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$20,000 Electrical Bill: After Expensive Snow-Making, Mass. Ski Resorts Welcome Storm

Snow guns shoot powder over a trail at Wachusett Mountain ski area in Princeton, Mass., in this 2008 file photo. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Snow guns shoot powder over a trail at Wachusett Mountain ski area in Princeton, Mass., in this 2008 file photo. (Charles Krupa/AP)

It's about time.

That's the shared sentiment of Massachusetts ski resort managers, as a nor'easter bears down on the state. The impending storm — which could dump more than a foot of snow, west of I-495 — is a relief to businesses that have spent heavily on fake powder, through one of the least-snowy starts to a season since 1872.

The Otis Ridge Ski Area expects to finally open all of its 10 trails this weekend. What's on the slopes now is "100 percent man-made snow," said General Manager Eric VanOostveen. And it hasn't been made cheaply.

"There's a lot of man hours, but the big thing is the electricity," VanOostveen said. "We've been running around the clock."

He said he expects this month's electrical bill to be about $20,000. Otis Ridge would need to sell 500 adult lift tickets, at the weekend rate, just to cover that expense.

"We can" cover it, Van Oostveen said. "A couple good Saturdays and Sundays, Martin Luther King Day — that's a huge day. Hopefully that'll offset everything."

Even in snowier years, Massachusetts ski resorts often need to supplement what Mother Nature provides. The Wachusett Mountain Ski Area has invested roughly $5 million in energy-efficient snow-making equipment over the past decade, according to company President Jeff Crowley.

"It's gotta be done or else we just won't survive," he said.

"Fortunately," Crowley added, "machine-made snow is so much more durable than natural snow that all of the snow we've laid down has been able to withstand all the rainstorms we've had."

Nashoba Valley Ski Area General Manager Al Fletcher said, "It seems like there's always some portion of the season, no matter what season we're talking about, where we're struggling a little with the weather."

A big storm on a long weekend could help make up for this season's slow start, especially if cold temperatures keep the resulting snow on the slopes through next month's school breaks.

"If you can have a good period of several weeks in the winter, that can make a huge difference in what your overall attendance is and, ultimately, what your revenue stream looks like," Fletcher said.

Related:

Callum Borchers Twitter Reporter
Callum covers the Greater Boston business community for Bostonomix.

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