Powder marks change for ski resorts

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BURKE — The gods have answered the call of skiers, snowmobilers and dog mushers, dumping mounds of snow in northern New England following little snow last season during the warmest winter on record in some spots.

The biggest snowstorms of this season, followed by days of flurries, have unloaded more than 2 feet of snow — higher amounts in the mountains — in the past week across Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

"I haven't seen skiing this good in Vermont in over 20 years," said Tom Luxon, of Norwich, on Thursday as he was leaving the slopes at Burke Mountain.

Brian Thompson drove five hours from New Haven, Connecticut, to experience the powder.

"It's just been unreal," he said of the conditions at Burke.

The snow bounty comes just a year after the region suffered one of its mildest winters. Due to the warmer conditions, ski resorts were left scrambling for enough snow. Ice fishing derbies and snowmobiling events had to be postponed, moved or canceled.

This year couldn't be more different.

A series of storms in the last week has pummeled the region. The Maine town of Eastport reported 69 inches in a 10-day period while the state's largest ski resorts, Sunday River and Sugarloaf, reported record-setting snowfalls for February, with 4 feet in the last week. Burke Mountain reported 20 inches overnight Wednesday-Thursday.

In the Moosehead Lake region in Maine's snow belt a sled dog race that had to be canceled last year went on this month as scheduled.

"Obviously with no snow it's a challenge, but this year there was plenty," said Karen Lewsen, of Greenville, Maine. "We've had 80 inches of snow."

Visits to Cannon Mountain Ski Area in Franconia, New Hampshire, are up by 65 percent, and snow cover is three times what it was last year at this time, spokesman Greg Keeler said.

"It's completely different. People are excited. We have been busy," Keeler said, adding that the Christmas week numbers were some of the biggest in the resort's history.

The dramatic rebound has helped some resorts begin to recover from a disastrous year in which skier and snowboard visits were down, including 32 percent in Vermont.

But it also served to highlight the growing challenges that come with being part of the ski business at a time when the climate is changing.

Some resorts are preparing for the weather fluctuations while also saving energy costs and making better quality snow by adding energy efficient snowmaking that allows them to make snow at higher temperatures and at a lower cost, said Parker Riehle, president of the Vermont Ski Areas Association. That allows the ski areas to start making snow earlier and extend their seasons longer, he said.

"Obviously, it's always a good feeling when you are having a good winter and it's snowing. You roll with what you are dealt with," Keeler said. "I wouldn't assume next year will be like this year. The best you can do is to make investments like energy efficient snow guns like we do so that we are able have more flexibility as to when we make snow and how much we make."

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