The upside of nor'easters: Pocono ski resorts in line for a good year

Skiers hit the slopes at Shawnee Mountain in East Stroudsburg, Pa.

Warm February weather nearly wrecked the winter ski season, but the recent storms slamming the Northeastern United States have done more than turn things around for Philadelphia-area ski resorts: They could make this one of the best seasons in years.

In the Poconos, Jack Frost and Big Boulder, owned by Peak Resorts Inc., says it received 33.5 inches of fresh snow from March 5 to Monday, almost half of its season total of 72 inches — and that doesn’t include Tuesday’s storm, which should have prime snow-making temperatures.

“These last few storms have really helped extend that season,” said Brian Bossuyt, a Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau spokesman. “I think a lot of our resorts are even looking to go into April with all the new snow.”

Conditions at ski resorts in the mid-Atlantic vary tremendously, based on the weather. Although 2017-18 seems to be working out well for local resorts, the shorter seasons brought on by climate change continue to pose problems for several local firms.

Peak Resorts, which owns 13 ski areas, mostly in the Northeast and Midwest, pointed to the threat from climate change in its 2017 annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

“Warmer overall temperatures would likely adversely affect skier visits and our revenue and profits,” the report said. “In addition, a steady increase in global temperatures could shorten the ski season in the future.”

And while this season started and ended strong, a spokesman for Elk Mountain Ski Resort in the Endless Mountains region north of Scranton acknowledged how bizarre the weather has been, given the wild swing from 70-degree highs to more than a foot of snow in about a week.​

Responding to such temperature shifts, resorts are turning to year-round activities like mountain coasters and water slides, as well as locking in customers with multiple-resort passes, said Stifel Financial Corp. analyst Brad Boyer.

Peak Resorts offers a Peak Pass for seven of its Northeast resorts, including Jack Frost and Big Boulder, which helps guarantee income as well as build brand loyalty with younger snow riders.

It’s working pretty well, said Glenn Kirby, a senior marketing major at Temple University and president of the school’s snowboarding club.

“It’s a great price point,” said Kirby, who recently bought a 2018-19 Peak Pass. “It allows you access to seven of the best mountains on the East Coast. Overall, the resort qualities tend to be better than the others that aren’t on the Peak Pass, just as far as the conditions and the way that they maintain their terrain parks.”

Kirby has been all over the country this winter, from Vermont to the West, but he’s made 10 day trips, split among Blue Mountain Resort, Jack Frost and Big Boulder, and Bear Creek Resort. He recalls wearing a T-shirt and sunglasses during his last trip to Blue Mountain, near Jim Thorpe, Pa., a few weeks back.

“I was riding slush, not snow,” he said. “When it snows, people take off class in our club, and go to the mountains and get that fresh powder.”

That powder is here once more. With snow on the ground and temperatures below or near freezing, skiers and riders, such as Kirby, will be more motivated to take ski trips rather than go hiking or golfing, said Bossuyt. And that’s good for everyone from resorts to equipment shops.

“It just helps with the ski industry in general,” Bossuyt said. “That cold and snow in the backyard always gets people excited to do more things outside in the winter.”