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A group of young skiers enjoys cold sunshine and man-made powder at Cannon Mountain Friday morning. Cannon is one of many ski areas around the state that resumed snowmaking at the end of last week as temperatures dropped after two weeks of unseasonable warmth. (MEGHAN McCARTHY McPHAUL)

Cold snap allowed ski areas to jump-start their snowmaking


What a difference a couple of weeks makes. In mid-February, New England skiers were floating through powder, exploring glades that never opened last winter, and reveling a snowpack that seemed healthy enough to last into April.

Now, with brown showing through in too many places, several ski areas around New Hampshire are firing up the snow guns for a late-season save.

March snowmaking is not entirely unprecedented, but it’s not exactly normal either. Last winter, which many skiers remember as dismally snowless, a few ski areas made snow into March. But that was an ongoing effort.

“We usually wrap up snowmaking in mid-to-late February,” said John DeVivo, general manager of Cannon Mountain. “After picking up six feet of snow during the first half of February, we thought we’d be wrapped up for the season on February 10 this year. I’ve been here for 10 years, and this is only our second time going full-tilt [with snowmaking] into March.”

Two weeks of up — way up — and down temperatures have decimated the season’s seemingly healthy snowpack at some areas, to the point where many have called snowmaking crews back in to fire up the guns. The weekend’s frigid temperatures provided a much-needed snowmaking window.

“With six or seven weeks [of the season] remaining, we’ve got to make snow. Winter is far from over,” said John DeVivo. “We still have room left in the snowmaking budget, and we never say die on winter.”

At Cannon, where the guns were up and spewing manmade snow again by Thursday morning, the snowmaking focus is now on the Front 5 trails, which are visible from I-93, and on the Mittersill area, where the University of New Hampshire this week hosts the NCAA Alpine ski championships, with top-level college racers from throughout the U.S. competing.

DeVivo said snowmaking crews will continue working as weather allows over the next 10 days or so.

A similar story is unfolding at other New Hampshire ski areas, including Loon Mountain, Crotched Mountain, Wildcat, Attitash, Waterville Valley, Black Mountain, Gunstock and Pats Peak.

“The snowpack is still solid across most of the terrain,” said Andy Gendron of Crotched Mountain, but in an effort to keep the lifts turning into April, he said the ski area has begun “a full-on snowmaking assault to resurface the entire ski area, focusing on high-traffic areas like unload ramps, the base area, and heavily skied trails.”

Gunstock is also planning touch-up work with the snow guns, and Waterville resumed snowmaking Thursday and will continue round-the-clock in high-traffic areas as long as the weather allows. At Wildcat and Attitash, snowmaking resumed Friday and was expected to continue through the weekend, with a look toward spring skiing into April.

At Loon, where 51 of 61 trails are still open, despite the late-February warm spell, the snowmaking crew is relying on its investment in highly efficient tower snow guns to pack a late-season snowmaking punch.

“We’re using this cold-weather window to refresh key trails on Loon Peak and North Peak,” said spokesman Greg Kwasnik, “And to build up our base as we prepare for a long spring of skiing and riding.”

As the days lengthen towards spring, snow sliders around the state are hoping that snowmaking preparation pays off.

Contact Meghan McCarthy McPhaul at meghan@meghanmcphaul.com.