It's been a tough winter for snow lovers.
An unusually warm winter has resulted in very little snowfall in Haverhill and the rest of New England. But for those looking for their fix of the wintry mix, the city's lone ski complex is ready.
After a delayed opening to the season, Ski Bradford on South Cross Street is up and running. The snow on the slopes is mostly man-made, but still feasible to ski on.
One of the biggest problems for Ski Bradford hasn't been the lack of snow on the ground, but the abnormally warm conditions. One day in early January, the weather approached 60 degrees. The warmth makes it difficult for workers there to be able to make snow.
"We've only had a few nights recently where we've been able to actually make snow," said Ski Bradford owner Neil Sawyer before the recent low temperatures of the past week.
The temperature must be less than 28 degrees for the snow machines to function properly. When the weather cooperates, Sawyer and his crew make snow at night and then spray it all over the hill so skiers can have a fresh batch of snow by the morning.
"We're basically snow farmers," Sawyer said. "The colder it gets, the more we are able to make."
Snow can be made at 28 degrees, but that is not the best condition. Sawyer said the most preferable temperature is about 15 degrees. Through the first week of January, the temperature rarely dipped below 20 degrees, causing Ski Bradford to have to make snow at a warmer temperature than the crew would like.
Ski Bradford has had trouble getting people's minds on snow. When the weather is warm and pleasant, snow is typically the last thing on the casual skier's mind. The majority of skiers there have been high school ski teams practicing after school on weekdays. Sawyer estimates that while in the morning the slopes are quiet, more than 1,200 young people visit Ski Bradford later during a regular school day.
"When people don't see any ski in their back yards, they don't have their mind set on skiing," he said. "Once the first big snowfall of the season comes, then I expect more people to come."
The warm weather forced Ski Bradford to open on Dec. 17, which is 10 days later than normal. As a result, the number of customers has been down from previous winters. The school vacation week in December, which is normally a cash cow, had fewer skiers than prior years.
The Haverhill High School ski team also got off to a late start. The team had to do mostly dry land practices for much of December and was not able to get on the slopes until after the Christmas holiday. The girls have had two races, while the boys have only had one because of the warm weather.
"It's been a down winter," said Haverhill High head coach Ryan Scanlon. " Ski Bradford has been good at making enough snow. Hopefully we get a big snow storm and the snow and season will extend to April.''
Scanlon said man-made snow is a lot more difficult to ski on than natural snow. Man-made snow often leads to the surface being more icy and slippery, making it harder for skiers to turn and maintain control. The man-made snow is denser however, so it can withstand rain and warm temperatures much better than natural snow can.
The slow start to this season is not the worst year that Ski Bradford has ever had, but it has been a slower start than in recent years. Last year, record snowfalls hit Bradford early and often during one of the snowiest winters Massachusetts has seen.
"It's always going to affect the bottom line," Sawyer said. "If you're into skiing, then you know that people make snow. If you're a learner or thinking about it for the first time, then you're not thinking about skiing. There are too many other things to do because the ground is bare."
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