As rain washed the remnants of a November snowfall down the slopes and into an unruly creek rushing alongside Route 240, a worker patiently lubricated the chair lift that had been rendered inactive last fall by the closing of Ski Tamarack.
Opening day looked to be far in the future, but work on the integration of the area into the Buffalo Ski Club continued. You can't tell from outward appearances but much has changed for the former neighbors that have been united into one family ski area.
The Buffalo Ski Club, with its two lodges at the top of the slopes off of Lower East Hill Road in the Town of Boston, has moved all of its children's programs into what was the base area of Ski Tamarack.
The old ticket booth and ski rental area has been converted into the ski school and the ski patrol headquarters. The main lodge has undergone minor changes. The club's nursery has been moved into some back rooms and the beer taps have been unhooked.
The snack bar has been leased and will remain open during all operating hours, keeping the club's longstanding tradition of Saturday night pot-luck suppers in the North Chalet at the top of the hill.
There are also some on-hill changes. The BSC rope tow located next to the North Chalet will no longer run as the beginner area has been consolidated at the area next to the base lodge that is served by a handle tow.
A huge mound of dirt has been piled up next to the beginner area and a snow zone has been built on top of it. This will be a larger version of an area for kids who are done skiing or snowboarding but still want to play in the snow that had been so popular at BSC.
Also, the tubing park has been converted into a terrain park so snowboarders can have their own dedicated area served by a surface lift. It will be fitted with rails and some table tops but it won't have a halfpipe.
After the purchase of Ski Tamarack by the Buffalo Ski Club was announced last year, 98 families joined the expanded club, according to membership chairman Oke Johansson. In the offseason, another 127 have joined bringing the total to 500. That's 50 families above the BSC's former membership maximum but 150 below its new ceiling.
And, those families will be spread out over twice the terrain, 39 named trails, two chairlifts, two T-bars and two surface lifts.
Another benefit of the merger will be in snowmaking, according the facilities manager Skip Coates. After the Sitzmarker Ski Club merged with and took the name of the Buffalo Ski Club in 1991, a retention pond was built at the top of the hill. The problem was, it didn't hold a lot of water so when it ran out snowmaking had to stop until snowmelt refilled it.
That will change because Ski Tamarack had access to water that can be used to keep the retention pond full.
Johansson said the club is still trying to figure out how to use all of the facilities at its disposal but it did show some ingenuity in filling two areas of need. First, it traded the tubes from the closed tubing park to a ski area in Vermont for a couple of snow guns. Then, it found a slightly used groomer that was being sold on the Internet by a private owner in Utah. No word on how much it cost to transport to Western New York, but the price was way below blue book.
The Buffalo Ski Club will have membership personnel at the lodge off of Route 240 Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or you can call 941-SNOW for information.
Aside from improved snowmaking and the opening of the expanded Buffalo Ski Club, there are few changes at Western New York's ski resorts.
Here's an area-by-area look at the region's other areas.
>Peek 'n Peak
What's new: Nothing has changed at the four-season resort near the Pennsylvania border as the management awaits word on a pending sale. It refused further comment on the sale.
What's cheap: Free skiing at the beginning and end of season for all guests lodging at the Inn at the Peak, and in-season Stay'n Play weekday packages starting at $219.
What's new: The Ellicottville giant spent $1.7 million this offseason. In addition to improvements in snowmaking, it bought a Bombardier 350 groomer, widened runs at the Holiday Valley Tubing Company, and is building a medical center on Route 219.
What's cheap: The Flexi 8-night package gets you eight lift tickets and group lessons any night (starting at 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.) for $155.
What's new: The other resident of Ellicottville added a Magic Carpet surface lift at the Sunset Area, which also got a new warming building. The T-bar was repowered so it can run at variable speeds and a Winch groomer was purchased.
What's cheap: A 10-pack of weekday lift tickets and lessons sells for $185 until Dec. 31.
What's new: Two groomers were purchased and the crossover from North to Central was redone so no one has to travel uphill, which was especially hard on snowboarders.
What's cheap: An adult who presents a Pepsi bottle cap along with $24 for a Sunday evening lift ticket (after 4 p.m.) gets to bring along kids 13-under for free. Family dinner packages cost $18.
What's new: The terrain park was expanded and features were added, and a glade area was added in the spring.
What's cheap: A Choice Pass goes Tuesday-Thursday from 4-10 p.m., Fridays from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday after 5 p.m. for $105 for six visits, $130 for eight and $180 for 12.
What's new: More than $100,000 was spent in the seventh year of an eight-year upgrade of its snowmaking, which now covers 98 percent of the area. Also 200 rental skis and boards were purchased.
What's cheap: The discount for lift tickets purchased at participating Wegmans stores has been increased to 15 percent.
What's new: Everything was about water and how to move it. Besides the nine new snow guns and a water line, the Canandaigua area facility installed a domestic water system. This will team with the water treatment plant put in last year to allow Bristol to start another expansion, which is to be announced next year.
What's cheap: Bristol partners with hotels and motels in nearby Canandaigua for Ski and Stay packages which cost as little as $64 per person for a lift ticket and a night's lodging.
>Parks cut back
Cross country skiing is still allowed in Erie County parks but there have been reductions in winter services due to budget cuts. Full services will be available at Elma Meadows, Sprague Brook, Como, Emery and Chestnut Ridge parks. The others will have only minimal staffs and will run no programs, although the main roads will be plowed.
The rope tow for skiing at Emery Park will be in operation Friday-Sunday from 2 to 9 p.m.
Chestnut Ridge slopes for sledding, skiing and tobogganing will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 2-8:30 p.m. The park casino will be open for cross country skiers and others Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and the rest of the week from 8 a.m.-8:30 p.m.