Considering its location in the face of Mount Washington, where temperatures dipped to minus-36 degrees at the summit (tying it for the second-coldest place on Earth on Saturday), it was little surprise to notice last Friday that Wildcat Mountain had made an immediate decision to shut down operations for the following day.
With extremely cold temperatures and high winds expected to result in wind chill values well below minus-50, the safety of employees and guests became the priority in Pinkham Notch, N.H., a retreating approach that repeated elsewhere in New England on an historically-frigid weekend.
It was just past 9 a.m., for instance, when Vermont’s Killington Mountain Resort, the self-proclaimed Beast of the East with the longest running schedule in the region, announced that the high winds and cold temperatures were too much for the mountain to consider running lifts, instead sending skiers and riders to nearby, sister ski area Pico down the road.
“The decision was made for the safety of our guests and staff,” Killington spokesperson Kristel Fillmore said. “The winds were less beastly at Pico Mountain so lower mountain lifts were operating on Saturday.”
In northern Vermont, Jay Peak Resort followed suit with wind speeds approaching 40 miles per hour and temperatures hovering only just above minus-25 degrees. Other resorts managed to stay open, but found themselves forced to close lifts on the upper regions of the mountains, those being more prone to the high winds that tortured those limited brave souls who still insisted on a day at the slopes.
Those in lower elevations made the best of what the cold delivered.
“All in all, yes, the week could've been better without the cold temperatures, but conditions across the resort for all activities and mostly sunny skies with little-to-no-wind at King Pine made for a decent week,” said Thomas Prindle, spokesperson for King Pine Ski Area, in Madison, N.H. “We generally benefit from being a bit further south at lower elevations and protected from winds.”
The cold snap certainly affected visits, with most ski areas reporting lesser-than-expected crowds over the recent holiday vacation week, which means that the upcoming MLK weekend arrives as a pivotal marker for the industry. But the temperatures have also allowed to maintain the snow coverage opening the doors to a big rebound only one week later.
“These consistently chilly temperatures are keeping the snow surface in great shape and the natural snow we had, combined with favorable snowmaking conditions, have allowed us to open 99 percent of our terrain," Okemo Mountain Resort spokesperson Bonnie McPherson said last week.
Same snow. Less danger. Sounds like a much better mix this time around.