When looking for indicators about our region’s economic future, one might not immediately think of how much local ski resorts have spent on their snow guns. As we drop into the season, though, the investments that ski areas across the Berkshires have pumped into their operations are eye-catching — and not just for those itching to hit the slopes.
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.
Ski areas across the Berkshires have put a lot of money into upgrading their powder game and accommodations ahead of this winter. Those aren’t just investments in individual ventures. They’re investments in keeping the ever-important tourism sector alive and kicking in the Berkshires during what some perceive to be the “offseason” — though you’ll never hear skiers and snowboarders call it that.
It’s not just snowmaking that these resorts are upgrading. Mill Town’s $11 million makeover of Bousquet Mountain in Pittsfield includes a new ski lodge, while Jiminy Peak pumped $1.5 million into light installation and expanding night skiing offerings. But it is the snowmaking where these resorts are bringing out the big guns — literally. Ski Butternut in Great Barrington has installed 45 new snow guns that are more efficient than previous models. Bousquet also boasts a new snowmaking network. The big benefit of this new equipment is that newer, higher-tech snow guns can automatically adjust for factors like temperature and humidity, which means they can better produce artificial snow in marginal conditions.
That’s a key factor for ski resorts whose operations and bottom lines are threatened by climate change — a reality that will make it more and more likely for marginal conditions to extend into the beginning of ski season or intrude near the end of it. Being able to push back against that and even extend the season is a big boon. Bousquet, for instance, had its earliest opening in 14 years late last month, despite a relatively warm November and one quickly melted snowfall so far this season. “Probably the earliest the mountain has been open with artificial snow ever,” Bousquet general manager Kevin McMillan told Eagle sports editor Mike Walsh.
Mr. McMillan also highlighted a great aspect of a well-attended ski season that doesn’t always apply across the region’s tourism sector: It appeals to young families and kids. “A lot of parents stopped in to say they were so happy we were open.” Mr. McMillan added. “And they’re not skiing. It’s kind of a form of child care and we’re happy to serve that role.” That’s a good thing about every area ski resort, but it’s especially great that Mill Town’s renovation of Bousquet means those opportunities can be found within Pittsfield’s city limits. For thousands of local kids in the heart of the Berkshires, that healthy communal benefit is pure as the driven snow.
We are lucky to have this beautiful Berkshire landscape that is the envy of many, including skiers and snowboarders, and we’re also fortunate that snowmaking tech makes it enjoyable even when the weather doesn’t behave. We always love to see community stakeholders providing folks from all over with a happy, healthy reason to head to the Berkshires. Given the spectacular spots for cross-country skiing across the county as well — and the impact climate change might have on that enjoyment as well — one wishes the wonders of snowmaking could extend the opportunities for those trails like it does for downhill slopes as snow gun tech becomes more impressive and more efficient.
That we might dream of such further investments to our outdoor tourism and healthy recreation sectors is in part thanks to Berkshire ski areas doubling down on their bets on the Berkshires. To them and to all who enjoy a day on the slopes, we wish a good ski season.