Dec 29, 2011 Neil Benjamin Jr. Uncategorized
If you hate snow, you probably are enjoying the mild weather in the region so far this winter. The lack of powder in the usually furiously flurried area has made life easier for commuters, pedestrians and cleanup crews, but isn’t doing any good for skiing, snowboarding and tubing parks.
Aside from a few dustings, Onondaga County has been virtually snow-free this season, a far cry from last winter when 179 inches fell, about a foot short of the record 192.1 that accumulated in 1992-93. By Christmas 2010, 71 inches had fallen, allowing ski areas to open earlier than usual. Syracuse averages 111.8 inches per year according to City-Data.com.
John Goodfellow, owner of Four Seasons Ski and Golf Center in Fayetteville, has been in the skiing business for more than 40 years. His ski bump is more prepared than many others, as Four Seasons has multiple snow makers. With this advantage, Goodfellow really only needs the temperature to cooperate, something that hasn’t happened this year.
“We’re nowhere near what our customers expect,” he said. “I’d say that only 25 percent of our trails are even close to being ready for use.”
Being in the industry for so long has helped Goodfellow develop a vast understanding of everything involved, but two stand out: Don’t trust the weather forecast and, most importantly, do not panic if Mother Nature isn’t cooperating.
He talked about how some years are much better than others, and this knowledge prompted him to invest in a wealth of snow-making machinery over the last decade.
“I wanted to make more snow in less time to be able to keep the park open,” Goodfellow said. “You really need a three-foot base at the minimum, and the snow we make helps out a lot. But this year, it’s been warm and we’re not able to open the skiing part [so far].”
On Dec. 27, three lanes on the tubing hill were open, but only nine people were using them. The snow was hard and slick, yet melting quickly, causing the grass surrounding the hill to turn into a swampy mess.
Among the sparse crowd was East Syracuse resident Victor Barrientos and his 3-year-old daughter Elaina, who were riding together. Javier Barrientos, a 15-year-old East Syracuse-Minoa High School student, and Jonathan Adamson, a 36-year-old from Florida who was in the area visiting relatives, had differing views on the conditions.
Javier spoke like a true Central New Yorker.
“I kind of expected it to snow more by now, but it’s no big deal,” he said. “I’m used to whatever comes because you never know what will happen.”
Adamson, though, hoped for a bit more in his stay in snow country.
“This isn’t what I remember,” said Adamson, who hadn’t been to the area since 2003. “There’s no snow. We don’t get snow in Florida, and I was hoping to enjoy some while I’m here. But we’re making the most of it. When no one is [tubing], we get more access.”
With the country fighting its way out of economic hardship, almost every luxury takes a financial hit. Goodfellow said his business isn’t exempt, especially in poor weather conditions. Because of this, he said he’s hired just 20 of the estimated 60 workers he needs for everything to run smoothly during peak season.
Kyle Button is one of those workers. The 20-year-old has been employed at Four Seasons for six winters as a ski and snowboard instructor. Button said the annual ski and snowboard camp, which took place last week, has nowhere near as many people as usual.
“With no snow, you can’t really do much,” he said. “But it’ll come.”
At Toggenburg Mountain Ski Center, representative Jessie Novak said the weather made it so the business couldn’t open until Dec. 23 — a far cry from last year when Toggenburg unlocked its doors three weeks earlier.
“We make snow, but it’s going to be difficult from here on out because we didn’t jump out of the gate quickly,” Novak said.
East Hill in Camillus isn’t open because it doesn’t have the means to make snow. The answering machine at its office says it won’t start up until conditions improve, but gives no other indication as to the immediate future.
Whether business can be made up from here on out is up for debate. Novak said Toggenburg “absolutely can,” but Goodfellow adamantly disagrees. Because the traditionally busiest week of the season —Christmas through New Year’s — was wiped away, Goodfellow said it’s time to move on.
“Business is, frankly — what’s lost is lost,” Goodfellow said.
And it’s not just a lack of lift passes sold.
“When the weather is like this, skis, shoes, shovels, you name it, none of it sells, so it affects more than just going down the hill,” he said. “It trickles down from the top.”
“But come see me again in the middle of March,” he added. “You can’t predict what will happen, but I tell people to come back and see. I’ll be a lot busier than I am right now.”
Neil Benjamin Jr. is an editor/reporter for the Eagle Bulletin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.