Ready to hit the slopes? Local ski areas project a strong winter


There is at least one upside to the cold temperatures, snowy weather and short days this December: They all set the foundation for what ski areas say should be a strong season.

Around the region, slopes are gearing up for a deluge of skiers and snowboarders. Some already opened weeks ago, far earlier than the past few years. Nashoba Valley Ski Area and Mount Wachusett Ski Area, two of the most popular destinations for Greater Lowell skiers, are both touting new features.

In a way, you could consider the weather an early holiday gift.

“We’re excited that it’s white before Christmas,” said Pam Fletcher, a spokeswoman for Nashoba Valley Ski Area said last Friday. “It’s nice to see snow on the ground. That storm we had certainly got a lot of people excited about winter.”

Like most ski areas in the region — this far south in New England and this close to the ocean — Nashoba Valley cannot rely just on early-season natural snow. Employees have already dumped about 10 million gallons’ worth of water as artificial snow onto the slopes, but the conditions have been ideal for ensuring that snow goes down easily and remains usable.

Plus, as Fletcher said, seeing fresh snowfall “excites people,” especially when it’s a sign of ski slopes being ready.

Ski areas around the region echoed Fletcher’s excitement.

“So far, it’s looking good,” said Neal Sawyer, owner of Bradford Ski Area in Haverhill. “The last two years, we weren’t even open now, and we’ve been open for a few days.”

Ski conditions have been helped by mostly favorable weather conditions. Average temperatures at Boston Logan International Airport in November and December were about 1 degree colder than normal, according to preliminary National Weather Service data. Early patches of snowfall helped provide a foundation for ski areas, too. And the Christmas Day snowfall can only be good news for skiers and snowboarders.

At Mount Wachusett, almost the entire network of ski trails is already open, according to Marketing Director Tom Meyers.

“We’re off to one of our best starts over,” he said. “We opened for the season on November 12, which was our second-earliest opening ever.”

Meyers said the season should be an exciting one at Mount Wachusett, thanks to a $2 million investment in snowmaking infrastructure. The ski area put in a new pumping house, giving snowmaking machines twice the capability within the same timeframe.

“Being able to make so much snow and open up every trail without natural snow is really a critical benefit,” he said.

Wachusett also replaced all lights, improving night-skiing conditions, Meyers said.

Nashoba made an off-season purchase, too: six new fan guns, allowing employees to produce more snow, especially in difficult-to-reach spots at the top and bottom of the slopes.

The Westford ski area also installed a conveyor belt at its tubing station on which riders stand to get to the top, a departure from the traditional rig that drags riders and their tubes uphill. That conveyor has the uphill capacity of three tow lines, Fletcher said, so the tubing area will be able to serve customers at a faster rate.

Fletcher described tubing as a more accessible complement to skiing.

“You can get that same exhilaration of the sliding experience but you don’t have to take a lesson or have experience tubing to do it,” she said.

Hours at local slopes can vary based on weather and holidays, so the best recommendation is to check the website before planning.

Keep an eye out for deals, too. Nashoba is booking spots for its six-week ski courses, while Wachusett is offering a bring-a-friend promotion that includes a full ticket for one person and a beginner package for a second person for $100.

And remember, even if it doesn’t snow again this winter, the slopes make their own snow.

“Even if they don’t have snow, we have it here,” Meyers said.

Follow Chris on Twitter @ChrisLisinski.