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Area ski resorts rely on man-made snow

The old knock on Western New York focuses on our weather. Buffalo, that tundra-filled wasteland somewhere west of New York City. It’s a tired thought, and not very accurate.

A more realistic take is that Buffalo’s weather varies greatly. We regularly see gorgeous, sun-kissed skies in summer. Yes, we do get walloped with snow on occasion, evidenced by some recent winter storms. But even a frozen Lake Erie is rare these days.

Winter weather that one can’t set their watch to makes things interesting for Western New York ski resorts. The good news is while you can’t always count on snow, you can make it – when the conditions are right.

“Around 18 degrees is ideal for snowmaking here, so we plan ahead when we see optimal temperatures forecasted,” said Mark Page, general manager of Buffalo Ski Club, a membership-based resort in Colden. “Over the past three years, we’ve increased our number of snow guns by more than 50 percent. We try to be strategic about when we use our snowmaking equipment to get the most out of it.”

Buffalo Ski Club aims to open each year on the day after Christmas, when many are ready to christen new ski equipment. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is always busy, and things are going full bore at Buffalo Ski Club — weather-permitting — come January.

“If we can get in about 75 days of skiing, that’s a great season for us,” said Page.

Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, the region’s largest ski resort, targets the day after Thanksgiving for opening.

With no guarantee of snow, Holiday Valley takes matters into its own hands with its high-tech legion of 723 snow guns. Within the past five years, 314 of these became fully automated. That’s resulted in snowmaking within minutes at the press of a button.

“When the temperature drops into the mid-20s, that’s prime snowmaking conditions for us,” said Jane Eshbaugh, director of marketing, Holiday Valley. “Different variables go into it, such as humidity and wind conditions. We always try to add to our base of snow. Last year we averaged about 50 inches of snow, which was actually a pretty good winter.”

The Ellicottville-based ski resort boasts the largest number of snow guns on the East Coast.

“Having the automated snow guns really makes things easier,” said Eshbaugh. “Traditional snow guns have to be turned on manually. We have about 1,400 acres, with 290 dedicated to skiing. So that takes time and manpower. The computerized system ensures that we’re able to maximize snow when conditions are ideal.”

While there are larger mountains out west with more elaborate ski resorts, Eshbaugh said many people enjoy skiing in their own backyard because of the hassle of traveling with ski equipment.

“Flying out west with your entire family’s equipment is challenging and expensive,” said Eshbaugh. “It’s a lot easier to drive here. We have a great atmosphere that feels like a destination resort. It’s an excellent experience and it’s nearby.”

Thanks to modern snow gun technology, there’s plenty of skiing in Western New York each winter — whether Mother Nature does her share or not.

Local resorts, by the numbers

Buffalo Ski Club

  • 300 acres
  • 43 runs
  • 500-foot vertical drop
  • 2 lifts, 2 T-bars, 2 handle lifts
  • Aerials site
  • Weekday adult lift ticket: $40
  • Public skiing Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Open to members only Saturday and Sunday. (Closed Monday and Tuesday.)

Holiday Valley Resort

  • 290 acres
  • 60 runs, 5 terrain parks
  • 13 lifts
  • 750-foot vertical drop
  • Weekday adult lift ticket: $62. Weekends: $75.

Kissing Bridge

  • 700 acres
  • 39 runs, 5 terrain parks
  • 10 lifts
  • 600-foot vertical drop
  • Weekday adult lift ticket: $40. Weekends: $60.

Holimont Ski Area

  • 135 acres
  • 52 runs
  • 8 lifts
  • 700-foot vertical drop
  • Weekday adult lift ticket: $59
  • Public skiing Monday–Friday. Open to members only Saturday and Sunday.

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