Break out the sandals and shorts – it’s nearly 60 degrees outside. Many folks are grabbing their irons and are out playing the links — which wouldn’t be so unusual if it wasn’t mid-December in northern New York and Vermont. But the winter sports industry is holding its breath. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley takes a look at how the warm temperatures are affecting recreation habits.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – NOAA – says the El Nino-affected winter means above average temperatures are “favored” for the northern U.S But there’s also an equal chance that the region could be drier or wetter than normal.
So far, it’s warmer. The Essex County Club in Essex Junction, Vermont is seeing a stream of avid golfers this week as temperatures spike near 60 degrees. General Manager Joe Chastenay has seen occasional warm winter days in the past and could open for a couple days. “But we’ve never been open for so long continuously with the temperatures being what they are.”
Chastenay says those playing now are avid golfers. “It’s a bonus there’s no question about that. The conditions are good. The course is soft but it’s not wet and it’s actually fine to play. Sometimes if it gets cold at night there’ll be a little thin ice layer on some of the ponds. Nobody goes out if their ball ends up on the ice.”
One business’ glee is another’s Grinch. “It been a little frustrating. We haven’t even had snowmaking temperatures.”
Mad River Glen is a cooperatively owned ski area in Waitsfield, Vermont. Marketing Director Eric Friedman says there’s only an inch or two of snow at the top of the mountain, and none at the base. “We certainly need Mother Nature to cooperate especially here at Mad River where we don’t have a lot of snow making and we’re more reliant on natural snow than most places. Because of the fact that we don’t make a lot of snow we don’t have that expense. So when we have these periods where there’s not snow we just kind of hunker down. It’s frustrating but we’re able to keep things lean and mean.”
Lake Placid, New York bills itself as the winter sports capital of the world. But this week a speed skating competition relocated to Quebec City because it was too warm. Olympic Regional Development Authority Spokesman Jon Lundin says some winter activities are occurring, however. “We did have another speed skating event that we had to cancel because of the weather. If you look at Mount Van Hoevenberg and the cross country ski venue we’re unable to hold skiing there. But some of the big events, they’re still on the schedule, and some indoor events too. So there are a number of events that we will continue to hold despite the weather. And there are some events that we may have to re-look at if the conditions don’t change.”
Winter enthusiasts like Eric Friedman are trying to keep a positive attitude as the warm December temperatures linger. “This has happened before. In the first few years that Mad River was open in the late ‘40’s it didn’t even open ‘til points in February. But generally speaking it’s been happening in fits and starts for years so it’s nothing new to us.”
ORDA’s Jon Lundin echoes the sentiment. “It’s not the first time that Lake Placid or the Northeast has gone through the lack of winter at this point. You know maybe for what we’re lacking on the front end of winter we’ll make up on the middle or the back end and maybe we’ll have a longer winter.”
Southern New England has a 33 percent chance of having a wetter winter along with the New York City and Hudson Valley regions. The NOAA maps indicate the entire region may have a warmer winter.