Our Opinion: Berkshire ski areas rooting for cold

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Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks with friends and family, usually around a dinner table groaning with a turkey and all the trimmings and side dishes. For many skiers, it is that and more — the unofficial start of the ski season.

It is a day to pack the SUV — or, in earlier years, the station wagon — with friends, family, skis, ski poles, ski boots, ski wax, gloves, hats and heavy jackets, and head to the mountain of choice. If Thanksgiving dinner — or turkey-imposed sleepiness — make it impossible to get to the slopes, then Friday, Saturday and Sunday beckon.

Weather permitting, of course.

The big, billowing snowstorms that would picturesquely produce 8-10 inches of powder ideal for strapping on the boards and heading downhill are rare these days in the Berkshires, and a winter full of them may never happen again. Climate change has brought New Jersey winters northward, and rain, and its dangerous cousin, freezing rain, are too much with us. Even a good snowstorm can be ruined by a round of sleet or a few days of 40-degree temperatures.

This poses challenges for ski areas, including the hardy group here in the Berkshires ("That's Money. Thanks to the cold weather, the Berkshires' $50 million ski economy is off to a hot start, Nov. 25"). Snow-making, at one time seen as a luxury, is now a necessity given climate realities. Nonetheless, high temperatures can make it difficult to make skiable snow. "Cold, water and air" are the three ingredients, according to Dillon Mahon, marketing director at Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, and cold is the only one that can't be reliably counted upon.

Outdoor recreation is a Berkshire industry as surely as are light manufacturing and culture, and skiing is the core of that industry. It generates millions of dollars for the economy, bringing in skiers from New York City, Boston and other areas within reasonable drives of the county who fill restaurants and hotels and shop for supplies at local stores. During the winter's holiday weeks, you may see as many out-of-state plates around the Berkshires as are seen during the high holy days of Tanglewood, Jacob's Pillow and summer theater. The Berkshire ski areas are important employers as well — Jiminy Peak in Hancock employs 1,000 at the height of the ski season, according to Tyler Fairbank, CEO of the Fairbank Group, which owns Jiminy and several other ski areas.

The brief, recent cold snap this month (in what is still officially autumn) did have the benefit of freezing the ground sufficiently to give some local ski areas a leg up on the start of the ski season. Not everyone skis, and certainly not everyone appreciates snow, but winter is part of what makes the Berkshires the Berkshires. And the same can be said for Berkshire ski areas.

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