Area ski resort operators are hoping Mother Nature will cooperate so they can build on last year's better-than-average season.
However, AccuWeather meteorologist Dave Samuhel is predicting what he calls a "right-in-the-middle winter."
"I expect it to be a fairly normal snowfall. The average for Tussey Mountain is 45 inches and for Blue Knob about 80 inches," Samuhel said.
(Mirror file photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Skiers make their way down Upper Mambo Alley at Blue Knob All Seasons Resort in February. Area ski resort operators are hoping for another good season this year.
Samuhel said he expects winter temperatures to be close to normal but some cold spells are likely.
"El Ninos tend to bring a ton of cold air down from Canada. We could get some nasty shots of cold weather, but they do not last long," Samuhel said. "We could see some real crazy swings in temperatures."
Blue Knob All Seasons Resort near Claysburg has set a tentative opening date of Dec. 9, said Doug Houck, general manager.
"We only need two days of cold weather to make snow to get open. It looks like a cold weather pattern by Dec. 1 and we hope to make snow Dec. 1 and 2," Houck said. "We hope to have the entire mountain open by the first of the year."
None of the other area resorts have announced opening dates but also hope to be open in early December.
"We are watching the long-term weather forecasts and trends," said Anne Weltz, spokeswoman for Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Champion. "As soon as we get some chilling temperatures and some natural snow, we plan to open."
The same is true at Hidden Valley Resort on Route 31 between the Somerset and Donegal exits of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
"We always hope to open Thanksgiving week, but we knew that wasn't going to happen this year," said Laura Argenbright, Hidden Valley Resort spokeswoman. "If we can get a few nights with the temperature dipping into the teens to make snow, we could open early in December."
Tussey Mountain Ski Resort in Boalsburg hopes to open as soon as possible. Spokesman Aaron Weyman said the resort typically aims for a mid-December opening, but depending on the weather, they have opened earlier.
"We would like to be open by Dec. 1 if we can," Weyman said.
Local resorts reported a better than average turnout of skiers last winter.
"The huge snows we got a couple of years ago seemed to increase interest in snow sports," Weltz said.
Blue Knob had about 54,000 skier visits during the winter of 2010-11, down a bit from the 60,000 the previous year but well above the 32,000 in 2007-08, Houck said.
"We've been doing really well the last two years," Houck said. "Our snowfall was about average; we had about 135 inches. The year before we had 200 inches."
Weyman said last year was an average year at Tussey Mountain, with interest in snow tubing up a bit.
For the coming season, local operators are excited about the improvements and changes made at their resorts.
Seven Springs will open The Streets Urban Park at Seven Springs, which will replicate a city landscape and provide endless possibilities for freestyle skiers and snowboarders.
"That is a huge project that we are excited about," Weltz said.
Seven Springs has also added a new instruction area for beginners, overhauled its rental center and retrofitted four chairlifts for the upcoming season, Weltz said.
Hidden Valley has made some additions designed to benefit beginning and intermediate skiers.
The resort has added a new terrain park on the site of the former half-pipe on the lower third of Jaguar slope, with dedicated handle-tow access and both natural and man-made features, Argenbright said.
Hidden Valley also has added Voyager Glades, which offers 3.5 acres of glade skiing.
"It is a gentle slope which is not difficult and goes through trees so you get the experience of skiing through the woods," Argenbright said.
Blue Knob has poured $26,000 into remodeling the ski lodge.
"We replaced 10,000 square feet of carpet in the lodge. We replaced the wood fireplace with a gas fireplace, and added new lighting and painting," Houck said.
Blue Knob also purchased a new snow grooming machine, 20 new snow guns and new equipment to increase its water capacity to make snow, Houck said.
Tussey Mountain has added five new features to its terrain park, which they are hoping to nearly double in size, based on demand for what it offers.
"There are a lot of people signing up for our programs, buying season passes and gift cards. There is a buzz around here," Weyman said.