STOWE -- Ski areas across New England have spent big bucks on low-energy, high-efficiency snowmaking to ensure the slopes are snow-covered earlier and longer after a dismal season last year.
At this time last year, Stowe Mountain Resort had six trails open. This year the resort opened Saturday, a week earlier than in 2011, with nearly double the number of trails thanks to $4.7 million in snowmaking improvements.
"This summer was a big expansion for us and it's already paying dividends," said Michael Manley, mountain operations manager, who says the resort is making twice as much snow as before. This summer, Stowe added 325 energy-efficient snow tower guns, replaced 150 of the land snow guns with more efficient ones and put in 16 fan guns.
And like other resorts using the high-efficiency technology, Stowe is spending less money to do it, eliminating more than 100,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year.
Maine's Sunday River spent $1 million this summer to install 300 new snow guns that will cover 15 of the resort's most popular trails. Now it has at least six trails open, compared to just two at this time last year.
"So we've opened more terrain at a faster rate," said Darcy Morse, director of communications.
In neighboring New Hampshire, Ragged Mountain in Danbury has added 100 low-energy, high-efficiency tower snow guns and Mount Sunapee in Newbury bought another 14, bringing the total over the last five years to 72.
Smugglers' Notch in Vermont also spent more than $1 million, adding 150 of the tower guns and other snowmaking enhancements; Bromley has installed 60 of the snow guns over the top of the mountain; and Burke Mountain Resort, which was acquired by the owner of Jay Peak, has added 150 of the snow guns and replaced its diesel compressors with an electric compressor allowing it to open the day after Thanksgiving, two weeks earlier than it typically does.
"It's a big change in the way we operate and our ability to open up earlier and then also recover from warming events during the season," said Tim McGuire, general manager, who projects the resort will save about 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel over the season.
"What's really nice about these guns is they take a fraction of the energy to make the same amount of snow as some of the older technology. Not only do we add additional coverage with some more guns at Burke but we also reduce the amount of energy it requires to make that snow," he said.
The move is critical for a resort that needs to thrive in mid- to late December, one of its busiest times of year, said Jeff Wise, marketing and communications director for Stowe.
"We want to offer the best experience possible and be competitive in a market place where people take destination ski trips. They might make their decision based on, you know, weather and snow conditions," he said of the resort, which has snowmaking capabilities across 90 percent of its terrain.
With the outlook calling for a stretch of cooler weather, Wise added, "Seeing snowmaking temperatures this time of year and what's possible gets everybody really enthusiastic about what we'll have to offer."