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Cold month will help WNY ski areas

Snowmaking systems have kept ski resorts treading water but not every snow sport has been able to keep its head above the surface.

An unusually warm January has been harsh on cross-country skiers and some snowboarders.

Byrncliff Resort and Conference Center, the cross-country area on Route 20A in Wyoming County, was not open for skiing the whole month.

"We've never been through a January without being open, without any ski rentals or passes or snowmobiles stopping," said resort employee Scotty Meidenbauer, who added that the skiing business is off 50 percent this year. "People came to the restaurant or to stay overnight, they just couldn't ski."

Byrncliff had a week of skiing in December but had canceled everything, including an Empire State Games qualifier, until Tuesday, when it had 8 inches of snow.

Snow finally fell in the Southern Tier over the last several days, bailing out Sunday's Annual Art Roscoe Loppet -- Cross Country Classic Ski A-Thon/Race.

In mid-January, event organizer Mark Lawrence weekend visited Allegany State Park, where the race will be held, but went camping and hiking and not skiing. He found an ice base on the trails left over from December, "so 12-16 inches of snow might be enough so they can set the track," he said.

As of Tuesday, enough snow had fallen to run the race. If the forecast holds, registration will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Summit Cabin with the race at 10. Skiers can opt distances of 5K, 10K or 22K. For information, visit www.heartrateup.com.

Cross country miseries have extended as far as the Adirondacks. The Lake Placid Loppet, originally scheduled for Jan. 21, has been postponed twice and now will be held March 4.

Lack of snow has made it impossible for resorts to make the features that keep snowboarders airborne.

"The terrain parks are sketchy," said Andrew Boorman, the Regional Director of the Western New York Snowboard Series of the United States of America Snowboard Association. "And the only one to have a halfpipe is Bristol Mountain."

That has caused USASA halfpipe competitions at Holiday Valley and Kissing Bridge to be postponed.

Statewide, business at ski areas is not down for the year, according to Dirk Gouwen of the Ski Areas of New York.

"We had a really good start and by early January we were up 20 percent over last year," Gouwen said. "The last couple of weeks were not great. Now it's even with last year. February is the month that makes a difference. We get the best conditions in February and it's around the Presidents Day weekend. That's a crucial period."

A check of Western New York's resorts confirms what Gouwen said. Those resorts are either on a par or down slightly from last year. Here are some of the negatives felt or foreseen at resorts as a result of the warm January:

Holiday Valley was able to keep 40-some slopes open and up to 12 lifts running but only a third of its cross-country terrain was usable until Tuesday, when all 15 kilometers were opened, said Kristen Widger of the marketing department.

Swain's John Gorton said snowmaking bills will increase. Resorts usually end snow making by Feb. 1 but will have to continue through the season's end.

Buffalo Ski Club assessed members $750 after the purchase of Tamarack. This gave them a "try it on for size" family pass that they could give or sell to others. There are 230 families using this promotion, which amounts to a year's membership without an initiation fee.

"What we wanted was to show those families what a wonderful place this is to ski," said Rob Fohl, club president.

The club has been in operation all year but lessons have been cancelled and its south area has never opened. The test will come next fall, when it finds out how many of those 230 families pay the initiation fee and join.

Kissing Bridge President Mark Halter said more postponements could clog the February calendar. He also said ticket usage is down for package holders so that good conditions -- which arrived this week with 13 inches recorded by Tuesday -- could release pent-up demand and bring out crowds.

More than snow, he needs extended periods of cold: "I always say, let me keep what I make and I'll do a great job.

KB will open its North Area today and its South Area on Friday.

e-mail: fdoyle@buffnews.com

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