Upper Valley ski teams, coaches struggle with sparse snow

  • Amber Caraeni rides to the top of Storrs Hill in Lebanon, N.H., during Lebanon downhill ski practice Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. The lack of snowfall and ideal snow making conditions have challenged high school ski teams this season. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Lebanon senior Olivia Jameson, 17, gears up in the Storrs Hill parking lot in Lebanon, N.H., before downhill ski practice Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sam Loescher skis a slalom course during Hanover ski practice on Storrs Hill in Lebanon, N.H., Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Hanover ski coach Gabi Formankova raises two slalom gates after freeing them from the snow as a squall blew over Storrs Hill in Lebanon, N.H., at the end of her team's practice Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. "We just search for snow here, there, and everywhere," said Formankova who held early season practices at Whaleback and the Dartmouth Skiway where her 29 skiers had to hike the slopes. "We're so lucky that we can ski," despite the coronavirus pandemic, she said. Hanover skier Wesley Stocken is at left and Adam Goodney is at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News
Published: 1/21/2021 9:37:14 PM
Modified: 1/22/2021 9:49:29 PM

LEBANON — Cory Grant has been clocking in 16- to 18-hour days lately at Storrs Hill Ski Area, making snow to have a solid foundation of powder to cover the hill.

The president of the Lebanon Outing Club, which operates the ski area, is still not able to fully open it, but he’s seeing progress: Ski lessons started earlier this week and public skiing will debut on Saturday.

It hasn’t been an easy path to reach the opening. The Dec. 17 winter storm that dumped huge portions of snow across the Upper Valley, including 20 inches in Lebanon, vanished by New Year’s due to Christmas rainstorms.

Not much snow has fallen since then and temperatures have remained high, making it tough going for local ski areas and those who wish to hit the slopes.

“I’m pushing 300 gallons (of snow) a minute, just to try and get something moving, but that’s weather-dependent,” Grant said of his snowmaking process. “At 27 degrees, you are only pushing out 40 gallons a minute because if you push more, it’s going to be slush. I need it to be in the teens to get good, powdery snow.”

Both the Hanover and Lebanon high school Alpine ski teams have recently returned to Storrs, but they weren’t riding the lift to the top until Wednesday. In previous practices, they’ve hiked up a third of the hill and skied down.

Before that, both programs were left to find substitute venues while Grant worked to get Storrs in shape.

Hanover Alpine coach Gabriela Formankova had her team hiking at a myriad of places, such as Oak Hill, Dartmouth Skiway and Whaleback. The Marauders have 29 skiers this season and, because of COVID-19 protocols, Formankova has been forced to reduce entries at races.

“It’s been trickier and harder than other seasons,” she said. “It feels like everything is falling on us all at once. You got the pandemic, with the restrictions and protocols. Then the most wonderful snowfall of the winter comes, but the rain takes it all away. It’s an ever-changing reality. Doesn’t make it easy, but it makes us more resilient.”

Formankova’s counterpart at Lebanon, Mike Anikis, also had his team hiking at Whaleback and dry-land training earlier in the season.

The Raiders aren’t using the school’s cafeteria to meet because of COVID-19, so his team was out doing yoga on the football field and taking team hikes the first few weeks of practice.

His toughest challenge has been trying to instruct his new skiers without any snow on the ground.

Ten of his 18 skiers are in their first year of ski racing and, without any snow, he hasn’t been able to put gates in the ground. At last week’s opening race at Mount Sunapee, Anikis said he told his skiers to just follow the trail previous skiers had left.

“(This winter is) absolutely frustrating,” he said. “Anything I can give these kids, I’m happy to get them something, because they’ve lost so much. I have so many first-timers, and I don’t want them to be turned off. We’re not doing a lot of training because we don’t have a lot of terrain. I don’t want them to think this is how ski racing is.”

Across the Connecticut River in Vermont, Hartford has moved its downhill ski and snowboard operation over to Woodstock’s Suicide Six. In a typical winter, the Hurricanes can be found over at Whaleback, but Vermont travel restrictions don’t allow for the border crossing.

Outdoor sports in the Green Mountain State can begin holding competition with a capacity of 25 participants. The main focus at Hartford is getting in practice time; currently the Canes are only holding once-a-week practices.

Thetford Academy was also granted access to Storrs, strictly for race preparation. The Panthers’ first practice at Storrs isn’t until Friday, and they’ll be at the hill twice a week. All other training will take place at Killington’s Pico Mountain.

Oak Hill’s Roger Burt Memorial Jump has been in good shape thanks to snowmaking, said Hanover coach Tom Dodds. The Marauders have been practicing throughout most of the winter, but their opponents have been as lucky. Hanover’s meet on Friday at Kennett was canceled due to a lack of snow.

Grant is aiming to have Storrs’ ski jump open later this week.

“It used to be you’d start making snow right after Thanksgiving,” said Grant, who has been in his role for 14 years. “Then it slowly started to move back a week, and then it moved back another two weeks. It seems to me that you’re not getting snow on the ground until the first or second week of December.”

Nobody can exactly figure out what has made for the tough winter thus far, but there is a consensus that global warming is a factor. According to research released by the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy in February 2020, the state’s average December-through-March temperatures have warmed by more than 4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1895.

That hasn’t stopped high schools from getting outside, but it has limited the amount of time they actually ski. Formankova and Anikis are hoping to host a race at Whaleback this season, but the weather hasn’t allowed them to formalize a date.

Both agree the main goal this winter is getting kids outside and with their friends for normalcy’s sake.

“We’re all taking it day by day,” Formankova said. “I really feel like during the time of pandemic, because our lives have been very very stressful, everything falls into place when we have our boots and skis back on. Back in our element.”

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com.

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