See snow, will ski.
Erin and Scott Lawson weren’t taking any chances upon awakening Friday morning to sunny skies and a fresh blanket of snow.
They headed to Kissing Bridge with their 3-year-old daughter, Iris, for some quality time together on the slopes.
“Who knows? It could be melted in two weeks and not snow again until January,” said Erin Lawson. “This is the perfect day.”
Ski season is officially under way in Western New York. Instead of shopping, thousands of people opted for a white Friday on area slopes.
It was the first time in six years ski hills had enough snow to open in November. And ski facility operators couldn’t be happier about it.
“We love to get an early start,” said David Trathen, vice president of Holiday Valley in Ellicottville, which had 17 trails running on Friday. “We’re in really good shape for this time of year. To open with this much natural snow on the ground is really nice.”
Kissing Bridge officially opened on Wednesday – a month ahead of its starts in 2011 and 2012. Peek ’n Peak Resort in Clymer opened Friday morning, with seven trails and three lifts.
“This ain’t rocket science. It all depends on Mother Nature. If she doesn’t cooperate, we struggle. When she cooperates, everything falls into place,” said Peter Calleri, marketing director of Kissing Bridge.
Kissing Bridge had one trail open Wednesday and was up to three by Friday afternoon, with more expected to be ready over the next few days for skiers and snowboarders, Calleri said.
The bunny hill also was available for new skiers like Iris. On her skis for the first time, she had the look of a freshly birthed fawn rising to its feet.
Gliding on the gentle pitch, she swayed to and fro, back and forth. Her legs wobbled underneath. Eventually, she toppled over into the snow, which clung to rings of blond hair dangling outside her ski helmet.
“She’s usually up for anything. She’s pretty adventurous,” said Erin Lawson.
The stars began aligning for slope operators last weekend, when temperatures dipped into the teens, allowing them to crank up the snow machines.
Thick wet snow Tuesday night and Wednesday morning added to the base.
Colden received another 8 inches of snow between Thursday and Friday, and temperatures stayed in the 20s throughout Friday.
The snow machines were still going strong, shooting a foggy mist that coated skiers and snowboarders making their way down Kissing Bridge’s main hill, Holly.
Many of them weren’t expecting to be on the slopes this early.
“I heard that it was open, and I didn’t believe it because last year it opened really late,” said Joe Paolucci, 16, who plans to snowboard just about every weekend.
Brisa Seibert, 15, was surprised by the conditions, too.
“I didn’t think I’d be out here, but my brother said it was good so I came out,” Seibert said. “It’s really good.”
Kissing Bridge opened on Dec. 26 both last year and in 2012 – two of the latest season openings ever at the facility.
“The last two years were the worst I could remember,” said Bill Halligan of East Concord, who spent the day skiing at Kissing Bridge with friend Tom Johnston.
But Halligan and Johnston reported good skiing conditions on Friday.
Holiday Valley also had late starts in 2012 and 2013.
“The last time we were able to be open the day after Thanksgiving, which is kind of our target, was back in 2008,” Trathen said.
Holiday Valley opened a week before Thanksgiving that year, and received a whopping 251 inches of snowfall that season.
But many skiers at Kissing Bridge on Friday couldn’t recall the last time they were on the slopes in November.
“Honestly, no,” said Erin Lawson. “Usually it’s not even snowy on Thanksgiving.”