Locke Mills, ME, Jan. 6 (AP by David Sharp)-- The snow guns are firing at full capacity on New England ski slopes, but it's hard for some skiers to get motivated when the golf courses are still open in January.
Around New England, the normally frigid temperatures this time of year have reached the 60s, and snowfall is way below normal, leaving slopes and cross-country routes spotted with rocks or grass.
``I had a customer who was going to come in and buy some skis. Instead, he went golfing,'' said Chris Perry at Joe Jones Ski & Sports in South Portland.
At Mount Abram ski resort, more than half of the 35 trails remain closed for lack of snow, and the ski area was nearly deserted Thursday, despite a special promotion: Ski all day for $10.
``Last year I was told it was a bad year,'' said owner Randy Dunican, who bought Mount Abram in 1998, before a season in which many ski resorts nationwide were hurt by a lack of snow. ``Now I know what a bad year is.''
The problems are not universal.
Both snow and bookings are plentiful in Utah after a lag early in the ski season, and resorts in Colorado are benefiting from recent snowfalls. Some resorts, like Snowshoe in West Virginia and Jiminy Peak and Brodie Mountain in Massachusetts, reported strong attendance over the holidays.
But others said that unless they get some real snow soon, they could be hurting. Many skiers don't think there is snow at the resorts unless they see snow in their back yards.
``If we don't have snow by February, that's going to be a really serious situation for us, because February makes or breaks the winter season,'' said Robert Uguccioni, executive director of the Pocono Mountains Vacation Bureau in Pennsylvania.
The lack of snow is most acute in New England.
In Maine, for example, Portland is experiencing the longest stretch of snowless days since records were first kept in 1881-82.
The last time the city saw measurable snowfall was March 16. ``That was 296 days ago, and we're still counting,'' Augie Sardinha, a National Weather Service meteorologist, said Thursday.
The lack of snow has put Portland almost 2 feet behind schedule for a typical winter, in which 6 feet of snow fall. To make matters worse, temperatures climbed to record highs in the 60s across New England on Monday.
On a typical Thursday, Mount Abram should see about 1,000 skiers. But Dunican said he would be lucky to get 400, and that included high school ski team members paying only $5 a head.
Moreover, the machine-made snow that people were gliding over Thursday doesn't come cheap. Mount Abram's snow-making system costs $6,000 to $9,000 a day to operate, Dunican said.
Shawnee Peak in Bridgton was experiencing the same troubles even though 23 of 38 trails and glades were open.
``We're feeling an impact. It's difficult when there are news stories about golf courses still being open. It's difficult to compete with that,'' said spokeswoman Carisa Flood.
Even worse off were cross-country ski areas, which depend entirely on natural snow for business.
In Oxford, only a few patches of snow lay on the 15 miles of grassy trails at Carter's Cross County Ski Area. It has yet to open, and the lack of snow has hurt sales of ski gear as well, said Anne Carter, a co-owner.
``You just hope and pray that the weather will change,'' she said.
Since Monday, the weather has turned colder across New England. But there are no plans to close the Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough.
``We're going until the snow flies,'' said Larry Chapman, manager of the pro shop. ``We're taking tee times for Saturday and Sunday. We'll probably be mobbed both days.''
Copyright © 2000 The Associated Press