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A Stellar Start to Ski Season: After Two Years of Sad Snowfall, Upper Valley Skiers Celebrate

  • Nina Sablan, 8, center right, of Norwich reaches to pull down the lap bar as she rides the lift with her sister Emma, 11, center left, Ellison Stannard, 11, left, of Hanover, and Katharine Stannard, 11, right, at the Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Skiway had eight trails open to skiers and snowboarders Thursday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Nina Sablan, 8, center right, of Norwich reaches to pull down the lap bar as she rides the lift with her sister Emma, 11, center left, Ellison Stannard, 11, left, of Hanover, and Katharine Stannard, 11, right, at the Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Skiway had eight trails open to skiers and snowboarders Thursday.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Ford Sayre ski instructor Sean Ross of Lyme knocks snow from the boots of his son Jack, 9, as they clip in at the base of the mountain Thursday, December 26, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Ford Sayre ski instructor Sean Ross of Lyme knocks snow from the boots of his son Jack, 9, as they clip in at the base of the mountain Thursday, December 26, 2013.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nina Sablan, 8, center right, of Norwich reaches to pull down the lap bar as she rides the lift with her sister Emma, 11, center left, Ellison Stannard, 11, left, of Hanover, and Katharine Stannard, 11, right, at the Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme Thursday, December 26, 2013. The Skiway had eight trails open to skiers and snowboarders Thursday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Ford Sayre ski instructor Sean Ross of Lyme knocks snow from the boots of his son Jack, 9, as they clip in at the base of the mountain Thursday, December 26, 2013.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Lyme Center — At the end of a morning on the Winslow Ledge side of Dartmouth Skiway on Thursday, Sophie Mott, of Lyme, was wiping another half an inch of fluffy snow from her Subaru Forester.

“It was nice,” said Mott, home for the holidays from her freshman year at the University of Lille in France. “It was easy to glide up there. The snow’s good.”

Better, anyway, than what skiers and snowboarders endured on alpine slopes in and around the Upper Valley during much of the relatively warm and rainy winters the last two years, not to mention during the precipitation that dampened the holiday spirits of ski-area operators last weekend.

“The white stuff is always good,” said Skiway General Manager Doug Holler. “It’s a cliché in our business, but the fact of the matter is: If it’s snowing in people’s backyards in the valleys and in the towns, it plants the seed in their minds. Hopefully, they’re done with shopping and partying, and they’ll turn their hopes to skiing.”

Former Norwich resident David Bartlett and his family were hoping for better conditions, in the weeks leading up to their annual return to the Upper Valley from their current home in Hong Kong, than they encountered during their 2011 and 2012 visits.

“This is our first day out,” Bartlett, a 1986 graduate of Hanover High, said after his daughter Kate’s first of six ski lessons. “We come for this two-week window, no matter what, every year, but if (skiing) doesn’t work while we’re here, it’s a disappointment. We were coming, anyway, but it was nice to see some fresh snow coming down.”

Even with the new layer, those who turned their hopes to the Skiway on Thursday — many of them children and their coaches with the Ford Sayre ski club — found just eight of its 31 trails open, and three of its four lifts. Holler said that his crews would attack the slopes with snow-making guns and groomers late Thursday afternoon and overnight, with the aim of opening more trails for the weekend and the rest of school vacation.

After that, while crossing their fingers for snow from the sky, Holler said, they’ll turn their attention across the road, where the fourth lift in normal conditions carries skiers up to the Skiway’s 15 trails — much of it expert terrain — on Holts Ledge. On Thursday, spikes of brown grass still were peeking through the ground cover.

On its website, Okemo Mountain in Ludlow, Vt., reported 18 of 19 lifts running, with 74 out of 120 trails open to skiers. And at Mount Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., director of marketing Bruce McCloy said that skiers and snowboarders were choosing from 45 out of the resort’s 66 trails, and that 10 of Sunapee’s 11 lifts — including all three of its quad lifts — were running on Thursday, with the eleventh scheduled to run today through New Year’s Eve.

“If you’d told us on the Fourth of July that we’d have 45 trails and 184 of our 205 acres open for Christmas vacation, we’d have said, ‘We’ll take it,’ ” McCloy said. “We’re in much better shape than we were last year for Christmas. Between some of the big storms we had and all our snowmaking, we put a lot of snow in the bank before we had the rainy weather over the weekend.”

At the Woodstock Inn, director of recreation Chuck Vanderstreet said that the rain last weekend forced the Suicide Six ski area in South Pomfret — which makes snow on 12 of its 23 trails — to close for three days this week.

By Thursday, skiers were using two of its 23 trails, to which Vanderstreet said that he expects to add The Face trail today and the Lower Skyline trail on Saturday.

“Our snowmakers have been working around the clock since the rain ended and it got cold again,” Vanderstreet added. “They might need to stop during the day over the weekend, when it’s supposed to be in the 30s, but Monday and Tuesday it’s looking like we’ll be going around the clock again.”

On its website at www.noaa.gov, the National Weather Service on Thursday was forecasting a mostly-dry run for the Upper Valley through the weekend and New Year’s Day, with a chance of snow between 40 and 50 percent on Sunday. Overnight temperatures are expected to drop into the teens tonight and reach the lower 20s Saturday and Sunday nights, before plunging into the single digits and below zero.

The prospect of snow guns blazing at Dartmouth Skiway all week left Ford Sayre ski coach Geoff Curtis hoping for the best.

“The conditions were good early in the season, so people’s attitudes already were better than last year,” Curtis said in the main lodge before returning to the slopes with a stampede of youngsters. “The skiing is really good now. They’ve done a great job getting the surface ready.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dacorriveau@gmail.com and at 603-727-3304.