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Mother Nature moves up ski season by two weeks at Holiday Valley

It was beginning to look a little like ski season at Holiday Valley.

The Ellicottville ski resort opened almost two weeks ahead of its average opening date, officials said.

“It’s going to be a pretty awesome season,” said snowboarder Sam Kidder, of Eden, who came to the resort on Sunday with friends. “We’re all pretty excited to get out and ride as much as possible.”

About 1,200 people hit the slopes on opening day Saturday, when weather conditions were better suited for skiing and snowboarding. About half were passholders who paid in advance and half were walk-up visitors, with people coming from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Ontario, Canada and much further away, said Jane Eshbaugh, Holiday Valley marketing director.

“We did have some visitors from as far away as Florida, Tennessee and Illinois,” she said by email.

By Sunday afternoon, it was a bit quieter “but still a decent crowd,” Eshbaugh said.

Kidder has been snowboarding for the past seven years, and on Sunday, he and his buddies were testing new snowboard wax that his friend Clint Zimmerman made.

“We’re testing it to see how it works, and it was pretty gnarly,” said Zimmerman, owner of Goat Shop, a snowboard wax company.

“Actually, for these man-made conditions, it’s awesome ... I’m super stoked with it so far. Usually man-made snow is always a little slower. So if it’s going pretty well on that, I’m pretty confident.”

Skiers ride the chairlift up Mardi Gras as they hit the slopes on opening weekend at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Skiers ride the chairlift up Mardi Gras as they hit the slopes on opening weekend at Holiday Valley in Ellicottville. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

According to an economic value study commissioned by the Ski Areas of New York for 2014-1015, the total impact of visitors to ski resorts throughout the state was $488 million in direct spending. That included winter and summer visitors. Another economic boost comes with retail expenditures for the sport such as equipment, apparel and accessories. That added another $119.4 million to the economy, according to the study by RRC Associates of Boulder, Co., which does tourism-related research.

Back in Ellicottville, they’re looking forward to a good old-fashioned Western New York winter, but time will tell.

[Related: Warm-up on tap for middle of the week]

Ken and Karen Lilly drove down from Lewiston over the weekend so Ken could get his season pass. Conditions were better Saturday and early Sunday, Ken said Sunday afternoon.

“This morning was absolutely beautiful. It had about an inch of snow in the morning, but it melted off,” he said.

Matt Slocum of Arcade skied a couple of runs on Saturday, but conditions weren’t the best, he said.

“They have a lot of brown spots around. So it’s a little bit harder to ski right now,” Slocum said.

Elsewhere in the region, neither Kissing Bridge in Glenwood nor Bristol Mountain in Canandaigua had announced opening dates, according to their websites.

Holiday Valley will be closed Monday through Thursday to let some upcoming wet weather get out of the way.

“The forecast doesn’t look that great. It’s early in the season,” Eshbaugh said, adding that temperatures should be cold enough again for snowmaking toward the end of the week.

But Mother Nature has the final say. Last year's opening day, for instance, was Dec. 20, Eshbaugh recalled.

“If Mother Nature cooperates, we open,” she added, talking both about next weekend and the season in general. “Mother Nature has the upper hand.”

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