Winter may already be in full swing, but the ski and snowboard season is just getting started.
Fans of winter sports are digging out skis and snowboards and hoping there will be plenty of snow on the ground to get out on the slopes and have a great time.
Poor conditions last winter led to less-than-satisfactory skiing and snowboarding across the nation. A combination of high temperatures and low snowfall caused ski resorts such as Tussey Mountain to struggle.
“Last year was definitely not a good year,” said Aaron Weyman, director of marketing for Tussey Mountain. “That was worldwide, industry-wide pretty much across every sphere.”
He said last year was the worst year the resort had seen in decades, leading to low turnout during the winter.
But this winter is already looking more favorable for skiers and snowboarders.
“This year so far, we’re off to a good start because we had a couple winter storms hit us early,” Weyman said. He said that the forecast looks to be in Tussey’s favor this year.
Gregory Leon, president of the Penn State Ski Club, offered some tips for winter sports fans to stay warm when the cold temperatures hit this weekend.
According to the Penn State Campus Weather Service website, temperatures are expected to drop to a frigid 20 degrees with a chance of flurries.
Leon said via email that it is best to wear multiple layers, and that the first layer should be skintight, “because the best way to stay warm is to prevent air pockets from having direct contact with your skin.”
He also recommends the use of facemasks. Skiers and snowboarders should consider using glove liners as well as hand and toe warmers to prevent frostbite, he said.
The cold weather has Leon feeling positive about the outlook for skiing this year, he said. The ski club has already gone on three of its six scheduled trips for the year, and conditions have definitely improved over the last year.
For example, he said the ski club has traveled to Sugarloaf in Maine. Last year, he said the resort had many of its slopes open, but was struggling to keep a weak base of snow.
“We were just there last weekend,” Leon (junior-telecommunications) said. “Literally everything on the mountain was open.”
He added that even the backcountry area of Sugarloaf was open. There is no snowmaking on that portion of the mountain. It requires multiple feet of natural powder in order for the trails to be open to the public.
“I think that is a good indicator of how much snow we’re going to get this year,” Leon said.
He said he has seen an increase in interest for the ski trips this year, which had experienced a slight dip last year.
By contrast, Leon said the poor conditions last year affected his club’s ability to go on trips to ski resorts.
The biggest impact it had was the cancellation of the club’s annual March trip to Whiteface, N.Y. Leon said that a heat wave had arrived two days before the planned trip and melted all the snow, causing the resort to close.
However, Leon emphasized that the poor conditions did not stop the club from getting out and enjoying the slopes entirely.
“The other trips were great,” he said. “It was sometimes noticeably not as snowy as we would like it to be, but we still had fun. As long as you’re skiing, you have to be happy.”
Bill Syrett, professor of meteorology at Penn State, said there are some possible explanations for last year’s poor conditions, but said that there may not be one definite answer.
One possible answer, he said, was global warming. However, even if global warming was the answer, there would still be cold, snowy winters. Another potential explanation is that a jet stream carrying heat came unusually far north.
Whatever the reason, the result was an “unusual stretch of very warm weather that knocked the chances of snow down to almost nothing,” he said.
“That was really bad for ski areas,” Syrett added. “It was too warm here for much snowmaking.”
Syrett said that so far this year, the State College area has received 19 inches of snowfall. That is the same amount of snowfall the State College area received during all of last year. In addition, temperatures last year were an average of 5.5 degrees above average, according to Penn State Climate Prediction Center data.
The numbers show that conditions at State College are already looking up for skiers and snowboarders this winter, and Leon can personally attest to the state of the trails at Tussey.
After a recent day trip to the local ski resort, Leon said he saw good base conditions in spite of weather that felt warm.
“If you see good conditions in Pennsylvania, you’re probably having a good winter,” he said. “That’s the way I see it.”