Tuesday, January 14, 2014
The winter of 2006/07 comes to mind right now. That was the season that Clay Brook, Timbers and the new Gate House Lodge opened and we installed the so-called "wooden steps of hell."
That year, I had a good friend and his large family arriving from Canada excited to ski in the East for the first time. They booked our five-bedroom at Clay Brook for Christmas week. On the first morning of their visit, my friend looked out the window, asked where the nearest hockey rink was, and he and his family proceeded to skate the entire week. It was one of the worst starts to the ski season I can remember. Eventually it got colder so we were able to make snow, then we started getting some natural snow and were finally 100% open by the end of January. Then, as so often happens, the late-season holiday storms hit. Do you remember the four feet of snow on Valentine's Day? Nearly two feet on St. Patrick's Day? And eighteen inches in late April on Easter weekend? Do you remember skiing until May? I do! By the way, that was also the spring of the Killington "refugees."
This year when we were skiing in mid-December on great snow and opened ME with over 80 trails, I worried about the old adage that "everything regresses to the mean." Things do seem to average out.
Despite 81 inches of natural snow so far this season, we have experienced the warm-up/rain/freeze cycle at least three times. This past weekend was the most recent one and maybe the worst, with 50 degree temperatures in the afternoon and heavy rain. Going into the weekend after the last cycle, the skiing and riding was really quite nice on our snowmaking trails because they had been groomed all week and refreshed with snowmaking.
My favorite on Friday was Stein's. We groomed it Wednesday night and blew some new snow on it, too. I also got some great compliments from guests who skied a groomed Ripcord and Upper Grinder, as well as Birch and Sunrise earlier in the week when I was out on my book tour. Saturday morning was something else. A lot of guests and employees could not get here from Burlington due to severe icing on Route 89 and some of the back roads. Radio news reported the travail of one of our ski-school instructors trying to get here from Northfield. However, at the mountain it was raining (yes, we call it "rain" not "immature snow") and the snow from mid-mountain down was soft, so Stein's was again a real treat. But at higher elevations the wind was honking, with gusts up to 70 mph. A final band of heavy rain came through late in the day, and temperatures warmed up further. For safety, we had to cancel our on-snow Mt. Ellen celebratory events but our afternoon and evening parties went on as planned. A great day it was, after all, beginning with the traditional cork-popping-cowbell-ringing champagne après ski and continuing with a costume party and music by the Grippo Funk Band.
Fasching Costume Ball
By Sunday morning, things were very different. Temperatures did not start to fall until well after midnight and our groomers could not get out until early morning. On the Gate House side it groomed out nicely, but on trails like Snowball and Spring Fling (which did not get groomed) it was a different story--"edgeable but fast, firm, and icy in spots" was the best description. I could get an edge in, but it made my teeth rattle. Moving into the week, however, after we groom the surfaces will be improved. The good news about conditions like we had on Sunday is that they work the quads so that you are ready for the powder mornings that are coming. Each day this week will get better and by the weekend you will be pleasantly surprised how nice the conditions will be. We have a terrific mountain team who pride themselves in giving our guests a great experience.
Although the weekend was not great on the slopes, we did have a fun few days honoring fifty years of skiing Glen Ellen (Mt. Ellen). Walt Elliot's eldest daughter, Tracie, her husband, Shawn, and their children were here for the celebration as were long-time ski patrollers Bill and Mary Bozack and many others. To me, one of the highlights was Charlie Brown's special film Friday night that paid tribute to Walt, his team, and the mountain they built in 1963. The Gate House was filled with many friends and colleagues of Walt's and several important members of his early team. Happy 50th, Mount/Glen Ellen! Thank you, Charlie, for a fond remembrance! And thank you, Tracie, for all you and your family have done for the Valley. It is always worth remembering and honoring entrepreneurs like Walt Elliot who gave up safer careers, had a dream, took a big risk and created a place that families are still enjoying fifty years later. Thank you, Elliot family!
I got on the mountain early Monday morning and what a difference a day makes. Our grooming team did a fantastic job. Upper Organgrinder was my first upper-mountain run of the day, and I zipped down the corduroy. It was a treat after seeing it yesterday. The rest of the mountain--where groomed--is skiing equally well. Great job, team!
Looking ahead, the weather forecast is looking a lot better. While we don't see a major storm this week, we will have snowmaking temperatures beginning late Tuesday and will be able to aggressively groom every night. Most days, forecasters are calling for at least flurries and some light snow. So I predict that MLK weekend will provide some very nice skiing and riding on the trails where we have snowmaking. Speaking of snowmaking, thanks to early-season cold weather, we have made more snow than in any previous year at this point in the season. We have good depth and this has allowed us to survive these rollercoaster weather cycles in good shape. Many of you have complimented our mountain team for the job they have been doing and I echo that sentiment. They are pros and have worked really hard, and they care about doing the best job possible. What you see at home or even on the floor of the Mad River Valley is no indication of the good conditions here on the mountain.
The long weekend of MLK is filled with lots of fun things to do for the family, including our torchlight and fireworks on Saturday starting at 7 PM.
As of Tuesday, January 12, we have been open 52 days. That represents only 32% of the days we were open last year. So as I said earlier, after three lousy weekends it is time to average out and let the final 68% of the season begin and bring us at least another 200 inches of the natural snow that we normally get from this point forward. Remember that the snowiest months historically are February and March--and April often surprises us with upslope storms just like the spring of 2007! I, for one, want to be skiing with all of you in May.
Do the snow dance! Lili, Rumble, Zoe and I look forward to seeing you here and enjoying the remaining 68% of our 2013/14 season together these next 110 days.