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Warm weather and rain bring tough snow season for NH skiers, snowshoers and others

Warm temperatures and rainy days have created difficult conditions this winter for Granite Staters who like to get out in the snow.

With a snowstorm in mid-December, many local ski areas were able to establish a base coating on their slopes. At Pats Peak in Henniker, most trails have opened. But the recent conditions have taken a toll, said Lori Rowell, director of marketing and sales.

“It's definitely been more challenging with the weather being warmer,” she said, “And not having any consistent snowmaking in the last few weeks has definitely put more stress on everyone to have the terrain that we want.”

Rowell said the ski area was hopeful for a cold snap ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend so they could run snow machines and open up a couple more trails.

Ski New Hampshire president Jessyca Keeler says making snow has been a big part of the state’s ski industry for decades. Now, it’s a staple.

“It's something we rely on to stay open, especially when we have these warmer weather events,” she said. “Ski areas have invested so much money over the years, over decades, to constantly upgrade those systems.”

As the climate changes, winters in New Hampshire are warming up faster than other seasons. According to the state’s most recent climate assessment, snowfall is projected to decrease by up to 50% by the end of the century.

And despite the improvements in snowmaking equipment, warming winters are on Keeler’s mind.

“I'm sure there will be a point where we can't have 40 degree weather and make snow,” she said. “But we've been able to keep up with it so far.”

Keeler said ski areas are making some changes to prepare for warmer winters to come. More are adding off-season activities on their mountains, and hosting events like weddings and corporate meetings. And some are working to lower their carbon footprint through things like more efficient snowmaking, installing LED lights and heat pumps, and considering more renewable energy sources.

Making the best of a warm winter

Even without much snow, some Granite Staters still got out over the weekend to enjoy winter activities.

After strapping on her snowshoes, Heather McKendry led a small group around the Tin Mountain Conservation Center’s new accessible trail on Saturday.

Snowshoeing is a good way to get to know people, she said.

“I actually resisted it for years because I thought it was slow. But it’s a chance to see animal tracks, notice things, slow down, be with other people,” she said.

Jennifer and Sara Smith drove up from Pembroke for the tour. A large group signed up, but the Smiths were the only participants who came.

Jennifer said she’d usually be cross-country skiing this time of year, but there hasn’t been enough snow.

“It’s kinda hard right now, White Farm is just mud,” she said.

Friday’s storm brought a dusting of snow to the trees near Tin Mountain. But the snow was barely deep enough to need snowshoes, and some parts of the trail were still crunchy with gravel.

McKendry said she’s seen winters get warmer throughout her years guiding in northern New Hampshire, and she worries conditions will continue to get worse as the climate changes.

“That’s why we’re out here today, right? Seizing every opportunity. I know I will,” she said.

Encouraging the next generation

Warm weather has so far canceled or postponed most youth ski races this winter.

But the Gus Pitou Memorial at Gunstock Mountain Resort in Gilford Sunday was an exception.

The race, which has been run for more than 50 years, honors the father of Penny Pitou, who in 1960 was the first American to win an Olympic medal in downhill skiing.

Penny Pitou was on hand offer encouragement to participants.

"There have been some very very successful ski racers that have come though this race, including Mikaela Shiffrin, who came many years ago when she was quite young," Pitou told the junior racers. "So you could be another Michela Shiffrin or one of the many men who've done well in ski racing."

Continued cold nights in the mountains should improve ski conditions for racers — and everyone else.

Mara Hoplamazian reports on climate change, energy, and the environment for NHPR.
Josh has worked at NHPR since 2000.

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