Your Local News | Allentown, Bethlehem & Easton
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Arts & CultureEntertainment News

Ski resorts battle warm weather to keep season from melting away

Bear Creek Resort Warm Weather
Jay Bradley
Bear Creek Resort has limited lifts due to the warm weather and inability to make snow

LONGSWAMP TWP., Pa. — After the cold Christmas week came the wet and warm January we've experienced so far in the Lehigh Valley.

And while that may be welcomed news for those who are not fans of plowing their driveways, it has created a sticky situation for nearby ski resorts.

  • Warm weather conditions are creating challenges for ski resorts to keep their trails open
  • Christmas weekend, one of the most important weekends of the ski season, was a success because of the snow that weekend
  • Snowmaking whenever possible is the key for resorts such as Bear Creek and Blue Mountain

"Conditions were great, and everybody was happy," said Gary Kline, director of marketing and experience at Bear Creek Mountain Resort in Longswamp Township, Berks County.
"After that, we started to get warm temps, some rainy days and slowly but steadily or our snowpack has been eroding to the point where we have basically a third of our trails open at this point and have had no real snowmaking opportunities over the course of the past week."

    Last week, because of the poor conditions affecting the snowpack at the resort, Bear Creek had to close for snow sports from Thursday to Sunday.
    That came after having to postpone the opening day of the season until Christmas Eve for season pass holders and hotel guests and Dec. 26 for day ticket buyers.

    "We're hanging out the best we can and trying to hang in there until snowmaking temperatures return," Kline said."

    As of Wednesday's conditions report, seven of the resort's 23 trails and two of four non-carpet ski lifts remain open, along with tubing. None of the intermediate or most difficult (blue square and black diamond, respectively) level trails currently are open.

    Kline said the resort will need an extended time with snowmaking capacity to get the mountain up to its capacity.

    Snowmaking conditions arise at, as Kline explained, a balance between air temperature and humidity below freezing — ideally in the low teens, with low humidity.

    Current conditions are both high temperatures and high humidity.

    Staff at the mountain have been working on day by day, anxiously awaiting a stretch of better weather, Kline said.

    He said during opening week, when all slopes were open, the resort was packed. Now, with temperatures affecting what can be kept open, ticket sales are also being impacted.

    Still, there is a lot more winter to be had — and some optimism.

    "It just has made it impossible for us to make snow over the last week," Kline said. "Obviously we're concerned about where we're at going into a holiday weekend, and we'll do the best we can with what we have. But there's still plenty of winter left for us to still make it a great season."

    Still the time to ski

    Even with the warm weather, snowboarders such as John Dee still made the effort to hit the slopes at Bear Creek.

    "This season definitely is one of my worst ones condition-wise," Dee said. "It's pretty slushy, a lot of grass spots. It's pretty much just one run."

    Dee said, however, that the reduced attendance has let him try new tricks while he's out on the mountain's open trails, which include a terrain park.

    Skiers at Bear Creek
    Jay Bradley / LehighValleyNews.com
    Skiers boarding and stepping off from the main open lift at Bear Creek

    "I think it's pretty fun still, even with the conditions," Dee said.

    Boarders and skiers such as Dee still were enjoying themselves out on the mountain Wednesday without much issue on the open trails.

    "I thought it was fine," snowboarder Kristen Homan said. "I didn't have any trouble. There's little muddy patches, but it was easy to pass them."

    "I'm sure it will get better," Homan said. "More trails, more blue" trails.

    Larger resorts hold the line

    In the Poconos, larger resorts have been able to weather the weather a bit better.

    With some overnight opportunities for snowmaking, resorts such as Blue Mountain, near Palmerton in Carbon County, and Camelback in Tannersville, Monroe County, still are able to push forward through the warmer temperatures.

    That does not mean they are unaffected.

    Blue Mountain, which got an early start to the season beginning on Black Friday, had to remain closed from Tuesday through Thursday because of the inclement weather, to preserve the snow it had.

    Bear Creek from Parking Lot
    Jay Bradley / LehighValleyNews.com
    Many trails did not have complete paths of snow at Bear Creek, but many skiers and snowboarders still came to make runs on what was open

    Of the 40 trails at Blue Mountain, the most that have been able to open this year is 29. Currently, the mountain stands at 27.

    "Even though there's that fight against Mother Nature, I think we've still been faring pretty good," Blue Mountain Marketing Director Ashley Seier said.

    Seier credits the powerful, mostly automated snowmaking system at Blue Mountain, putting it ahead of the game so to speak, taking advantage of opportunities and mitigating risks.

    "As soon as we get whatever the snowmaking window may be, even as small as it may be, we can turn those guns on and really take advantage of that window and they'll shut off automatically when those temperatures aren't right," Seier said.

    "If you don't have automation ... [it] might change quickly and you might just be shooting water out there and hurting your conditions."

    She said attendance has remained strong at the resort despite the warmer weather, because of the number of trails that have stayed open.

    She said the resort also plans to open a new high-speed lift on Saturday.

    "The weather just keeps going all over the place," Seier said. "And it's really hard when you're at the mercy of Mother Nature. I think for us now, the plan is preserve what we have."

    Camelback, which has 25 of its 39 ski trails open along with tubing, has been able to stay resilient because of, as Marketing Director Molly Coneybear said, a lot of snowmaking and packing preparation at the beginning of the season.

    "Even a month ago, whenever we started making snow and when we start gearing up for the season, like, our goal is to build a really strong base," Coneybear said.

    "Because we know that on the East Coast and in the Poconos, the earliest the goal wasn't to open with the most trails; the goal was to build a solid base because we need to pull this all the way into March, maybe even April if we're lucky."

    Coneybear said the holiday week was one of the busiest holiday seasons the resort had ever had, and it recently had opened a new high-speed lift.

    To be able to stay open after that, though, has been the result of a lot of hard work, she said.

    "We truly owe everything to our snowmaking team, because without them we would have really nothing to offer at this time, as far as skiing and snowboarding and even snowtubing," Coneybear said.

    "They work night shift, they work day shift. It's our groomers that are out in the mountain overnight to have the slopes and trails ready for the first thing in the morning."

    Camelback, like Blue Mountain, she said, is in the process of automating many of its snowmakers.

    While the warm spell is not over yet, those at Camelback, like those at Bear Creek,say they are holding onto hopes of a more wintery next few weeks.

    "I mean, how many times can we remember having a ridiculous snowstorm in February, or something just like totally off the wall?" Coneybear said.

    "I think those things will happen. I'm sure and getting into next week and after that we're seeing some colder temperatures at night, so we'll be able to fire up the snow guns.

    "I have no fear we there's no reason why we won't be skiing well into March for sure."