CONCORD, N.H. – A midwinter storm headed to the Northeast on Friday could drop more than a foot of snow, setting up a weekend of skiing, sledding and snowmobiling in places that have been stuck with bare ground for much of the season.
The storm comes just after the 35th anniversary of the historic blizzard of 1978, which paralyzed the region with more than 2 feet of snow and hurricane force winds from Feb. 5-7. This week's storm isn't expected to come even close, but those who've been disappointed with the season so far say they'll take what they can get.
"We'll be here with bells on," said Christopher Kitchin, inside operations manager at Nashoba Valley Ski Area in Westford, Mass. "People are getting excited. They want to get out in the snow and go snow-tubing, skiing and snowboarding."
Small scattered snowstorms have kept business up at Nashoba Valley, but the upcoming storm could be "the icing on the cake," Kitchin said.
The National Weather Service says the snow will start falling Thursday night, with the heaviest snowfall Friday afternoon and night. Strong wind gusts may create near blizzard conditions. And depending on the storm's path, parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire could get more than a foot of snow.
Massachusetts ski areas were thrilled about the forecast of their first major snowstorm since October 2011.
Tom Meyers, marketing director for Wachusett Mountain Ski Area in Princeton, Mass., said that at an annual conference of the National Ski Areas Association in Vermont this week, many participants were "buzzing" about the storm. He said the snow will arrive at an especially opportune time — a week before many schools in Massachusetts have February vacation.
"It is perfect timing because it will just remind everybody that it is winter, it's real, and get out and enjoy it," Meyers said.
After a promising start this season, snowmobile conditions across northern New England have deteriorated. Rain fell but not much snow. Many trails in Maine turned essentially to thick sheets of ice.
But a few inches of fresh snow will make for ideal riding conditions, said Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers, who gets calls and emails daily from people seeking the best locations.
"People got a taste of it, and there's no question they want some more," he said.
Nearly all of Vermont's snowmobile trails opened after Christmas but riding lately has been limited to hard-to-reach mountain areas. Riders hope this week's storm will bring enough snow to cover bare and icy patches.
"I'd say maybe 75 percent of the trail system may be back up and running if we got a good 8-inch storm," said Matt Tetreault, trails administrator for the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers.
Still that may be too late for Michael Amarello, director of the Horse Hill 7K snowshoe race, which is scheduled for Saturday in Merrimack, N.H. He said Wednesday that he hadn't yet decided whether to postpone the race, but was leaning in that direction. Race organizers wouldn't have time to mark the course if it's snowing hard Friday afternoon, he said.
"We want snow, but we don't want snow Friday night — we want snow today or tomorrow!" he said.
Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., is going ahead with its 102nd Winter Carnival, But the snow comes too late to revive several events that have already been canceled, including a snow sculpting contest and an amateur ski race, said Eric Ramsey, director of the Collis Center and Student Involvement Office.
Still, the fresh snow will ensure the continuation of another tradition — the "human sled dog" event on the college green.
Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vt., Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and Denise Lavoie in Boston contributed to this report.