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Area ski resorts get a final spring fling

It was rainy with a high temperature of 50 degrees on Christmas Day.

The forecast calls for snow showers and a high of 34 degrees on Easter Sunday.

"I'm just sort of wishing it was December," said Linda Johnson, a spokeswoman for Cockaigne Ski Area in Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County, which closed for the season.

Easter will cap a topsy-turvy winter for area ski resorts.

A good base and a blast of snow allowed Holiday Valley Ski Resort and HoliMont Ski Area to reopen for this weekend.

"It was so nice out, how could you not ski?" said Scott Barnum of Pendleton, who hit the slopes at Holiday Valley here with his wife, Laura, and their daughters Sophie, 4, and Sarah, 10 months. "It's beautiful weather. Mid-20s and snowing. A half-hour ago, it had those big flakes that you try to catch on your tongue."

But the late-season storm is playing havoc with plans at other resorts that already had shifted into golf mode.

It's the odd conclusion to a ski season that started painfully late for most resorts but provided consistent, high-quality powder in February and March.

"This is New York weather," said Dave Riley, HoliMont's general manager.

The storm that dumped up to 14 inches of snow in the Southern Tier over the past three days was a welcome boost for some end-of-the-season skiers.

Holiday Valley and HoliMont had enough of a base of man-made snow to reopen for this weekend, resort officials said, but the natural powder just made things better.

"It's such a great way to end the season," said Kristen Widger, assistant director of marketing for Holiday Valley.

HoliMont opened 35 or so trails and four chairlifts Friday morning for spring-break skiers. Holiday Valley opened 10 slopes and one lift.

Bill Horner, who is 81, drove three hours to Holiday Valley by himself from Chesterland, Ohio. He said he has been skiing here for 50 years.

"It's a bonus day," Horner said.

The snow did not help everyone. Kissing Bridge Ski Area, Peek'n Peak, Cockaigne Ski Area and Byrncliff Resort already had closed for the season.

Overall, resort managers said 2006-07 was a tough year that started too late for them to take full advantage of the late December and early January prime ski season.

"It was terrible. We had a green Christmas and a white Easter," said Brad Gravink, general manager of Peek'n Peak at Findley Lake, Chautauqua County.

The warmer-than-usual start to the season also took a toll on the restaurants, bars, hotels and ski shops that rely on good winter weather for business.

The busy period between Christmas and New Year's Day can account for anywhere from one-quarter to one-third of a ski resort's total winter revenue.

"It is a very important time in terms of cash flow for the business," said Mark Halter, president of Kissing Bridge.

Cockaigne Ski Area opened on Dec. 8 for three days but then had to close again until Jan. 11, Johnson said. The resort ended its 68-day season on March 25.

"It's been an interesting ski season. It's not one we're anxious to repeat," she said.

HoliMont's Riley joked about needing to take Prozac in those early winter months as he listened at night to the rain falling on his roof. HoliMont opened on Dec. 22 and should hit its average of 108 days of skiing.

"It's turned out to be not a bad year for us," Riley said.

That's because the barren start gave way to consistent cold and snowfall in late January, February and March, operators said.

Conditions were perfect for snowmaking as well, and resorts this year didn't have to deal with the midwinter thaws that can ruin a skiing weekend.

"It took a while to get here, but once it did it was pretty solid," said Scotty Meidenbauer, general manager of Byrncliff Resort and Conference Center in Varysburg, Wyoming County.

This week's storm came as some resorts already were looking ahead to a summer of golf, weddings and conferences.

Still, the skiers lucky enough to find an open run Friday said they were glad this fluky Buffalo winter gave them one last dose of fresh snow.

"This may be sacrilegious, but it really is a Good Friday," said Rick Berry of Jordan Station, Ont., who was skiing at HoliMont with friends.

News Staff Reporter John F. Bonfatti contributed to this report.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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