Many in NH welcome white stuff
For businesses in New Hampshire that rely on snowfall to generate demand for their goods and services, Thursday's weather event was by all accounts a perfect storm.
The snow came as predicted, in the middle of school vacation so as not to disrupt bus schedules and family plans. It started white and fluffy, then turned wet and heavy, but did not cause any significant power outages or closures.
"We had a pole accident in Windham this morning, and that knocked out several hundred customers temporarily. Other than that, we've just had a handful of scattered outages in the southern part of the state but not amounting to significant problems," said Martin Murray, spokesman for Public Service of New Hampshire.
There were accidents associated with the storm, some serious, but nothing like the multi-car pileups or deadly road conditions in other parts of the Northeast and the Ohio Valley.
Owners of ski slopes, tire stores, hardware stores, plowing operations and sporting goods outlets in the Granite State can be forgiven for taking some delight in the first significant snowfall in more than a year, despite the hardship it may have caused in some quarters.
"It's like a green light for someone who's been sitting at a red light for 15 months," said Stefan Hausberger, owner of Zimmerman's Sports Shop on the Daniel Webster Highway in Nashua.
"Even though we knew the storm was coming for days, shoppers waited until they could see it with their own eyes," he said. "They just didn't want to get burned again - burned by a lack of snow, if that's possible. People don't buy umbrellas until it rains."
The ski and sport shop was swamped with customers on Thursday, after a slow and snowless start to the ski season. Hausberger said last year was the worst year for sales in the 27 years he has either worked at or owned the ski shop. The first two months of this ski season were even worse than last year, he said.
"People usually see snow every six months, so when they go 15 months without seeing snow, it really has an effect," he said, alluding to the Snowtober event of 2011 which, for many people, was the last significant snowfall in the state.
Plenty of fresh powder
Conditions couldn't be better for the state's winter sports industry.
"It's nice to see snow instead of rain for a change," said Alice Pearce, president of Ski New Hampshire, the industry trade association. "The ski areas got off to a much better start this year in terms of snow-making temperatures, so the amount of terrain open this year was already ahead of last year, but nothing gets the ski season kick-started like a big snowstorm, especially one that's been touted in the media for several days."
As of midafternoon Thursday, Loon Mountain already had a foot of snow at the summit, she said, with 10 inches at Gunstock and nine at Waterville Valley.
All that fresh powder, combined with good travel weather today and several vacation days remaining, set the stage for a very busy weekend in ski country, with comfortable temperatures during the day and low temperatures for snowmaking at night.
"These conditions are made to order," said Pearce. "Everything looks like it's stacking up to be a great start to the ski season. Fans of cross-country skiing, who had to struggle to find open trails last winter, already have 11 to choose from as of Thursday, she said.
"This storm came at just the right time. Everyone wants to test out the new gear they received over the holidays, and the forecast for this weekend couldn't be better," said Greg Kwasnik, marketing director at Loon Mountain in Lincoln. "Loon will have 44 trails and 293 acres open this weekend. That's 88 percent of our total trail acreage and 35 percent more than at this time last year."
Making early preparations
Joe Gauci, owner of Gauci Landscaping and Plowing in Bedford, said last year was the worst for snow plowing that he can recall, after a great year for plowers in the winter of 2010-11. Predictions of this week's storm had him and his crew of 12 making preparations early.
"We were counting on it," he said. "We had everything ready to go."
Sheri Poire, office manager at Manchester Plowing, said the storm triggered a significant increase in new business. "We have more than 100 accounts," she said, "and I got 50 phone calls for new accounts today."
Many of the Manchester Plowing accounts are businesses, she said, all of which were open on Thursday. It was hard to find any business closures resulting from the storm. "We have Taco Bells and KFC franchises calling us at 8 a.m., and they don't even open until 10," she said.
Some people did think ahead. Snow tire sales were brisk on Wednesday, but slowed down Thursday as drivers stayed off the road, according to Ronald Harper, assistant manager at the Tire Warehouse in Portsmouth.
Hardware stores were doing a brisk business in storm-related merchandise, but had ample supplies.
"It's pretty busy right now," said Chris Delisle, head cashier at Home Depot on March Avenue in Manchester on Thursday afternoon. "We had a rush of people coming in this morning buying snowblowers and shovels, but right now it's just a steady pace. We are actually pretty well-stocked."
Although they welcomed the business, Thursday was a long day for plowers like Gauci, who started at 4 a.m. and expected to be going until about 8 p.m. "I have mixed emotions about it," he said. "I need the income, so I like the snow, and I ski, so I like that as well, but it's very stressful when you're plowing in a big storm."
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Dave Solomon may be reached at email@example.com.
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