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Ski areas rebound from rain as Christmas vacation week arrives

By Tom Eastman and Bart Bachman
CONWAY — The severe icing and widespread power outages predicted for the area over the weekend never materialized.
"We're dodging a bullet as far as the potential for icing," Eric Schwibs, of the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, reported early Sunday afternoon. "That's good. Nobody wants to spend Christmas in the dark."
Local ski areas were impacted by the heavy rain, however, with some being forced to close Sunday and/or Monday, but all said they were in good shape headed into the all-important Christmas vacation week, with plenty of snow on the trails, thanks to the combination of man-made snow and natural snow which fell earlier in the season and made for good bases on the alpine slopes and ski touring trails.
Precipitation continued to fall Monday, but sunny skies were forecasted for Tuesday with high temperatures of 24 degrees. Christmas Day is expected to be sunny, with a high of 16 degrees. Beyond that, for the start of the expected-to-be-busy Christmas vacation week in tourism-dependent Mount Washington Valley, Thursday was expected to be mostly cloudy with a high near 29, Friday is to be mostly sunny, also with a high of 29, Saturday is to be partly sunny with a high of 26, and Sunday is forecasted to be mostly cloudy with a high near 31.
Alpine areas that are scheduled to be open Christmas Day include Attitash (374-2368), 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m (note: Wildcat Mountain, Attitash's sister resort, will be closed Christmas Day); Bretton Woods (278-3320) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Cranmore Mountain Resort (356-5544) 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Bretton Woods Nordic (278-3322) is open Christmas Day. Jackson Ski Touring (383-9355) is not officially open Dec. 25 but complimentary skiing will be offered on that day.
“I agree — we definitely dodged a bullet,” said Bob Hoyt, general manager of family-owned King Pine Ski Area in East Madison Monday. King Pine closed Sunday, due to the icy and freezing rain forecast, but was back open Monday, despite the day's rain. “We had believed the forecast for Sunday, which had called for a half-inch of ice and rain, so we had made a decision Saturday afternoon not to have the staff come in for Sunday because we didn’t want them driving if it was going to be that bad. In hindsight, Sunday proved to be a carbon copy of today, which is pretty good skiing and we're seeing good numbers. So yes, it definitely could have been a lot worse — it will freeze up tonight, and we'll groom it, and we'll churn it up and have some good skiing. We've got 100 percent open today, and will have that for Christmas week.”
He said he cannot ever remember having 100 percent of the area's terrain open prior to Christmas week.
 “It's been a huge start for us, and Christmas week is looking strong, with good reservations and for New Year's we're booked pretty solid,” said Hoyt.
Black Mountain in Jackson closed Sunday and Monday, according to marketing director Genn Anzaldi, but is expected to open with good terrain Tuesday. Black will be closed on Christmas Day.
“We'll reopen on Thursday, with great skiing and lots of activities throughout the week, including daily apres ski entertainment and snowcat rides each day at 4:30,” said Anzaldi Monday. Black expects to have 13 of 45 trails open.
Attitash and Wildcat marketing director Thomas Prindle said Attitash planned to be open Tuesday after closing down Sunday and again on Monday, while Wildcat closed Sunday but reopened Monday with top-to-bottom skiing and riding.
“Yes, the extended storm did have an operational impact, but also, with the hype that began Friday, effected skier visits for Saturday and I imagine kept some from traveling to the Mount Washington Valley for the weekend,” said Prindle Monday. “For Wildcat Mountain, it was closed Sunday, Dec. 22 and as a result, the Blues and Brunch scheduled that same day was cancelled. The Blues and Brunch series happens all season long and the next one featuring Mo Blues Band is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 5.”
He said Wildcat did lose “quite a bit of snow and trails” that it had been open naturally prior to the storm, but with an extended forecast of more seasonable, winter temps, snowmaking and mountain operations crews would be working hard to continue adding trails and terrain as quickly as they can.
For Attitash Mountain Resort, the storm forced the Bartlett resort to close Sunday and again Monday, due to icing on all of its lifts. He said crews worked Monday to get all lifts operational and Attitash is scheduled to reopen Tuesday and offer top-to-bottom skiing and riding on both Attitash and Bear Peak, which are now also connected for access between the two.
“Having aggressively been making snow prior to this storm, all trails that were open prior to the storm will have made it through the storm fine, and our snowmaking crews are well rested and the ponds are full to get back at it when temperatures return to an optimal range,” said Prindle.
He said things are nonetheless shaping up for a strong vacation week.
“We remain excited for and are planning to be busy during the holiday week at the ski areas and at the slopeside Attitash Grand Summit Hotel,” said Prindle.
Ben Wilcox, general manager and president of Cranmore Mountain Resort, agreed that things could have been far worse from the storm, and that he is feeling optimistic about the prospects for a strong Christmas week.
“We definitely fared much better than we had thought heading into the storm,” said Wilcox Monday, noting that Cranmore has more terrain open heading into the week than any Christmas week in the 10 years he has been at Cranmore with 32 of 57 trails open.
Due to the icing on the upper lifts, Wilcox said Cranmore only operated lifts on the lower part of the mountain Sunday. “Our numbers were off for the weekend, but the weekend prior to Christmas never very strong to begin with. The good news is we did not lose any terrain — we had been concerned we would lose some and have to go back and refresh some coverage, but the snow held up well,” said Wilcox. “We'll be out with our groomers, and we'll add more trails with out snowmaking.”
He said he had spoken with several local hoteliers, and they had reported to him that advance reservations were remaining positive.
“I think the valley is in for a very strong Christmas week,” said Wilcox.
Ski touring base holds up
Ski touring centers also fared better than expected.
Spokesperson Raetha Stoddard said Jackson Ski Touring remained open throughout the weekend storm with 108k.
Doug Garland of Bear Notch Ski Touring said his center closed Monday to allow for the weather to do its thing, but that it would reopen Tuesday with good skiing and for the rest of the week with 30k or more. “The good news is the base is holding up well, and we'll be out grooming it into shape,” said Garland in a taped message on the center's snow phone Monday.
Howie Wemyss of Great Glen Trails Outdoor Center said the center at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road in Pinkham Notch was closed Sunday and Monday to allow for drainage and for the base to refreeze, but that it planned to reopen with 16 to 20 kilometers Tuesday. He said the schedule for the SnowCoach would be determined once conditions on the road were determined Tuesday.
“Some of us might get some snow tonight [Monday], so we'll see. There definitely will be some thin spots with early season conditions when we re-open Tuesday, but considering what we've been through, it ought to be pretty good,” said Wemyss.
Cort Hansen of Mount Washington Valley Ski Touring and Snowshoe Center said the rain had forced the local area to close Sunday and Monday.
“We did not groom last two days, and we will let them dry out and either get out there Tuesday or early Thursday (not on Christmas day) grooming,” said Hansen Monday. “It's too bad it happened, but hey, we've still got a good base out there. We had a good week of early-season conditions. We'll be in Whitaker Woods for sure, and some up this way [near Intervale], but it will be a challenge for the groomers. We've been in a lot worse conditions for Christmas week than we are now. The first day we'll be up to 15k and maybe 30k by Friday.”
Powered up
Martin Murray, of Public Service of New Hampshire, said there were "no outages at all" to report as of about 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
"In your neck of the woods, North Conway is in good shape," Murray said. "We were very prepared to respond if conditions did deteriorate. Ice is a tough element to predict. Other areas — Vermont and parts of New York state — were hit hard. But for whatever reason or weather phenomenon, temperatures for us were just on the right side of freezing. We got moisture and rain, but not a lot of freezing."
PSNH had dozens of line trucks and tree crews set up at a staging center in the Walmart parking lot in the event of heavy icing and outages. Murray said there were five staging centers altogether, including two in Carroll County, two in Coos County and one in Grafton County. Crews from Massachusetts and Connecticut were brought in to assist.
"Based on the weather forecast, there was every expectation that they would be working today to repair damage and restore power," Murray said. "Fortunately, New Hampshire escaped that."
Officer Ryan McDonald, of Conway Police Department, said early Sunday afternoon that road conditions were much better than expected. He said there had been only one accident — at the Route 16/302 intersection — but he didn't know if weather was a contributing factor to that accident.
"The whole town was braced for something worse," McDonald said. "The weather just didn't seem to get cold enough."
"We had no major personal injury accidents," said Lt. Chris Perley of Conway Police on Monday afternoon. "We had lots of slide offs and lots of calls associated with slick roads."
Perley said it's fortunate people had advance notice that the roads would be slippery, and police appreciate the efforts of the power and tree companies who mobilized in "preparation for major disaster."
"It looks like we dodged a pretty good bullet," said Perley, adding there was "nothing significant” to report.
Reporter Daymond Steer also contributed to this report.
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