Local ski slopes grapple with a warmer winter season thus far

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Rain and higher-than-average temperatures have made for a challenging start to the local skiing and snowboarding season. 

Mount Southington and Powder Ridge have recently had to close for several days to let the snow settle before layering fresh snow on the hills.

Powder Ridge in Middlefield has had to close its tubing lanes entirely for the next week due to the conditions being too wet to keep them properly maintained, and will have to wait until conditions improve before they’re able to reopen.

Confidence remains high, however, as both hills have been seeing high attendance — with large crowds at other areas of Powder Ridge despite the closed slopes on Thursday.

Local snowfall totals have been reported just over seven inches so far this season, which 50% lower than average, according to Gary Lessor, a meteorologist at Western Connecticut State University. Despite the low number, it’s still three inches above the 2021 winter season. Yet despite more snow, the conditions this year have been less than ideal to keep it on the mountains.

Temperatures have been higher than average this season, reaching into the 50s on New Year’s Day, with rain on all but one day so far in January.

Both hills have been able to keep the snow on their slopes due to the low evening temperatures, though the persistent rain remains a complication. However, experts are confident that the weather will improve for snowmaking going into next week.

“It just hasn’t been conducive this time of year, typically every single night those guns are going from — sunset to sunrise. And that hasn’t been the case,” said Lessor, who lives near Mount Southington. “Going forward, we do expect over the next couple of weeks, temperatures still continue to be above normal, which will somewhat hamper the ability to make snow. But it does appear as though temperatures at night will be cold enough for them to make snow. But skiing conditions could be dramatically improving as we go through the next week, despite above-normal temperatures.”

One of the biggest problems hampering conditions, owners say, is the fog — keeping the moisture locked close to the ground and causing the temperature to rise, melting the snow at twice the normal rate. At Powder Ridge, it’s left only a two-inch base left on select slopes.

“Mother Nature’s not making it easy for us this year,” said Sean Hayes, owner of Powder Ridge. “Normally, our snowmaking capability with the new technology, the new guns, etc., we can blanket this mountain in three to four days pretty heavily. We just didn’t get ahead of it enough in that one-week cold snap, to get a base down where we would survive the winter.”

The sentiments were echoed at Mount Southington.

“We don’t get as much natural snowfall as I remember when I was a kid,” Marketing Manager Brian McCloskey said. “This definitely has been a warmer season, there’s no secret there. But we’re still able to maintain and make do with the weather that we get. Obviously, we would prefer that Mother Nature throw us some more colder days. But you know, we just we’ve learned to roll with the punches.”

Despite the challenges attendance at both mountains is up, with Mount Southington selling more season passes this year than over the past three since the pandemic. They’re also continuously seeing busy weekends and large school groups with high school racing having returned this season.

The local community has also come out in force to support Powder Ridge, which saw a very successful day on Thursday in spite of the weather. Between their Mountain Room and other facilities, the park notes that they have more to offer outside of their hillside activities. They’ll be hosting their Winter Music series throughout the season, with a performance by the North Country Band on Jan. 14 at the Fire at the Ridge restaurant from 5 to 8 p.m.

“These past couple of weeks have been very difficult for us. But even last night, the conditions weren’t great, but it is about the community coming out. And I gotta tell you, I was absolutely amazed last night looking at this mountain. The first school groups came out, the community parents came out and spent the time indoors, dining and being a community,” Hayes said. “It was a fantastic outing, even though the conditions weren’t great. It’s about coming together as a community.”

Further details about the activities and the conditions of the hills are available online at the park’s websites, mountsouthington.com and powderridgepark.com.


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