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Ski area operators fret over merely 'snizzle'

A paltry bit of wet snow plopped down on the region Tuesday morning -- and no one found the weather outside more frightful than Mark Halter, president of Kissing Bridge Ski Area.

"The weather guys called it snizzle: a kind of drizzly wet snow," Halter sighed as his crew spent another day on furlough while the lodge remained closed.

It was colder and wetter Tuesday than it has been, for certain, following a not-white holiday weekend.

But the higher than average temperatures this December have left Buffalo and its surrounding towns green and damp and without much hope for a picturesque blanket of snow.

"The easiest thing to blame is El Nino," National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Hamilton said of the weather pattern helping to keep Western New York weirdly warm.

"We're looking at mid-30s tomorrow," he said. "That's a little bit chillier than what it's been, but still above normal."

South Buffalo and the Southtowns were expected to get a little snow overnight, he said.

"But nothing too earth-shattering," he added.

A storm is headed this way this weekend, Hamilton said, but Buffalo probably will only get a whole lot of rain.

There's a chance, he said, of the raindrops turning into snowflakes by New Year's Eve, he added.

That was welcome news for skiers at Holiday Valley Ski Resort in Ellicottville, where five out of 12 ski lifts were shut down because of the lack of snow.

"We have some snow, but we're not totally open," said Jane Eshbaugh, director of marketing for Holiday Valley. "We're making the best of what we have."

Holiday Valley has had 22 inches of natural snow since its opening day Dec. 7, and crews have augmented the supply with snow machines.

A sprinkling of snow fell Tuesday afternoon on Holiday Valley -- which Eshbaugh said seemed to be attracting more skiers to the slopes.

"It kind of gets people interested in skiing," she said. "People in Buffalo don't realize that we have snow on the slopes even if their backyards are still green."

As Kissing Bridge workers kept a watchful eye on the weather reports, they were busy doing cleanup and maintenance around its slopes and lodge in anticipation of the lodge's annual New Year's Eve party.

"I have the cleanest lodge anywhere," Halter said. "We just need 1,000 skiers to messy it up for us. Believe me, we're trying to get there."

The dinner and fireworks were still set, Halter said. "Snow or no snow," he said.

But the parade of skiers carrying flaming torches down the slopes was probably a no-go this year, he said.

"But it's never for sure," he said. "If we just get an outbreak of Canadian air, that's all it takes. The lake is sitting out there 4 degrees higher than normal. We could have a dramatic change literally overnight."

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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