A lot of snow equals lots of good skiing and good money

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From Boyce Park to the Laurel Highlands and beyond, it has been an exceptional season for snow sports enthusiasts.

A combination of natural snow and ideal snowmaking conditions enabled local and regional resorts to open early, revel in the revenue generated during the ultra profitable Christmas holidays and remain open every day throughout the season.

Although there is still more than two feet of snow on many of their slopes and trails, today is the last day of the season at Blue Knob, Hidden Valley, Seven Springs and Wisp, the western Maryland resort that borders Deep Creek Lake and uses 100 million gallons of its water to make snow.

Snowshoe, the snow-blessed resort in east-central West Virginia, will be closed this week but reopen next weekend. It will celebrate the end of its 40th season with savings on lift tickets -- $40 for the entire weekend -- and up to 40 percent discounts on lodging.

Snow conditions often can be marginal in March. Not this year. There was enough natural snow on the mountains and ridges in the Laurel Highlands during the season for cross country skiers, snowshoers and sled dog teams to enjoy. That has not been the case in recent years.

Boyce Park, the Allegheny County park in Plum that all too often has opened late and closed early, opened Dec. 6 and remained so every day until it closed March 16.

"It was great to be out there and see everyone enjoying themselves," said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a former skier and current snow tuber. "We had a record-breaking year in terms of customers, revenue and snow."

PG graphic: A blizzard of activity
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In short, it more than tripled the number of its skiers, snowboarders and snow tubers; more than tripled the amount of income from lift tickets, rental equipment and snowtubing rentals and more than tripled its total revenue.

The reason? Snow, natural and machine-made, and lots of it.

Boyce Park had a 40-inch base of snow by Dec. 31, thanks to a vastly improved snowmaking system from Jim and Jennifer Shultz of Mountain Works Inc. It included 11 new fully automated portable T40 TechnoAlpin machines that blanketed the park's 12 acres of snowsports terrain.

Seven Springs, which also owns Hidden Valley, began making snow at both resorts Nov. 19 and opened for the season Nov. 29. Snowmaking takes a lot of water -- 78.6 million gallons at Hidden Valley; 286 million at Seven Springs.

By the end of February, when both resorts stopped making snow, Hidden Valley's system had generated enough snow to cover 350 football fields with a foot of snow. Seven Springs had made enough to cover almost 1,000 football fields with a foot of snow.

Sustained cold weather with temperatures in the single digits or zero and below are ideal snowmaking conditions. Both resorts benefited from 16 nights of temperatures below 10 degrees and eight nights below zero in January and February.

As of Friday, both resorts had received 140 inches of natural snow, including 10 powder days when their guests enjoyed at least 5 inches of snow and as much as 9 inches.

Seven Springs had all of its slopes and trails open by Jan. 10; Hidden Valley had all of its terrain open by Jan. 25. Some guests complained on social media that both resorts started charging full price for lift tickets weeks before they had everything open.

Adult weekend lift tickets cost $75 at Seven Springs, $58 on weekdays. At Hidden Valley, which has 110 acres of terrain compared to Seven Springs' 275 acres, adult lift tickets cost $57 on weekends, $38 on weekdays.

But once the resorts had all their ski, snowboard and snow tubing terrain open, they kept it open well into March.

"Because of our commitment to aggressive snowmaking, we were able to keep approximately 30 trails and slopes open at Seven Springs and approximately 25 at Hidden Valley," said Eric Mauck, chief executive officer of both resorts.

"We took advantage of every opportunity to make snow [which allowed] us to open the day after Thanksgiving and still offer a diverse selection of terrain with a deep snow pack into late March," Mr. Mauck said. The base depth was more than 2 feet at both resorts as of Wednesday.

For an additional $100, Hidden Valley season passholders were able to upgrade to a Highlands Pass that enabled them to ski and snowboard at Seven Springs. Seven Springs passholders paid $50 more so they could do the same at Hidden Valley.

"Our Highlands season pass was an outstanding success this season," said Mr. Mauck, who added it's already in high demand for next season.

Although the resorts declined to disclose financial information, Mr. Mauck said lodging was up this winter. Its packages that included lodging and unlimited skiing and snowboarding at both resorts were successful, especially in drawing guests from Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and the far reaches of Pennsylvania, he said.

"The resorts have a resounding effect on Somerset County and a good winter means significant economic impact on area businesses," said Ron Aldom, executive director of the county's Chamber of Commerce. "This winter definitely had that effect.

"The trickle down effect on area businesses is significant and encompasses all areas, including restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail and others," he said.

In nearby Ligonier, there was a good turnout for the town's annual Ice Fest in January and annual Soup's On tasting this month, said Holly Mowrey, executive director of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce. "Our clothing stores did very well," she added.

Yes, they did, said Mary Lou Martin Fleming, who owns Martin's Specialty Shop in Ligonier. "We sold a lot of cold weather items -- coats, hats, boots, gloves, turtlenecks, comfy slippers. People were cold this winter."

It was too cold at times, said Ellen Slifcak, co-owner with her husband, George Slifcak, of Thrifty Ski Rental along Route 31. The busy two-lane road carries traffic from the Donegal interchange of the turnpike to Hidden Valley and Seven Springs.

"It was a good winter that made up for some of our leaner snow years, but it would have been better if we hadn't had those bitter cold days in January and February," Ms. Slifcak said. "Parents don't want their kids outside in weather like that."

When the youngsters and their parents did get out, Jim DePhillips welcomed them at his Oakhurst Tea Room restaurant along Route 31, three miles east of Hidden Valley.

"We get a tremendous amount of business from the families who snow tube at Hidden Valley and Seven Springs. We're glad the resorts are here."

Lawrence Walsh writes about recreational snow sports and other outdoor activities for the Post-Gazette.

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