday, January 12, 2012

Have you hugged a snowmaker lately?

Photo: Greg Keeler/Cannon Mountain - Guns a-blazin' on Cannon.
When Alpine skiing first became popular in this country nearly 100 years ago, there were no lifts to carry folks to mountain tops, no grooming equipment to smooth trails, nor (gulp) snowmaking guns blasting layers of white onto mountainsides. If Ma Nature complied with lots of the white stuff, early schussers were lucky. If she didn’t, they found something else to do in the bare days of winter.

The snow lovers among us should be thankful, in an early winter as lean as this one has been, for the modern marvel of manmade snow. Snowmaking crews have been working day and night – wrestling heavy hoses, frozen metal snow guns, icy water, and subzero temperatures – to create snow-covered slopes amid a landscape of muted brown.

“It’d be tough to imagine any ski area in New England being open right now without snowmaking,” said Cannon Mountain General Manager John DeVivo early this week. As it is, local areas from Bretton Woods and Cannon to Vermont’s Burke Mountain are operating on about half their trails following a disappointing rotation of teasing snow showers and pouring rain through December.

Other normally snowy areas, from the European Alps to the Rockies and Sierras, have also had a slow start to winter. Ski areas in Colorado and California, which normally see hundreds of inches of natural snowfall each year, are operating solely on manmade. Powder hounds have nowhere to go for a fix.

On the heels of a seasonal snowfall as epic as last winter’s, this year is certainly a bit bleaker. But local ski areas are in as good a shape as just about anywhere else. “There’s a fair amount of skiing out there, and the bigger trails are all open,” noted Craig Clemmer of the Omni Mount Washington Resort, which includes Bretton Woods.

The local manmade has been surprisingly silky, the terrain varied, the corduroy replenished into neat, grippy rows each morning. For that, we have the snowmakers and groomers to thank. We’re not so far removed from the days when so little natural snow would have meant no skiing at all.

A complete lack of skiing would be devastating both to the local economy and the local psyche. Not only would the skiers and snowboarders among us be moping around, but the thousands of folks who work at ski areas or other businesses directly affected by the ski industry – hotels, restaurants, shops – would be without a paycheck.

The Bretton Woods Ski Area employs about 380 people. More than 400 folks work at Cannon Mountain. Countless others area residents rely on spending by skiers and snowboarders to make a living through the winter.

We snow lovers are hoping this week’s forecasted storm drops a load of snow on the mountains. And if it does, we’ll have our ski legs ready, thanks to the turns we’ve been able to make on manmade. So, keep on doing your snow dance, strap on your boards, and get out to your favorite ski area. While you’re there, you just might want to hug a snowmaker.

Original content written and copyrighted by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted on her blog: Writings from a full life.