The weather hasn't been very wintry and the economy might be a bit soft, but Western New York ski operators continue to set their sights on a successful 1990-91 ski season.
Resort officials are keeping their fingers crossed for a combination of natural snow and favorable snow-making conditions to put things back on track for a busy holiday season.
Mark Halter, general manager of Kissing Bridge in Glenwood and president of Ski Areas of New York (SANY), said this past week's above-normal temperatures and heavy rains are an unhappy fact of life in the ski business.
The spring-like conditions not only precluded natural snowfall, but silenced the battalions of snow-making guns and melted away much of the man-made snow which had been stockpiled in case Mother Nature didn't come through.
"We can put in all the snow-making equipment in the world and hope we don't need it, but it's out of our control when it's 50 degrees and raining. All we can do is wait. Eventually, winter will come," Halter said.
The big question is whether the weather will turn wintry in time to salvage the key skiing period between Christmas and New Year's Day. Time appears to be running out on hopes of saving the holiday week, which traditionally is one of the biggest revenue-generators of the season.
Rob Megnin, executive director of SANY, said for some of the smaller ski slopes, Christmas holiday skiers can bring in up to half of the season's receipts.
"For the smaller areas, it can make or break their whole season. Even for the big resorts it can mean 20 percent or more of their year," he said.
With no early season bonus of November skiing and limited ski days so far this month, the Christmas period has taken on added importance.
Chalis Lore, owner of Ski Tamarack in Colden, doubts that her small family-oriented resort will be open next week, barring a weather miracle.
Loss of a profitable Christmas week will be especially tough to recoup because the area plans to operate only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this season.
She said with the area's limited snow-making and no base, it will take a dramatic weather shift to put skiers on the slopes before New Year's.
"We've seen other green Christmases, but you never get used to it," she said.
Looking at the positive side, when the big snow and cold finally get here, there will be a lot of area skiers with a pent-up urge to hit the slopes.
"They'll swarm out here the minute it starts to snow. If we don't get snow for Christmas, we'll just have to hope for a long winter," Mrs. Lore added.
When winter finally arrives, expect to pay a little bit more for a day of skiing. Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua has the highest full-day lift ticket at $31, up from $29 last season.
It becomes the first Western New York resort to break the $30 barrier for weekend and holiday skiing. Just five years ago Bristol was one of the first to charge more than $20 for a day on the slopes.
Swain comes close with a $29 day pass, followed by Holiday Valley at $27; Peek'n Peak at $25; Cockaigne at $21 and Ski Tamarack at $20.
Kissing Bridge is the only local resort to hold prices at last season's level.
Statewide, the average price of a full-day ticket stands at $20.69, up from an average of $20.16 last season.
As has been the case for the past several seasons, skiers will find a whole host of improvements at their favorite ski areas, both on and off the hill.
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Ski operators have spent millions of dollars over the summer months improving their product and services.
Once again, installation of snow-making equipment tops the lists of improvements as resorts attempt to beat the weather odds.
Megnin said as snow-making has become more sophisticated, skiers have come to expect great conditions, even when it hasn't snowed in days.
"Where Mother Nature leaves off, technology picks up. So regardless of the presence or absence of snow in their own backyards, skiers will find snow -- and plenty of it -- on the slopes," Megnin said.
Skiers also will be treated to several brand new chairlifts, better lighting and a host of improved slope-side services aimed at bringing more families to the hills and trails.
Child care centers and pre-ski programs are popping up everywhere as more parents choose to bring even the youngest members along on family ski trips.
Holiday Valley in Ellicottville has joined the trend toward family services with the opening of a licensed day care center that can accommodate up to 50 children. The center accepts infants as young as six months and incorporates a "snow experience" program for older toddlers.
Holiday Valley communications director Jane Eshbaugh said there has been a tremendous demand for quality, slope-side child care.
"We get a lot of dual-income parents who want to bring their children with them because they want to spend time together. We can now solve their dilemma of what to do with the little ones while they are on the hill," Mrs. Eshbaugh said.
The children's care facility also serves as the base of Holiday's new Pre-SKIwee Program. Three- and 4-year-old would-be skiers head out onto the snow on special little skis to get their first taste of shuffling around.
The program dovetails into the traditional SKIwee classes for children five and above.
"It's an excellent opportunity to acquaint them with the sport and make it fun," Mrs. Eshbaugh said.
The Holiday Valley Children's Learning Center doubles as a year-round day care center for local children, as does a similar facility now open at Bristol Mountain.
Peek'n Peak in Clymer is also introducing its new Peek'n Kids program which includes day care for infants and toddler skiing.
Here's a look at what's new at area ski resorts for the 1990-91 ski season:
Bristol Mountain -- The snow-making giant has added more capacity to its snow production arsenal to make things whiter than ever before. Its slope-side townhouse project has also moved ahead with the completion of three more rental units for the coming ski season.
Cockaigne -- You can now ski this entire resort day or night with the completion of a massive lighting project. The popular Crackerjack Trail has also been outfitted top to bottom for 100 percent snow-making capability.
Holiday Valley -- The Ellicottville resort checks in with $2 million in improvements, including 30 percent more snow-making, an additional slope lit for night skiing, and a renovated East Complex. The complex will now sport three outdoor swimming pools, an enlarged ski shop and the children's center.
Kissing Bridge -- Getting into the main lodge will be easier with a new automatic door, while at the top of the hill you'll find a giant water reservoir to feed the snow-making system. KB has also deepened its commitment to the sport of snowboarding with installation of a half-pipe, rounding out some $250,000 in improvement to the area in the past year.
Peek'n Peak -- This area spent more than $500,000 in the past year, adding amenities such as a paved parking area and an expanded nursery for future skiers. New snow-making compressors will also make conditions better than ever.
Swain -- Expect a spiffed-up lodge, with lots of new paint and decor-enhancers. The women's locker room has also undergone a facelift to give skiers more elbow room.
Ski Tamarack -- The biggest change is a switch to a three-day ski week. The Colden ski area will be open Friday through Sunday, only, plus holidays. The facility has also increased its snow-making capabilities.