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Ski Season Tardy … and Tenuous

CHARLEMONT, Mass. (WGGB) — Snow, in this region, is almost as certain as death and taxes.  But while it’s not nice to fool Mother Nature, apparently the inverse rule doesn’t apply.  Last December the snow didn’t really start until the day after Christmas, then it never stopped.  Here it is December 27, 2011 and western Massachusetts ski areas are still waiting for any significant snowfall.  The warmth hasn’t helped.

“We have had two good windows of snowmaking opportunity within the last two-and-a-half weeks,” Berkshire East’s Christopher Loftus told ABC40 Tuesday.  That’s not much for this time of year, and there have been plenty of thaw temperatures in-between, interspersed by precipitation only in the form of rain.

But with the crucial December school vacation week upon them, Berkshire East and counterpart Blandford Ski Area opened Monday.

“Vacation week is very important for all the ski areas, certainly for us,” said Loftus, just a few ski strides away from the bottom of Berkshire East’s Diamond Express lift, where traffic ebbed and flowed between sparse and brisk, carrying skiers to just eight open trails of the resort’s 45.  At Blandford, where just four of 22 trails are suitable for action, Eric Van Oostveen acknowledged that conditions during the week between Christmas and the new year can heavily influence downhillers’ plans for the entire season.  If that holds true, no one will sweat the warm weather more than ski areas, especially given a virtually snowless forecast beyond the first of January.  Making matters worse, some local school systems have opted to curtail February school vacation to make up for days lost to Hurricane Irene in August and/or the nor’easter of October 29.

On day two of the season, even some of the reviews are lukewarm.

“It’s really icy because there’s a lot of people, but it’s pretty good,” Kelsey Scranton of Colrain told ABC40 while finishing a run.

Gery Benedetti’s assessment was, perhaps, a mixed compliment.  “[The conditions] are better than they were yesterday.”  Having been raised just a few trails’ length from the mountain in Charlemont, Benedetti, visiting with his wife and toddler daughter, is an apt judge.  Not that he’s complaining.  Just as golfers and fishermen joke that a bad day out is better than a good day at work, local skiers’ pent-up hunger to get on the slopes is finally being fed.

“Some times it’s a slow start, but we’ve started, so we’re pretty psyched,” Benedetti said.

The question is, when a man-made snowflake falls on the mountain, does it make a sound in the Pioneer Valley?

“A lot of folks in the Valley don’t realize that there’s winter because they don’t have it in their back yards, but we do have winter up here,” said Loftus.

Van Oostveen and his colleagues at Blandford say they’re going to take a hit because of the weather, but also remind that ski areas throughout the northeast are, more or less, in the same boat.  Until conditions improve, he’s making what little sugar-like snow Blandford has a little sweeter, cutting the normal lift ticket price of $47 to just $15.

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