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AT LAST, THE WHITE STUFF <br> HOLIDAY TIMING IDEAL AS STEADY SNOWFALL LURES SKIERS TO RESORTS

With fresh snow steadily falling on their slopes and cars of eager skiers rolling into their parking lots, area ski resort operators were grinning broadly Monday, anticipating that this week would be a profitable one.

"It's kind of nice that Santa brought some snow for Christmas," said Linda Johnson, public-relations director for Cockaigne Ski Center in Cherry Creek. "It's going to be a nice week."

"If I had to custom-design the weather for the last 14 days, I couldn't do a better job than Mother Nature has done," said Mark F. Halter, general manager of Kissing Bridge in Glenwood.

For ski operators, the week between Christmas and New Year's, when schools and colleges are closed and lots of people are on vacation, is a critical one. Many operators estimate that the business they do this week accounts for as much as one-third of their total season.

As it was, the season, which usually begins in early December, got off to a slow start. The first half of the month was marked by a pattern of alternating cold and warm weather that produced poor skiing conditions.

But the picture began to change early last week at many of Western New York's ski resorts.

"Over the past couple of days, we have gotten about 20 inches of snow. Everybody that has been waiting for this white stuff to arrive is coming out to use it," reported Becky Faulkner, director of marketing at Peek 'n Peak in Clymer, where 17 of 27 trails are open.

"It's like the holiday week is supposed to be. We are all grinning. It's a lot better than 10 days ago, when we were looking at green slopes."

The ski areas got no additional snowfall overnight, although Buffalo and its suburbs were hit with an inch and a half of snow this morning.

Jane Eshbaugh, marketing director at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, said that resort also is expecting a good week as long the area does not get so much snow that people cannot get there.

"We have received close to a foot of snow the last few days and made lots and lots of snow. It snowed all day Sunday, and it's still snowing (Monday)," she said. ". . . The forecast is for more snow most of the week. We are real happy."

Eshbaugh reported that Holiday Valley, where business was also good last week, has 30 of its 52 trails open and is operating 11 of its 13 lifts.

At Kissing Bridge, 18 of 37 trails are open and six of 10 lifts are in operation.

"On the steep sections, we are making snow and packing it so that once we open them, we don't wind up with bare spots," Halter said. "Within another couple of days, we expect to see another 10 trails in service."

Halter said business on Saturday and Sunday was "steady without being overwhelming."

"The wait at lift lines has been under four minutes," he said.

Kissing Bridge opened Dec. 2 but later was forced by a warming trend to shut down for about a week.

"We have been blessed over the last 12 to 14 days with constant intermittent snowstorms -- without shutting down the roads," Halter said.

Johnson said Cockaigne, which is only 18 miles from Lake Erie, has been getting snow since Wednesday and received an additional 20 inches Sunday and early Monday.

"It's beautiful snow, very nice," she said. "Sunday was close to capacity. It's slower (Monday), . . . but it will pick up toward the middle of the week."

Faulkner, marketing director at Peek 'n Peak, said that every day of the Christmas-New Year's week is important to the ski-resort business this year because the two holidays fall on the weekend.

"That shortens the vacation period," she said. "If the holidays fall in the middle of the week, it extends everyone's vacation."

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