Resorts prepare for ski season

Mirror file photo / A trio of skiers take a lift at Blue Knob on Feb. 3. Local resorts are anticipating good ski conditions for the 2018-19 season.

The 2018-19 area ski season is already off to a good start.

Seven Springs Mountain Resort opened for the season on Black Friday — they call it White Friday — and is expected to remain open over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The remainder of the season schedule will be weather dependent.

“We are hearing early start, late finish, below normal temperatures and above normal precipitation. We started making snow the same day as last year

Nov. 10,” Katie Buchan, spokeswoman for Seven Springs, Hidden Valley Resort and Laurel Mountain, said.

Hidden Valley, Laurel Mountain, Blue Knob All Seasons Resort and Tussey Mountain Ski Resort have yet to set opening dates.

“We hope to be open no later than Dec. 7, weather permitting. We want to open as soon as possible but want the conditions to be as good as possible,” said Eric Mungai, a member of Blue Knob’s ownership group.

AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok said the outlook for the season looks good.

“The majority of the season will be good for snowmaking, and there will be natural snow from time to time. We expect an active January and into February, with storms coming out of the south and cold air coming down from the north,” Pastelok said. “Snowfall should be in the normal range, but above normal closer to the Maryland border. Temperatures will be about average or slightly below average depending on the cold shots in late January.”

Seven Springs and Tussey Mountain officials said they had a good season last year.

“Last season was great for us. We had 138 inches of natural snow. We had a warm February, but once we got through February we got snow back and rebuilt the mountain,” Buchan said.

“We had a phenomenal March with tons of natural snow and stayed open through April 15. We expect this season to be phenomenal,” she added.

“Last year was good because we opened before Christmas and were able to keep most of our terrain open for the duration of the season. We didn’t have a lot of big storms, but we were open through March and spring break. There have been times in the past when we have had to shut down for weeks. We would like to have a year when we are just dumped on with snow,” said Aaron Weyman, Tussey Mountain spokes­man.

Mungai hopes the second season under his ownership group — Sustainable Hospitality & Development LP — will be better than the first.

“This season can’t be worse than last season. Last year’s weather resulted in us rebuilding the mountain five times. It rained every weekend the month of January through the end of February. It rained 21 out of 23 days in a stretch in February,” Mungai said.

Several improvements have been made at Blue Knob for this season.

“We acquired 15 new low-e snow guns in differing configurations for evaluation this winter. The new state-of-the-art equipment uses on average 20-30 cubic feet per minute of air and will be replacing older, inefficient equipment,” Mungai said. “We have also added a new, variable speed snowmaking pump that is double the capacity of the pump it replaces and have rebuilt the beginners pond pump significantly increasing snowmaking capacity.”

Mungai also said the snowtubing area is being relocated to the resort’s summit and its size doubled. The new snowtubing area will offer at least eight lanes of tubing serviced by a new surface lift. A new terrain park will also be added at the summit adjacent to the beginner’s area.

Improvements also have been made at Seven Springs and Hidden Valley.

For example, at Seven Springs, 19 new HKD Impulse R-5 tower snowguns have been added to Avalanche slope. These snowguns use a reduced amount of compressed air and allow the snowmaking team to tailor output to adapt the system to varying weather conditions.

Avalanche Slope will also receive new LED lighting on the skiers’ left.

All snowmaking stations on the lower half of North Face Slope are being converted to a high-pressure system. The increased water pressure will significantly increase performance, generating more snow of better quality. North Face Slope will also receive a string of new LED lighting, Buchan said.

At Hidden Valley, snowmaking and grooming improvements include the addition of two new TechnoAlpin fan guns to the snowmaking fleet and a Prinoth BR350 snowcat has been added to the grooming fleet.

Tussey Mountain continues to improve its snowmaking capabilities.

“We have every year improved our snow making capabilities. We also replaced a lot of the underground pipes which run from the pond, that gives us stronger pressure,” Weyman said. “We’ve again upgraded our snowmaking equipment and added a new groomer. If we have a lot of snow we will have two we can use.”

Officials remain optimistic about the season.

“We are very optimistic.We had a wet summer so we hope that will translate into more precipitation. We are optimistic we will have cold enough temperatures to make a good amount of snow and be ready for the natural snow to supplement that,” Weyman said.

“We have heard it will be colder than normal with snowfall on the positive side. We are optimistic,” Mungai said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.