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Where's the snow? Warm start to winter has businesses worried

In New Hampshire, Cranmore Resort has only been able to open up 30% of its mountain to skiers and snowboarders.
Where's the snow? Warm start to winter has businesses worried
Posted at 12:16 PM, Jan 01, 2024

Jim Pettengill is desperate to see snow in North Conway, New Hampshire. 

"It's disheartening right now," he said. "There's no snowmobiling, nothing. We keep our fingers crossed it'll get cold," Pettengill said.

Earlier this season, it seemed New England was off to a solid start for snowfall. Many ski areas opened around Thanksgiving. Large portions of New Hampshire's 6,900 miles of snowmobile trails also opened, but then came the rain. 

Now, trails look more suited for hiking than snowmobiling.

"We used to get a lot more snow earlier. It is changing," said Pettengill, who is the president of the White Mountain Trail Club, which maintains 50 miles of trails in the area. 

Two weeks ago, severe weather pummeled the Northeast. Heavy rainfall melted the little snowpack that had accumulated. 

Scientists warn that warmer weather in the winter months will continue. 

"If you look back 100 years, winters were three weeks longer than they are now," said Elizabeth Burakowski, who studies winter climates at the University of New Hampshire.

There has been so little snow this year that Burakowski said she hasn't been able to teach her students how to measure snowpack amounts.

"It's becoming more and more rare to have a white Christmas here. As temperatures warm, we're seeing less snow and any precipitation we are seeing falls as rain," she added.

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Data shows winters in the U.S. are warming faster than any other season. Since 1970, the average winter temperature has increased in all 50 states. Forty-eight states have experienced a decrease in the amount of precipitation that falls as snow.

In the Mountain West, Colorado ski areas are faring well, but states like Utah and California have below-normal snowfall for this time of year.

It's the same story in New Hampshire. Brantly Ludington, who oversees mountain operations for Cranmore Resort in North Conway, says only about 30% of the mountain is open. 

During the busy Christmas week, skiers and snowboarders still tried to make the best of the conditions.

"We're at the whim of Mother Nature, but we're pretty flexible," Ludington said.

In 2022, winter sports generated $12.2 billion in economic value for the U.S. economy. The ski industry alone generated $4.4 billion. 

Seeing winter patterns changing, Cranmore Mountain Resort invested nearly $1 million in snowmaking last winter. 

"You can't always rely on Mother Nature the way we used to," said Ben Wilcox, president of Cranmore Mountain Resort.

He added, "30 years ago we probably would've been closed, but with snowmaking, we can be open."

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