Sunday December 23, 2012

Berkshires ski areas are scrambling to make as much snow as temperatures will allow and open as many trails as possible for the winter season. Their main objective: to rebound from last season, which some have called the worst on record.

Last year's temperatures and lack of snow left many skiers reluctant to head to the slopes, even though all five Berkshires-based ski areas had made plenty of snow and were open for business.

The three years prior to last season generated record numbers for most ski areas, but last year was "brutal," according to Brian Fairbank, CEO of Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in Hancock.

Despite a small amount of natural snow, the lifts were crowded at Jiminy Peak on a Saturday earlier this month. Jiminy is now open seven days a week.
Despite a small amount of natural snow, the lifts were crowded at Jiminy Peak on a Saturday earlier this month. Jiminy is now open seven days a week. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

Fairbank said Jiminy was roughly $2 million off the year before,

At Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, last season was "the worst year we've had," according to spokesman Matt Sawyer.

Other county ski resorts said their skier visits were 20 to 30 percent lower than the previous year.

"It was bad, probably one of the worst years we've had in a while," said Jamie Carr, general manager of Otis Ridge in Otis. "But we're still here."

As of Saturday afternoon, two trails were open at Otis Ridge.

Snow predictions for the 2012-13 season are mixed.

Temperatures are projected to be cold enough to allow local resorts to make plenty of snow and open many of their trails this week. But if snow doesn't fall in the New York City metropolitan area, most of this area's key market won't feel like it's time to ski.

Regardless, folks in the ski industry are eternally optimistic, and their hopes for this season are high.

"We deal with it the way it comes in," said Michael Berry, president of the Colorado-based National Ski Areas Association. "We make snow when we can, and we're better at it than ever before. And we're hopeful -- it's part of our DNA."

At Jiminy Peak, crews had the resort open on weekends by Thanksgiving, and Fairbank said bookings for the resort's Country Inn are looking good.

Jiminy is now open seven days a week.

"We're all working hard and things are looking up," he said.

Ski Butternut opened on Dec. 15. Like last year, they made plenty of snow to open trails. But like the other resorts, Sawyer said, "We're depending on Old Man Winter's marketing efforts. We could have great skiing, but if nobody sees snow in their yards, they may not feel like skiing."

At Catamount in South Egremont, as with many other ski areas, pricing will remain the same and snowmaking has allowed for good conditions on the slopes. Many trails are expected to be open this holiday week.

"Last year people just weren't in the mood throughout the winter to come out," said Rich Edwards, marketing director at Catamount. "So this year we're trying to reconnect with our customers and let them know that even if it doesn't snow much, it is still worthwhile to come out and enjoy winter in the Berkshires."

At Bousquet Ski Area in Pittsfield, the season will be especially challenging for snowmaking crews laboring through the night without owner George Jervas for the first time since 1981.

Jervas died in August at the age of 76 after suffering cardiac arrhythmia while working at Bousquet. Jervas had owned the ski area since 1981 and was known for his resourcefulness and grit in finding better ways to make more snow.

Skiers and resort operators hope the weather will be a bright spot in the Berkshires this winter.
Skiers and resort operators hope the weather will be a bright spot in the Berkshires this winter. (Scott Stafford / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

According to Sherry Roberts, Bousquet's business manager and Jervas' longtime companion, the resort's staff is "doing this year for George."

Like the rest of the ski areas, Bousquet is seeking to come back from last season, which was 30 to 35 percent off -- the ski area's "worst year ever," Roberts said.

"We're just going to do all we can to make sure [Jervas'] legacy lives on," she said. "He was always checking to see if the customers were happy and the kids were having fun. For George it was all about the kids."

Roberts said the crew has been making snow nearly every night, and that the Bousquet community is sure to come out this winter. The ski area opened on Saturday.

"Our strength is that we're in the city limits, have good prices, and our ski teams support Bousquet," she said. "So we're just going to dig our heels in and move forward."

To reach Scott Stafford:
sstafford@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6241.
On Twitter: @BE_SStafford