Balmy Weather Tests Some Ski Areas' Snow-Making Mettle

Feb 20, 2018

A snow-maker blows powder onto a ski slope at Bretton Woods in this December photo.
Credit Courtesy Bretton Woods

On the heels of this winter's record-breaking cold comes record-breaking warmth.

Temperatures are previewing spring in New Hampshire this week, with forecast highs peaking in the upper 60s for parts of the state Wednesday.

Mount Washington had the warmest Feb. 20 on record Tuesday, notching a 41-degree high at the summit.

The peak's all-time February high is 43, with an all-time winter high of 48. The summit Observatory says on Twitter those records might fall this week, too.

While winter melts away on the mountain, ski areas around the state are scrambling to make more of it.

Cannon Mountain’s pre-recorded snow report phone line said most trails were groomed and open Tuesday…with one caveat: “The snow will soften up throughout the day today, and you can definitely feel like spring skiing by the end of the day.”

Most of the state's big ski resorts stockpile snow on the coldest nights of the season, to spread on their trails on milder days.

The Bretton Woods snow report said Tuesday afternoon, “Groomers are out this morning and are reporting that trails are coming out soft and creamy. Ungroomed terrain will be spring like today with soft snow and thin cover so please use caution.”

Some resorts haven’t gotten that far. Tenney Mountain, in Plymouth, re-opened last weekend for the first time since 2010 -- only to have to close Tuesday and Wednesday.

General Manager Mike Bouchard says they couldn’t begin stockpiling snow until they were sure they would open, so they didn’t have enough to get through the warmth.

“It can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 a night to make snow, and if it’s just sitting there and not being used, it’s an expensive proposition,” says Bouchard. “Now that we’re ready to go, unfortunately, the weather’s not in our favor this week.”

The Plymouth resort had to close due to snowmelt Tuesday and Wednesday. Bouchard says he recognizes, “110 percent,” that climate change will make the coming years a challenge for a new ski business.

"It's just going to keep getting worse and worse for us, so we have to be smarter and smarter,” he says. “You have to use more advanced technologies, because we're going to have a much shorter window to make that snow if we're going to survive up here."

Once nighttime lows get back under about 28, Bouchard says, they can start making snow again. He hopes to be up and running on Thursday, and says he expects three or four more weeks of snow-making weather to prolong Tenney’s re-opening season.