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Thaws Chill Winter Business

Despite Appearances, Season Is Likely to Be ‘Average’ for Ski Areas

  • Scott Jenkins moves a snow machine out of storage in anticipation of an upcoming promotional event at L.C. Greenwood & Sons Inc., in East Randolph, Vt., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Scott Jenkins moves a snow machine out of storage in anticipation of an upcoming promotional event at L.C. Greenwood & Sons Inc., in East Randolph, Vt., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Michelle Scardino of Hopkinton, Ma., and her son Joseph, 8, get ready to descend a trail at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, N.H., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Michelle Scardino of Hopkinton, Ma., and her son Joseph, 8, get ready to descend a trail at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, N.H., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

  • Scott Jenkins moves a snow machine out of storage in anticipation of an upcoming promotional event at L.C. Greenwood & Sons Inc., in East Randolph, Vt., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Michelle Scardino of Hopkinton, Ma., and her son Joseph, 8, get ready to descend a trail at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, N.H., on March 14, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

West Lebanon — Although this winter seems to have been unusually frigid and snowy, for those who depend on cold weather to make a living, the season has been pretty much on par with the previous unusually warm year.

While businesses that sell snowplows and snowblowers, snowmobiles and ski equipment will probably see a rise in sales and service, ski areas have had to deal with a rough season of weather cycles that have made business a bit bumpy.

“This has been the biggest see-saw season with the weather than I can remember in the last 16 years,” said Jay Gamble, vice president and general manager of the Mount Sunapee Resort.

“We got off to one of the best starts we’ve ever had. We thought we were going to have a great Christmas. Then the weather turned warm, and on Dec. 21 we had 53 degrees at the summits and it stayed that way for four days. We had to start over making snow,” he said.

“The general perception is that we’ve had all this snow and cold weather that it should be great for the ski areas, but people forget that the thaws have a negative impact and that on many days, it’s been too cold to ski. But in the end, we’ll probably end up with an average year.”

Mount Sunapee plans to stay open until April 13, Gamble said, noting that the forecast for the next 10 days is for good skiing weather.

Despite last week’s storm and heavy snowfall, Whaleback Mountain, which didn’t open until Dec. 29, is closing today, as scheduled, for the season. But except for a warm patch in January, it’s been a good winter, and a good start for the new ownership of the ski area, said General Manager Dick Harris.

“We planned to close on Sunday. That’s what we budgeted for, and you have to stick to what you’ve planned,” he said. “You can’t count on the weather to extend the season,” he said.

Whaleback reopened this year under the ownership of the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation, a nonprofit group set up to keep the ski area in operation after it closed last year and went through foreclosure. The ownership change, which didn’t occur until early November, and the push to complete needed repairs at the facility, delayed the opening.

“Next season looks bright. We plan to open earlier, and we have a number of goals to expand some areas that we hope to accomplish,” Harris said.

Machines, Maintenance

Overall, it’s been a pretty good winter for snowmobile sales and service, two Upper Valley dealers said.

“It’s been going pretty well, and the new snow will help. People are out riding the trails, and this will prolong the season,” said Lee Foster, who is the co-owner of Absolute Power Sports in Wells River and Gorham, N.H.

However, it’s difficult for a business to survive selling and servicing nothing but snowmobiles, Foster said. Most dealers also sell outdoor recreation vehicles for other seasons as well as the winter equipment.

“It has to be part of a bigger business.”

Until the middle of February, the snowmobile season was a little slow, but it’s picked up, said Butch Greenwood, of L.W. Greenwood and Sons in East Randolph. The company also sells snowblowers and farm equipment. “It was a little slow until two weeks ago when we started getting snow, but this recent storm will prolong the season,” he said.

The company is pretty diversified and is not solely dependent on sale of new and used snowmobiles, which Greenwood said go for an average price of about $10,000 each.

If sales of winter equipment are slow, then the service department is usually busy. “Other areas make up for the slow ones.”

This winter has been one of the best for selling and servicing plows and sanders and other snow treating equipment, said Micah Whitney, who is the truck sales manager at Lucky’s Trailer Sales in South Royalton.

“It’s been an excellent year for our parts and service department and for new and used sales. It’s a nice change for us, much better than last year.”

Ski equipment also has been doing well this season, particularly cross country skis and boots. Snowshoes sales have been strong, said Ned Waters, a co-owner of Golf and Ski Warehouse in West Lebanon.

“It’s been one of the best winters in recent memory,” he said. “And this snow should give us a final push to end the year.”

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.