By DEVON SMITH
“When people don’t see snow on their front yards, they just don’t think of going skiing.”
This is the sad truth for Chicopee Ski Resort, spoken by guest services employee, Katie Burgess.
Burgess said this is the slowest season she’s seen at the hill and it’s no surprise, considering this year’s winter has been one of the five warmest in the 75 years that weather record-keeping has existed in Ontario.
It just so happens that Chicopee has existed just as long, having been founded in 1937.
Since its opening, it has become one of the top ski destinations in the province, bringing in an average of almost 200,000 winter guests every year, according to their website.
With temperatures reaching record highs this year, however, it’s made for wet and sloppy conditions.
Due to the warm weather and despite the millions of gallons of snow that were made, Chicopee didn’t even open until Dec. 28, two weeks later than usual.
Chicopee member Diane Freeman has made the best of the bad conditions.
“I’ve been here every weekend since Christmas,” said Freeman. “I’ve been covered in splatter off the rollers on the lifts. Completely covered in mud.”
“When it rains, the rollers on the chairlifts drop mud. They drop muddy water. So yeah, my yellow ski jacket was black.”
Not only is it Freeman’s second season skiing at Chicopee, but it’s her second season skiing at all, since she just learned last year. And though she wishes the season had started earlier, she doesn’t blame the management at Chicopee.
“You can’t really make Mother Nature do anything and they sure made tons of snow here. They worked really, really hard to get this hill open and you can see that.”
Throughout a regular season, Chicopee makes about 20 million gallons of snow. This season, they have already reached that mark, and according to their manager of business development, Lori McCrae, there’s no end in sight.
“Usually, at this point, we’re not making snow anymore because we’ve got a lot more natural snow,” she said. “I think that we’re going to find that we’ll be making snow longer into the season, to make sure that all the hills are maintained into March break.”
Though they have been striving to create favourable conditions on the hill, Chicopee has still seen a drop in business this year.
But it’s not just the resort that suffers when Mother Nature doesn’t co-operate. Amanda Trapp is a manager at McMaster Sports, the equipment shop at Chicopee, and has seen the business through the hard times.
“When there’s nobody out here, then there’s not going to be anyone buying. When Chicopee doesn’t have good traffic, neither do we.”
Julie Lafreniere is an employee at McMaster Sports and isn’t just disappointed in the slow business.
“I mean when it’s raining and stuff it’s just not the right conditions to come out,” she said. “I have a four-year-old that would be coming out with me so I’d rather bring her out when it’s great conditions as opposed to crappy conditions. If she comes out in crappy conditions and she doesn’t enjoy it, then it would make it hard for her to want to come back out.”
It’s the same story from many, young or old, and that’s why Chicopee has been pushing events.
“What we’re trying to do is make the events better and better,” said McCrae. “So as we run them and learn from them, we’re trying to make them a better experience … we have youth day, ladies day, family day, men’s day and a number of other events.”
During the events, lift tickets are offered at reduced rates and there are many free products and services available, such as ski clinics.
All this is in vain, however, if the masses don’t know about it. And the staff at Chicopee has been working hard to get the message out.
“We’ve been doing a lot of marketing and advertising to let people know that there is snow on the hill and that the conditions are awesome,” said McCrae. “And once they come, they’re having a great experience, but it’s just letting everyone know that has been our biggest challenge.”