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Getting ready to hit the slopes Skiiers, resorts hope warmth doesn't delay season

Where's the snow?

Anxious skiers want to know.

Before succumbing to the fears of global warming, here's some perspective from Jane Eshbaugh, marketing director at Holiday Valley, which is celebrating its golden anniversary this season.

The Ellicottville resort planned to debut in November or December of 1957. But because of a lack of snow, the big day didn't come until Jan. 4, 1958.

Fast forward to 1995, when opening day was Nov. 16 for a season that stretched into an incredible 151 days.

So is global warming a threat to the sport, or not?

"I think a scientist would tell you this is way too short of a time to make any generalizations," Eshbaugh said, noting that opening ski season days are "all over the place."

Mark Halter, president of Kissing Bridge in Glenwood, said it's far too early to start worrying.

"We're not panicked," he said Saturday morning.

"It feels a lot more like winter than it does fall," he said as snow machines blasted out gallons and gallons of snow into the chilly air.

Holiday Valley fired up its snow guns last weekend and hoped to get them going again this weekend, but a forecasted warming trend could send snow-making operations pretty much back to square one.

Halter said Kissing Bridge is storing its man-made snow in giant mounds over the next few days to try to save as much snow as possible.

"It will endure the warmer weather we're anticipating," he said.

But with warm air around, even a lake-effect storm probably won't do the trick.

"Unless we get four feet of snow, it really doesn't make that much of an impact in getting open," Eshbaugh said. "It's really the man-made snow that gives us a base to build on."

What the resorts really need is for the temperature to stay below freezing.

Eshbaugh wouldn't predict when Holiday Valley might open this season, but noted that a prolonged cold snap is forecast for the first week in December.

The first day of skiing at Kissing Bridge tends to land between Dec. 1 and 10.

Opening day typically is Dec. 7 for Holiday Valley, Eshbaugh said. Between 1994 and 2006, opening days ranged from Nov. 16 in 1995 to Dec. 22 in 2001. Those same years also yielded the longest and shortest ski seasons: the record 151 days in 1995 and 107 in 2001.

Global warming is a very real concern to ski resort operators all over the world.

Holiday Valley is thinking green.

"Every year, we try to get more efficient in our snow-making system so it requires less energy," Eshbaugh said.

Meanwhile, the Alps in Europe already have suffered casualties.

Abondance, a resort at 3,051 feet in the French Alps, was closed permanently this past summer because of declining snowfall in its 40-year history.

And according to other reports out of Europe, several mid-altitude resorts elsewhere in France, Italy, Switzerland and Slovenia owned by the same corporation were put under bankruptcy protection because of financial problems attributed, in part, to warmer weather.

A study of ski areas across the Alps by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the warming rate is three times the global average. With that in mind, resort towns are seeking to expand their economies beyond skiing.

While the situation in the Alps can't be compared with Western New York, Eshbaugh seems to be thinking along the same line when it comes to reasons to visit the resort and Ellicottville, which have become known for nonsnow events, as well.

"We have other things to do around here, too," she said.

e-mail: jhabuda@buffnews.com

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