Watertown ski area to open despite fire

The building that housed the snowmaking equipment for the Dry Hill Ski Area burns on Tuesday in Watertown. (Photo — Daytona Niles, Watertown Daily Times)

WATERTOWN — Timothy McAtee will open Dry Hill Ski Area for the season on Friday despite losing a crucial piece of snowmaking equipment in a fire Tuesday.

Electrical wires in the resort’s pumphouse short-circuited and ignited a blaze that burned the building down and destroyed everything inside, including the pump and miscellaneous equipment parts. Between 20 and 25 firefighters from the towns of Watertown, Rutland and Rodman fought and extinguished the flames in about an hour. Concrete walls and charred debris remain where the pumphouse once stood.

Despite losing the ability to make snow, ski area workers were able to lay enough of it down to open the main trail for the beginning of the season, McAtee said, adding the predicted 4 to 5 inches of lake-effect snow Thursday should only help. Snow cats were grooming the slopes Wednesday.

“What really happened was, yes, it was a devastating fire at a terrible time, but probably the end result will be a more efficient pump and a more efficient pumphouse,” McAtee said. “I’m seeing this as a big bump because I firmly believe we’ll be back with a snowmaking system before Christmas … and a lot of winter is heading our way for the rest of the season.”

The pump that McAtee lost in the fire was installed in 1987, five years after he took over the ski area. He said he has begun looking for a replacement pump and hopes to obtain one next week. Building a new pumphouse should take a few days once the rubble is cleared, he said.

Whether he can keep the slopes open next weekend depends on the weather, McAtee said. His ability to open the other trails also depends on the weather and when he can begin making snow.

McAtee acquired the ski area in 1982 and has operated it for 35 seasons. It first opened under different ownership in 1960. The resort typically employs between 70 and 80 people each year.