All downhill from here? Ski season may be late, but could still be worthwhile, local operators say

·3 min read
White Hills Resort/Facebook
White Hills Resort/Facebook

Despite the massive snowfall of last year's Snowmageddon, this winter has been remarkably snow-free in much of Newfoundland. While that may not be of much concern for shovel-weary residents, for the province's ski hill operators, this season's lack of snow has been both a challenge and an opportunity.

"We have about 18 snow-guns blaring away with snow on the hill as best we can, and as fast as we can," Pierre Mirault, general manager of White Hills Resort in Clarenville, said earlier this week.

"We're trying our best; just Mother Nature definitely isn't cooperating."

Mirault says he and his team have been busy taking advantage of any opportunity they can to make some snow for the unusually green season, but to do so they need temperature and humidity to be on their side.

"It's a step-by-step process, and it isn't just flicking the switch," said Mirault. "The rewards are there, but it takes quite a bit of time."

While fluctuating temperatures leave only small windows of opportunity to make snow, the best way to preserve what they can isn't to cover the hills, Mirault said, but to stockpile it.

"We don't make the snow and spread it around, because if we do that we lose it all," he said. "So we make big piles."

With some piles reaching 15-20 feet tall, it's the same changing temperatures which help to protect the piles from melting completely.

"We just need height, then quantity and depth, and then it freezes over the top of it," says Mirault, "and basically it gives it a little layer of protection so that it doesn't melt as quickly."

Unseasonal conditions on Newfoundland's west coast

Mirault and the White Hills Resort aren't the only ones on the island contenting with the lack of white.

At Marble Mountain Resort in Steady Brook, officials tweeted Friday that they hope the forecast holds so that snow guns can be turned on in the coming week.

Bernice Hillier/CBC
Bernice Hillier/CBC

Meanwhile, Mac Turner, president of the Pasadena Ski and Nature Park, says that the unseasonal conditions have allowed his team to spruce up their trails.

Through the provincial government Community Enhancement Employment program, Turner says they've been able to push back thirty years of brush and overgrowth.

"Widening out our trails from what we originally were 30 years ago—a lot are overgrown with overhanging branches, and trees have encroached on the trail— so we're just going back to what it was."

Despite nearly 20 kilometers of trail to prune, the lack of snow has helped his small team make quick work of it without the difficulties of obscured debris and falling snow. What that means for skiers, says Turner, is that when the snow does come they'll be able to enjoy wider, safer runs.

"They're not going to have the overhangs," says Turner, "because as the snow builds up you're getting closer and closer to the branches, and sometimes you really have to duck."

Bernice Hillier/CBC
Bernice Hillier/CBC

For Mirault, he says that despite the lack of snow compared to last year, the community support has been encouraging, with plenty of local sponsorship.

"These are local businesses who support the hill, and it's been a great year for season passes and the sponsorships," he says. "Now we want to provide a product in order to capitalize on that, and so everybody's in a win-win situation."

For a self-styled optimist like Mirault, he believes a late start doesn't necessarily mean a bad season.

"We'll definitely have a good winter: February, March, we're going to go right into April as long as we can, so there's still three good months of a ski season ahead of us."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador