WILMINGTON - Automated snow guns, an expert trail and a new general manager are some new things skiers should expect to look forward to this year at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center.
The new ski manager is 34-year-old Aaron Kellet, whose hiring was announced in September; the trail is Hoyt's High, which now has snowmaking on it; and the new snow guns are part of a strategy to provide better conditions in the face of warmer and inconsistent weather patterns.
"Basically our main focus now is the skiing product, and with the climate changes - whether it's cycles or whatever it may be - we need to be ready," Kellet said Wednesday, the mountain's media day, while riding up the gondola. "We're on the East Coast; we don't get tons of natural snow. We need to be able to make snow whenever we can, and that's the main investment in our future right now is being able to do that. That's why you see the fan guns around the mountain. More of an efficient snow gun is evolving right now in the industry, and we're jumping on board with it. We need to be able to efficiently make snow at marginal temperatures, and that's how we're going to survive and compete."
A skier enjoys some manmade snow at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center on Wednesday, two days after rain wiped out most of the natural snow.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Kellet said Whiteface invested in 10 new snow guns this offseason that are essentially weather stations. The guns are able to gauge temperature and humidity and adjust accordingly in making snow.
The most visible one is on a 30-foot boom at the bottom of the Lower Valley trail. It can be seen from the base lodge, gondola or Facelift.
"It's essentially a snow gun that is a robot," Kellet said to a group of reporters gathered near a line for the gondola. "They are state of the art for the ski industry."
The snow guns are situated at the lower elevations because "that's where we have the most temperature fluctuation," he said.
This past week was a good example of what the East Coast ski industry had faced weather-wise in recent years. Monday it was 50 degrees and raining, Tuesday temperatures were in the teens, and on Wednesday, steady but insignificant flurries fell at times throughout the day.
Despite the inconsistent weather, Whiteface was able to have a number of trails in good shape for the public. Ones like Excelsior, a long intermediate trail that starts at the top of Little Whiteface Mountain, was in mid-winter form, and so was Lower Cloudspin, a more difficult intermediate trail.
Both benefitted from manmade snow.
By comparison, trails that hadn't been the focus of snow guns were pretty bare, with grass and rocks still sticking up through a thin layer of snow. Those included some just uphill of the midstation, such as Mountain Run.
One trail that has suffered in recent years because of inconsistent snow is Hoyt's High. The 4,500-foot-long expert path was cut several years ago but hasn't been accessible to the public much because it was only open when there was enough natural snow. This year, however, Hoyt's High has snow guns on it. Kellet said he expects it to open up in January.
Kellet, who worked on a crew that blazed the trail, said it's unique from Whiteface's other expert runs because it's so long. There are no intermediate or novice exit trails from Hoyt's High, which is accessible from the chairlift that goes up Lookout Mountain.
"Once you're on the trail, you're on it," he said.
As for Kellet, he's a Plattsburgh native who graduated from the SUNY college there in 2009. He's worked at Whiteface since 2000, becoming the terrain park and half-pipe manager in 2005 and assistant general manager in 2009.
Kellet's also been skiing at Whiteface for about two decades, when he joined his father, Rob, a member of the ski patrol.
Leading a group around the mountain Wednesday, Kellet displayed some of his skiing skills, handling the trails with ease. He has competed internationally in aerials and moguls.
Kellet seemed optimistic about this year's ski season. He talked about a storm coming early next week and about how good the skiing was in November, when they opened the week before Thanksgiving.
"We had a fantastic November, snowmaking-wise," Kellet said. "We had a fairly warm and kind of miserable early December, but it seems like the weather has changed.
"Just being able to make that snow whenever that window of opportunity rears its head, we have to be able to jump on it. And that's what we did."