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Unseasonable warmth brings short sleeves to ski slopes

Unseasonable warmth brings short sleeves to ski slopes

January 15, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

MERCERSBURG, PA. -

Things to do when afternoon temperatures in January reach the 50s or 60s:

Eat lunch outside.

Play basketball on an outdoor court.

Fantasize about working in a garden.

And ... ski?

Few people were apt to complain about the recent unseasonably warm weather and - perhaps surprisingly - officials at area ski resorts were no different.

"It's almost like spring skiing, and people seem to enjoy that," said Lori Epp, events and public relations manager for Wisp Resort in Garrett County, Md.

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At Whitetail Mountain Resort outside Mercersburg, a skier, snowboarder and young man riding ski blades - skis only a couple of feet long - all agreed one recent afternoon that coming to the slopes on a warmer day has its advantages.

"My coat normally has two layers and I took off the inner layer. I also don't need a scarf," said Kelly Townsend, a student at the University of Rochester (N.Y.) who was home for winter break.

Townsend and her mother, of Annapolis, had heard the snow might be granular - consisting of small chunks of ice - but Townsend said that was not the case.

"The conditions actually weren't bad. It was more slushy than granular," she said.

While Townsend was wearing a coat, others headed down the resort's groomed trails without a jacket. One young man was wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, while many others had on sweat shirts or long-sleeve T-shirts.

"We thought with the ... weather, there'd be no one out, and we were right," David Castelhano, 19, of Loudoun County, Va., said as he took a break from riding his ski blades.

Although the snow was "choppy," Castelhano said skiing on a warmer day has advantages.

Fewer people means no lines.

"It's better than waiting 15 minutes to get on the lift," he said.

Also, those who head to the mountain on warmer days are less likely to be first-timers.

"There's no one on the slopes that doesn't know what they're doing," he said, adding that nobody was falling down or crashing. "It's real chill today."

Mike Benefiel, 22, of Annapolis, agreed that the slopes are more pleasant with fewer people, but he also agreed the snow was a bit slushier than what would be considered ideal.

"I'd prefer it a little colder so the snow could be a little better," he said.

Temperatures for Mercersburg for the past week were forecast to be in the 40s to high-50s, with a temperature of more than 60 degrees recorded on Monday.

Because man-made snow only can be produced if the outside temperature is at the 32-degree freezing mark or below, area resorts have, for the most part, been relying on snow made when the weather felt more winterlike last month.

Wisp Resort made about 4 inches of snow more than a week ago, while Mother Nature contributed another 3 inches. That snow, combined with "massive snowmaking" in December, enabled trails at Wisp to have base depths ranging from 28 to 68 inches, Epp said.

While she said people are likely to come out when the weather is mild, seeing lots of them out skiing in mid-50-degree temperatures might be stretching it.

If it gets too warm, people's minds could wander to other outdoor activities rather than skiing, she said.

For Epp, that means she must keep tabs on the weather in Washington, the source of many of the resort's skiers.

"Like all good PR people, I stay in good contact with the weather people in D.C.," she said.

Wisp opened for the season on Nov. 25.

Chris Black, marketing coordinator for Whitetail, said cold weather last month is helping to balance business.

The resort opened Dec. 8.

"With the early opening, we're on pace, believe it or not, for a record-breaking season," Black said. "We've been able to withstand the warm weather."

Plus, he said, the warmer temperatures came at an opportune time - the past week generally tends to be slow because people are recovering from the holidays.

About a week ago, when temperatures dipped below freezing, the resort was able to produce man-made snow and has base depths of 14 to 28 inches.

Making snow is a complex process, but Black offered this "nickel's worth" explanation: Water from a 100 million-gallon reservoir near Whitetail is pumped up to the mountain, treated, mixed with compressed air and blown onto the slopes.

Black said he does not mind the warmer temperatures and said he saw a few skiers wearing short sleeves.

He shrugged off a suggestion that he might be paying closer attention to the weather, given the warmer temperatures.

"Even when it's 20 degrees out and we're blasting snow, we watch the weather constantly," he said.

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