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It was a good season on the slopes thanks to timely storms

Sunday News Correspondent

April 08. 2017 8:57PM
Cannon Mountain was a popular place on Saturday as skiers and snowboarders made the most of what was left of the 2016/17 winter season. (JOHN KOZIOL/Sunday News Correspondent)

FRANCONIA - Although the figures aren't final, the early indications are that some New Hampshire alpine ski resorts, like Cannon, will post solid results for 2016-2017 season.

As of April 6, there were 1,339,667 skier visits recorded at 10 of Ski NH's 16 member alpine resorts, said Jessyca Keeler, which is "28 percent over last year's numbers," but six percent behind the 2014/15 season, which "was our fourth best on record."

The executive director of the Lincoln-based industry association that also promotes 18 cross-country areas in the Granite State, Keeler said even though six alpine resorts have yet to provide her with attendance figures, the ten that did have done so consistently throughout the season.

That group is comprised of what she described as "the biggest ski areas:" Bretton Woods, Cannon, Cranmore, Dartmouth Skiway, Gunstock, Loon, Mount Sunapee, Pats Peak, Ragged and Waterville Valley.

Keeler expects to eventually get data from all Ski NH member resorts, alpine and Nordic, as well as updates from the alpine ten to include season pass users.

She said the difference between this season and 2014/15 is that the latter "had a very snowy end, not just in New Hampshire but also in our key market areas like the greater Boston region and southern New Hampshire."

This year, however, while there is still some deep coverage at the handful of resorts that remain open, "there isn't snow on the ground in those key areas," said Keeler, and that has a big impact on whether people come skiing, particularly at the end of the season."

"All in all, I'd say the season has been pretty successful," said Keeler. "While snowfall wasn't regular or steady throughout the season, we tended to have big storms right when it mattered most: during the Christmas vacation week, leading up to Presidents Weekend and February vacation week, and during March when resorts are in full spring skiing/spring events mode."

She conceded, however, that "We did experience some dips at the end of February vacation week because it was so warm, and the following week, vacation week for many New Hampshire school districts, was also a bad week because of bad weather.."

At Cannon, where skiing and snowboarding are scheduled to continue until April 16, John DeVivo, who is the general manager of the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway & Ski Area and Franconia Notch State Park, said the 2016/17 has been historic in several ways.

As of April 2, Cannon had 43 percent more skier visits than last season, he said, while revenue was up 58 percent.

Year-to-date, skier visits were 10 percent above the six-year average; two percent above 2014/15; but two percent below Cannon's all-time best in 2010/11.

Revenue this season is 16 percent above the six-year average; 10 percent above 2014/15; but four percent behind 2010/11, he said.

The good news for Cannon on the slopes and the ticket office was complemented by several other achievement and occurrences.

Coming into the season, Cannon completed a $5 million snowmaking/energy efficiency/infrastructure project that saw the installation of more than 400 snowmaking guns and a new booster pumphouse at mid-mountain. DeVivo said that overall, the project increased snowmaking by almost 50 percent while reducing snowmaking energy consumption by at least that much.

Also, thanks to a partnership among the State of New Hampshire, Franconia Ski Club, and Holderness School, the Mittersill Race and Training Slopes opened on the west side of Cannon.

A designated training site for the US Ski Team and just months old at the time, the Mittersill facility in March hosted the 2017 NCAA Alpine Skiing Championships, garnering rave reviews from coaches, competitors and the NCAA.

On March 10, which was the final day of competition, Cannon marked the 50th anniversary of its being the first venue in North America to host an FIS Alpine Ski World Cup race.

On March 10, 11, and 12, 1967, Cannon hosted the downhill, slalom, and giant slalom and all three were won by France's Jean Claude Killy. That prodigious feat was matched many years later by Bode Miller, who, DeVivo proudly points out, learned how to ski at Cannon and calls it his home mountain.

A couple miles southeast in Lincoln, things this year have also been very positive at Loon.

"We've had a really strong season compared to last year," said Loon Spokesman Greg Kwasnik, adding that as of Saturday, Loon had 50 percent more skiable area open than it did at the same time in 2016 and was "on par" with 2014-2015.

Combined with its own snowmaking, Loon this season was the grateful recipient of a whopping 205 inches - or four feet more than usual - of snow, Kwasnik added.

"We saw a strong start to the season," he said, and February was up and then down, but "winter came back" with authority in both March and April.

"Typically, at this time of year we see a drop-off," Kwasnik said, because skiers are home far away where there's no snow and they're thinking spring not winter, "but that hasn't happened this season."

Ron Swiatlowski, of Palmer, Mass., and Thornton, said the late-season skiing yesterday at Cannon "was better than in January, actually."

"They were different, variable conditions, fog and freezing fog at the top, but there were three inches of new snow which was great, if you could see it," joked Swiatlowski, who is retired.

An avid skier who hit the slopes some 50 times this season, mostly at Loon, Cannon and Waterville Valley, Swiatlowski was thrilled to be out.

"For this time of year, it was great skiing," he said.

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