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Ski Resorts Welcome Arctic Outbreak for Snowmaking, Urge Guests to Take Precaution

While much of the Midwest and Eastern U.S. is shivering due to several blasts of arctic air, ski resorts aren't complaining, as the frigid conditions are providing an opportunity to layer their trails with fresh, man-made snow.

Pennsylvania

"We rely 100 percent on our snow-making system to provide the snow," said Barbara Green, president of Blue Mountain Ski Area in Palmerton, Pennsylvania. On average, the mountain only receives 20 inches of natural snow per year, Green said.

The lower the temperatures, the more snow they can put on the mountain, she explained. When temperatures are around 16-17 F, they can put up to 6 inches of snow on the mountain per hour.

"Ideally, it's 15 to 20 degrees, and no wind," Green said.

Cold conditions allowed Blue Mountain to open the week before Thanksgiving, the earliest it has ever opened. They were able to build an ideal base depth of 24-36 inches on most of their trails that lasted even through the mild temperatures around the holidays, Green said.

However, it can get too cold for ski resorts. In January 2014, highs dropped close to zero, with wind chills sending temperatures below zero. Green said they warned customers about the potential for dangerous frostbite but did not close the mountain.

"Our January last year we lost, because of the cold, a good 10 percent of the traffic that we usually have and we had everything open," she said.

Several other resorts in northeastern Pennsylvania were reaping the benefits of favorable conditions to make snow.

Cold weather along with the right wet-bulb temperature, plus the right humidity and it's like the trifecta, said Brian Czarnecki, vice president of sales and marketing for Camelback Mountain Resort in Tannersville, Pennsylvania.

"This week is great snow-making weather, almost around the clock," Czarnecki said. "As of last weekend, we were just shy of [being] fully open by three trails, so this week is spent totally reconditioning all the trails that we have open."

Camelback is looking to get the final three trails open for this weekend, Czarnecki said; however, even if one trail remains closed, it will still be a huge success for this time of year.

To raise awareness of the dangerous cold, frostbite and windburn warnings are placed on chair lifts. Camelback remained open this week, but it's not uncommon to see school groups, who usually visit midweek during the evening hours, cancel and reschedule later in the season. Camelback had already seen some cancellations this week, Czarnecki said.

"School groups are saying it's just too cold to come out in the evening," Czarnecki said.

Shawnee Mountain Ski Area in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, said they were making good progress with snow-making and hoped to have 21 out of 23 trails open for this weekend, and all trails open by the Martin Luther King holiday.

"We're feeling really good right now," said Jim Tust, a managing partner with Shawnee.

Much of the Northeast has seen less snow than usual through December, but Tust said natural snow is more like "the icing on the cake" and it didn't affect Shawnee too much.

Due to mild and wet weather towards the holidays, Tust said they were about 50 percent open, short of their target of 75 percent. The cold conditions have provided a nice rebound opportunity.

Like Camelback, Shawnee also saw cancellations from school groups this week due to frigid weather.

When school groups are able to hit the slopes, the ski patrol at Shawnee will keep a close eye on kids to make sure they have on proper attire such as hats and gloves, Tust said. The mountain has never closed due to extreme cold, but high winds can affect lift operations, he added.

New York

"The colder it is the more efficient our [snow-making] system is," said Jane Eshbaugh, director of marketing for Holiday Valley Resort in Ellicottville, New York, located about 50 miles south of Buffalo.

The resort received more than a foot of snow in the last week and "was making snow like crazy" according to its website. All 13 lifts on the mountain were scheduled to open this weekend.

Since the beginning of the season, Holiday Valley received 66 inches of snow, but the weather has fluctuated, Eshbaugh said.

"The man-made snow is what allows us to have skiing," she said.

More heavy lake-effect snow falling into the weekend will allow for a boost in ski conditions with additional natural powder.

Holiday Valley was able to open Nov. 21, a weekend earlier than their target date, Eshbaugh said. They saw variable weather during December, but due to the mountain's automated snow-making system, they were able make snow which allowed the resort to stay open from Thanksgiving through New Year's.

The resort did not close this week due to the cold, and there were days last year that saw subzero temperatures yet they still remained open, according to Eshbaugh.

"It is a winter sport, so we're out here skiing and having fun," she said, adding that the lift attendants and ski patrol will keep an eye out for those who may be under-dressed during extreme conditions.

You want to make sure people are being safe, you want to protect your skin, especially your face and we recommend that people wear a neck warmer or a facemask, Eshbaugh said.

Vermont

Cold air is all that's needed to cover 80 percent of the trails at Stowe Mountain Resort, in Stowe, Vermont, according to Jeff Wise, marketing and communications director for the resort.

"When the temperature is in the teens or lower, we make a more efficient, higher [and] drier quality snow," Wise said. "Thus far this season we've relied heavily on snow-making."

Currently, the resort has received 108 inches of natural snow this season, which is about average, said Wise, adding that February and March are usually the snowiest months of the winter for the mountain.

Despite the arctic blast of air sending temperatures into the low single digits and at times below zero, Stowe remained open. Wise said that over the past 20 years he cannot recall the mountain ever closing due to extreme cold.

Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, at least two resorts closed due to the brutally cold temperatures this week.

Granite Peak Ski Area in Wausau, Wisconsin, was closed on Monday and Wednesday due to extreme cold according to its Facebook page.

With highs below zero on Wednesday, Cascade Mountain in Portage, about two hours northwest of Milwaukee, also closed due to the cold. The mountain reopened on Thursday.

Last year, Cascade closed four and a half days due to temperatures that dropped as low as minus 15 F, said Michael Taft, director of mountain operations for Cascade Mountain. It was the first time in his 13 years at the ski area that he can remember closing due to cold.

The frigid air makes it tough to get the chair lifts warmed up, and even the snow-making is not as efficient, when temperatures drop 5-10 degrees below zero F, according to Taft.

"We can put a lot of water through the nozzles, but what happens, we get a lot of evaporation out of the snow-making machines. It actually goes up and it doesn't come down," he said.

Typically, they will prepare to run the lifts an hour before the mountain opens, meaning an extra hour in the brutal cold for the staff. And following a successful holiday season, the decision to close wasn't too difficult to swallow.

"It's a little bit easier business decision to say ‘hey, it's too cold, it's better to keep staff safe and guests safe'," Taft said.