Tell area residents there’s money in snowy weather, and they’ll agree, citing the cost of home heating fuel, gasoline for the snowblower, salt for the driveway and other expenses.
But the white stuff also brings a multi-million-dollar lift to the broader economy, thanks to those who see more adventure than adversity in storms like the one that hit the region Sunday.
“It’s nice to see snowy winters like we’ve always had in the Adirondacks,” said Ivy Mulligan, ski director for Garnet Hill Lodge in Johnsburg. “It was getting kind of lean there for a while, and that was kind of scaring everyone in the winter industry.”
Recent accumulations have brought a 50-percent increase in the number of visitors to the lodge, which boasts about 35 miles of cross-country ski trails on 600 acres, Mulligan said. While the resort had a decent winter last year, it’s the presence of snow in people’s backyards that really drives traffic, she said.
The same phenomenon is boosting business at ski areas across the Northeast, according to Scott Brandi, president of Ski Areas of New York Inc.
“This is our best early-season start in 20 years,” he said Tuesday. “This is old-time skiing. This is what it used to be like.”
Brandi said a study by Boulder, Colo.-based RRC Associates, a marketing firm, showed the economic impact of downhill skiing on New York’s economy was about $782 million last year.
That impact included 58 million skier visits, more than $40 million in capital investment by ski areas and more than $75 million in total payroll — for about 5,000 full-time jobs and more than 8,000 part-time jobs.
Last year’s impact was muted because ski areas experienced “an average year, at best,” from a weather perspective, Brandi said.
West Mountain Ski Center in Queensbury opened Saturday, its earliest opening day in six years, and Gore Mountain in North Creek launched its season in time for Thanksgiving.
Brandi said there was a time when that was the norm for many ski venues.
“When I was a kid, ski season started on Thanksgiving, and we had a solid five- to five-and-a-half-month season,” he said.
Willard Mountain in Greenwich was among those to open for Thanksgiving this year, and it boasted eight open trails Tuesday, according to General Manager Jeff Fitzgerald. That’s about 65 percent of the mountain.
“It’s probably our best start in seven or eight years,” he said.
Like Brandi and Mulligan, Fitzgerald said the biggest impact has come from the weekend’s widespread snowfall.
“We’ve got modern snow-making equipment, and no matter how much we spend to put snow on the mountain, if it’s not in (skiers’) backyards, people don’t think about it,” he said. “The season pass holders will still come out because they understand. But the person who’s just coming for a day of skiing, they need to see it in their yards.”
Still, not all snow is created equal, and those interviewed about the weekend storm said that, while they appreciate the quantity, the quality could have been better.
“Believe it or not, a little bit of warmer weather toward the end of the week is probably going to benefit us,” said Bob Grant, president of the South Warren Snowmobile Club.
He explained snowfall in really cold weather can produce fluffy flakes that are hard to pack into a reliable base for snowmobiles. When the weekend’s snow warms up a bit, the groomers will be able to do a better job capitalizing on it.
Temperatures were expected to climb into the 40s for the weekend, according to local weather forecasts.
Grant was working Monday to open the gates to approximately 100 miles of trails under the club’s jurisdiction. It was the earliest possible opening for the trails, since the state doesn’t allow snowmobile trails to be open during hunting season, Grant said.
“Black powder (hunting) in the North Country ended at sunset (Sunday),” Grant said. “So, we’re right on target. Today is the official day we can open them.”
Grant said he didn’t know the last time the trails opened this early.
“I know the last two years haven’t been good,” he said.
Many area businesses situated along the trail system benefit from snowmobile traffic, and Grant said he expects sled registrations will spike this week, now that snowmobile owners know they’ll be able to use the machines this year.
His club’s membership, for instance, had fallen to around 744 this week, down from a peak of around 1,500 in past years.
“Our membership should grow pretty fast here in the next week,” he said.
According to a study released in 2012 by the SUNY Potsdam Institute for Applied Research, the snowmobile industry contributes about $860 million to the state’s economy in a normal year. The study said the average snowmobiler spends more than $3,000 annually for snowmobile related activities, not including registration fees.
The report looked at the impact of money spent on gasoline, insurance, travel, clothing, maintenance and repairs during the 2010-2011 season.
Glen Kelsey, owner of Sportline Power Products in Queensbury, said Tuesday he’s cautiously hopeful his business will see some of that spending this year. Sportline sells snowmobiles and four-wheelers.
“It’s a little premature (to estimate an impact), but it’s way better than a stick in the eye, and it’s better than rain,” he said. “I think people are active as a result (of the snow), and I think if we can get sustained cold and a little more snow, it will be great.”