New equipment. New features. With a heightened sense of competition, Berkshires ski areas have invested big in the coming season to win their shares of a $50 million yearly business.
A cold snap in the week before Thanksgiving is allowing snowmaking crews to create a healthy base for the early season.
Each ski area is looking to make snow at every opportunity, whenever temperatures drop below 26 degrees Fahrenheit for an extended period, if no rain is forecast. This time of year, snowmaking typically happens at night, often all night, when temperatures are lowest.
All of the areas have been installing new snow gun technology that produces more snow. Many of them automatically adjust for temperature and humidity changes, resulting in more snow in less time.
Adrienne Isaac, spokeswoman for the National Ski Areas Association, said the Northeast will see winter temperatures this week.
Last year, ski areas in the U.S. saw 10.7 million visits. She expects the industry to match that this year, with people still feeling a need to get outdoors. “We’re predicting a lot of people will be seeking outdoor activities after the pandemic, similar to last year,” Isaac said. “But of course, snowfall is the biggest driver of that.”
This time of year, temperatures determine when areas open. Shooting for the end of November is the norm, but often, it’s early to mid-December.
Here are capsule reports on Berkshires ski areas.
Officials have a goal of opening Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, but if temperatures are too warm, that might be postponed for a few days. Nevertheless, crews have launched the critical snowmaking campaign.
Jessica Moulton, operations manager at Bousquet, is optimistic an early start will be possible.
The mountain is planning what it’s calling a Cranberry Jam this Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., to celebrate the new terrain park in the tubing area, Moulton said.
On Dec. 10, the mountain will host “Winter Begins Here.” That free event will run from 1 to 6 p.m., with a DJ and the band Misty Blues. The bar and restaurant will be open and day lift passes will be available. Moulton said they will be trying hard to have the trails open “from top to bottom.”
Mill Town Capital of Pittsfield bought Bousquet for $1.07 million in 2020 and has given the ski area on Dan Fox Drive an $11 million makeover, which includes the construction of the new ski lodge, a new snowmaking network and new restaurant offerings.
The lodge is complete and operational, with the coming season the first full season for the new lodge, with a new outdoor deck at the summit to host weddings, anniversary parties and other events during the summer, Moulton said.
In May of 2018, the Berkshire East family ownership group in Charlemont announced an agreement to purchase Catamount Ski Area on the Massachusetts-New York state line in Egremont. Since then, it has been a hive of activity.
Last Friday, much of the parking area was being used as a construction staging area, holding all kinds of materials and supplies in use for renovations, new construction, maintenance and other projects.
The new lodge, finished last year, is just about ready to open. New access ramps, steps, railings and additions to existing buildings are ongoing. The rental shop is prepping new skis, snowboards and boots for heavy rotation.
Assistant General Manager Dave Kulis said snowmaking was expected to start any day. “We’re hoping that, with the cooperation of the weather, opening on Thanksgiving weekend is not out of the question. But an early December opening is more typical for us.”
He’s eager to get started because there are so many new features, including two new chairlifts, one a three-rider. The other that will carry four skiers per chair. The resort added its first snow tubing area. It is using new snow gun technology and has expanded trail lighting.
“We’l have top to bottom night skiing, and some night skiing lessons,” Kulis said. “Our guests are going to be really excited by the changes they see.”
Butternut, in Great Barrington, has also been investing. According to Dillon Mahon, marketing director, 45 new snow guns have been installed.
“They’re more efficient, using significantly less power, and it’s insane how much snow they can crank out,” Mahon said.
The company bought a new snow groomer and installed a patio at the upper lodge at the top of the mountain. Down the mountain, visitors will find a new tubing park and two terrain parks.
“It’s easy fun for the kids,” Mahon said.
Snowmaking will likely start this week, Mahon said. “We’re shooting for opening in early December, but we have had to open later in the past,” he said.
With opening scheduled for Friday, Jimmy Peak’s snowmaking crew is hard at work in Hancock.
The area invested $1.5 million this summer to install lights on four trails, expanding night skiing to 28 trails, said Brian Fairbank, chairman of the board of the Fairbank Group, which owns the mountain.
Other projects included improving the Left Bank trail to make it more appealing and investing $500,000 in a new groomer, which is on its way to the mountain by cargo ship somewhere in the Atlantic.
Then there are the renovated bathrooms in the Country Inn, a newly paved parking lot and a new set of fan snow guns, which can automatically adjust for temperature changes.
Once the snow guns start up, Fairbank said, they’ll be use 360,000 gallons of water per hour making snow. That’s about 7 million gallons per day, up to 30 million in three days.
Snow is a ski area’s product — it’s what sells tickets, Fairbank said. He hopes to attract more than 200,000 skiers this year.