"It will be a much colder and snowier winter."
Those words from AccuWeather meteorologist Andy Mussoline are music to the ears of area ski resort operators.
"We are forecasting above normal snowfall, which is great for the ski industry. We anticipate an active southern storm trend that will see lots of moisture move across the southeast and take a turn up the East Coast. A few times there will be a great opportunity for some good snowstorms across the area," Mussoline said.
A family enjoys spending time together at Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion. Seven Springs is one of several area resorts that opened this weekend.
Black Friday turned into White Saturday at Hidden Valley Resort with the help of snow-making machines on Nov. 24. Because current forecasts were accurate, the resort opened its slopes with limited skiing on Friday and Saturday. Hidden Valley also will be open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today.
Hidden Valley Resort on Route 31 between the Somerset and Donegal exits of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion opened on Friday.
Blue Knob All Seasons Resort near Claysburg plans to open Dec. 14, while Tussey Mountain Ski Area in Boalsburg expects to open within the next two weeks.
"All the ingredients are in place for a great season. We are ready to roll," said Anna Weltz, Seven Springs spokeswoman.
Local operators are hoping for a better winter than last year, when Mother Nature provided little natural snow and above normal temperatures.
Despite a lack of natural snow, Hidden Valley didn't have a bad season, said spokeswoman Laura Argenbright.
"We actually fared well. We had a slight increase [of skier visits] over the year before. We were able to do that due to our successful snow-making efforts. We have a fully automated system, which really helps us when there is a general lack of winter conditions," Argenbright said.
Blue Knob received only 30 inches of natural snow last year, compared to a typical year of 130 inches, but officials there said they had good skiing conditions.
"We had some good temperatures so we were able to make a lot of snow," said Doug Houck, general manager. "We were down to 35,000 to 40,000 visits. Our visits were off because people didn't have snow in their yards. If people don't see snow they don't think about skiing."
Seven Springs received 64 inches of natural snow - the average is about 115 inches - but drew visitors from other areas.
"We do guest surveys and we found out we had people from the eastern part of the state where they didn't have much snow. We had a lot of people from outside our normal traffic area," Weltz said.
The season at Tussey Mountain was average at best, said spokesman Aaron Weyman.
"It was cold enough to make snow. We were only open about two months. We weren't open for the holidays. We only had one third of our terrain open last year. Some of our slopes weren't even open. We didn't have the walk-in business we were used to," Weyman said. "It was frustrating."
In order to survive, the resorts have added new and better snow-making equipment so when Mother Nature doesn't cooperate, there will still be snow.
"We make snow every opportunity we get. When we get cold temperatures, we make snow. That is pretty much the way the business is all over the East Coast," Houck said.
Numerous improvements have been made to snow-making and grooming at Seven Springs.
The resort has added a second Prinoth Bison X to its grooming fleet. The Bison X, known for its extreme maneuverability and operating range, is an asset for improved grooming of the slopes, trails and terrain parks, Weltz said.
New snow-making nozzles have been added to the snow towers on the lower half of North Face, Giant Steps, Yodeler, Lost Girl and Gunnar slopes. The new nozzles will provide better quality snow by using water in a more efficient manner, she said.
The snow-making crew welcomed the arrival of five new SMI Pole Cat fan guns, which can be moved around the mountain in strategically placed locations, Weltz said.
Blue Knob also increased its snow-making capacity.
"We have increased our water storage capacity. We have added 2 million gallons of storage capacity. We also put in 15 new snow guns this year and ran some new pipelines to enhance our snow-making capacity, especially in areas that we have had problems in the past," Houck said.
Tussey Mountain Ski Area also has purchased some new equipment.
"We bought three new Areco fan jets for snow-making. They will be an addition to what we had. They will help us pump out a lot more snow and will give us more coverage," Weyman said.
Hidden Valley has increased its snow-making pumping capacity to make its system even more productive.
"We have increased snow-making capacity by 20 percent across the mountain. We have widened our Voyager Trail on the North Summit. We have added snow-making and lights to the trail," Argenbright said. "Snow-making equipment also was added to Cougar and Charger trails. That allows us to keep more of the mountain open more consistently. Charger gives us a more consistent advanced terrain."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.