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New England Ski Season Is Sluggish

December 29, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ If it weren’t for artificial snow, New England’s ski industry might be in trouble.

A dearth of natural snowfall and unseasonably warm temperatures have left many slopes bare and brown. While some resorts have been able to produce enough powder to attract a crowd, others have watched their business slide downhill.

``Certainly, it’s been off to a slow start, a mild start,″ said Tom Cottrill, president of the New England Ski Areas Council. ``That’s OK, we can live with that. We still have a lot of winter left.″

Skiing _ and now snowboarding _ are serious businesses in New England, where 70 ski areas attract as many as 10 million visitors in a single season, Cottrill said.

While it rained in Boston on Tuesday, temperatures 1,000 feet higher and 42 miles to the west were low enough to form the season’s first natural blanket of snow at Wachusett Mountain ski area in Princeton, said Tom Meyers, Wachusett’s marketing director.

``It’s snowing here _ finally,″ he said. ``We’re finally smiling.″

Like many resorts across New England, Wachusett was able to open up, albeit a little late, with the help of some frigid temperatures and snowmaking machines. Meyers said Wachusett opened two of its 18 trails two weeks ago and has opened five more since then.

Others have been far less fortunate.

Twin brothers Stanley and Stuart Beers are still waiting for the freeze to reach their small Blue Hills ski area in Canton.

Warm temperatures near the ocean _ some warm enough for shorts and T-shirts this month _ have kept the snow, skiers and profits away for the third year running. Both brothers have taken out second mortgages on their homes to keep their business afloat.

``It don’t get much worse,″ Stanley Beers said. ``I’ve never believed too much in that global warming thing, but I’m starting to believe in it now.″

Beers said that during a good season Blue Hills has attracted up to 1,300 people a day to its seven trails. On Tuesday, a group of about 20 school children played on a 200-foot stretch of machine-made snow.

The Beerses keep a regular watch on thermometers outside the lodge. As soon as the mercury falls to 28 degrees, they can turn on the snowmaking equipment.

At Temple Mountain, in Temple, N.H., cold temperatures have provided a payoff for an investment in eight new snowmaking cannons and a project that increases the capacity of wells to feed the machines.

``There’s nothing we can do about the weather, except make the snow,″ said Tim Farrell, Temple Mountain’s general manager. ``We’ve been making it ’round the clock.″

In Vermont, crowds at some of the state’s largest ski areas were smaller than expected during the weekend after Christmas, according to Molly Mahar Kerr, marketing director at the Vermont Ski Areas Association.

As of Tuesday almost all of the snow at the state’s 26 ski areas was machine made. About 40 percent of slopes were covered compared to 97 percent at this time last year, she said.

But resort owners were hoping that as much as 6 inches of snowfall forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday would help attract more than the die-hard downhill fans.

``People that are skiers and snowboarders know about snowmaking and would expect that we have snow up here,″ she said. ``But it’s very helpful for us to have snow in people’s backyards because it gets them more in a winter mindset.″

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