The skis are all lined up and ready to go at the Trapp Family Lodge Outdoor Center. But outside it's a different story. The popular ski area had a brief two-day opening earlier this month with a foot or more of snow on the ground. That was before the rain.
On this afternoon, a tower snow gun pumps out up to 45 gallons of water a minute, laboring to get back some of the snow cover they lost. Trapp's is in their sixth year of limited snowmaking. For them, it's meant the difference between a successful season and no season it all.
"Downhill areas you can count on. Skiing cross-country-- it's maybe going to turn into that, too," said Paul McNeil of the Trapp Family Lodge.
For the most part, he says guests are excited to see the white stuff and that the snow guns in the background don't seem to take away from the Austrian Alps aura the resort tries to cultivate.
Ski industry officials say seven out of 30 cross-country areas are currently making their own snow and more are coming online each year. McNeil says the prospects of climate change pushed many cross-country areas to take a close look at their operations.
"Whether we're in a 100-year warming span or this is a global warming span, it's all to be determined. But right now, it's pretty vital to have snowmaking," McNeil said.
Is climate change to blame?
"It's highly variable and I think variability is probably the key thing that we're going to see," said Roger Hill, a meteorologist. "We're going to see these switches like what we see right now, with snowless conditions, to situations where we might get very big dumps, but they may not come as frequently, but when they do come they could be pretty huge."
Hill does forecast consulting from his home in Worcester. He says the early climactic changes up north are just the coming attractions.
"It's happening further to the north. All we have to do is look north to see the changes and the swings that they're seeing up in Canada and Alaska, and all we have to do is look south to places like New Jersey and Connecticut, and match those up with our climate and see that the kind of winter we're experiencing for example right now, is much more Connecticut or New Jersey-like," Hill said.
At Trapp's, they plans to invest a quarter million dollars next year to boost their snowmaking capability.
"We're holding the Junior Nationals in 2014 here, which is one of the largest ski events in the country. It's all going to be on a course out here in the field and we're going to have expanded snowmaking and that event is one example of how we are going to pull it off no matter what the weather is," McNeil said.
But what of the smaller cross-country centers that can't afford that kind of investment? Industry officials hope the success of the larger areas somehow spreads the wealth.
"It certainly acts as a rising tide. It floats all boats. It gets the word out there that the trails are going to be covered with snow regardless and a good snow year like we had just two years ago," said Parker Riehle of Ski Vermont.
Cross-country areas embracing what could be the new face of winter in Vermont.
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