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After 2 dismal winters, Boyce Park slopes draw crowds

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Times Express
Winter fun at Boyce Park continues with skiing, tubing, sledding and snow boarding. Cecilia Fidler, 11 of North Huntingdon, tries to get the hang of tubing.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Times Express
Winter fun at Boyce Park continues with skiing, tubing, sledding and snow boarding. Cecilia Fidler, 11, of North Huntingdon tries to get the hang of tubing.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Times Express
Winter fun at Boyce Park continues with skiing, tubing, sledding and snow boarding this past weekend. Sinya Kuriyama helps daughter Mai Kuriyama, 2, keep her balance on the snowy slope.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Times Express
Winter fun at Boyce Park continues with skiing, tubing, sledding and snow boarding. Mike Sgro, 16, comes to a stop at the bottom of the hill.
Alisa Jacobson | For the Times Express
Winter fun at Boyce Park continues with skiing, tubing, sledding and snow boarding. Mike Sgro, 16, with his brother, Dominick Sgro, 9, enjoy snowboarding together.

Shortly after opening on Monday afternoon, the slopes at Boyce Park were packed with skiers and snowboarders carving their way down the hill and tubers shooting down their lanes.

Crowded slopes have been a common scene at Boyce this winter, a dramatic change from previous seasons.

Ticket sales are up this year at the slopes, after two consecutive years in which inadequate snow making equipment and unseasonable weather resulted in inconsistent operating hours, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said.

“You can't run a business like that,” he said.

But so far, this season has been different.

As of Feb. 9, county officials reported that the slopes have generated $360,000 in revenue, which already was twice as much as last winter and five times as much as was generated two winters ago. The cost of a lift ticket is the same as the previous two years. An adult ticket for an Allegheny County resident on a weekend or holiday cost $14. An adult ticket for a non resident on a weekend or holiday cost $18.

The increased revenue is due to increased attendance.

The number of ski and snowboarding tickets sold, as of Tuesday, increased from 6,218 last winter, to 16,556 this winter. The number of tubing tickets sold increased from 4,840 last winter to 9,667 this winter.

Although the cold, snowy winter and the Winter Olympics might have contributed to recent high attendance, county officials said the most important difference is the private contractor hired to head operations.

With the Boyce winter operations chalking up losses of $500,000 last year and about $400,000 in 2011-12, county officials sought help from a professional this year, Fitzgerald said. They hired Jim Shultz, an independent contractor who formerly produced snow for Hidden Valley Resort in Somerset County. Shultz incorporated his own business in the fall, Mountain Works Inc.

The county signed a contract with Shultz for about $700,000, which included the purchase of 11 new snow machines and 99 percent of maintenance costs, Shultz said.

Those 28 machines produced a 40-inch base of snow by late December, Fitzgerald said.

“It's been quite a success,” he said.

As a point of comparison, Shultz said, he was provided one snow machine per acre at Hidden Valley Resort. At Boyce Park, he has 2.25 snow machines per acre.

“Even though we're at a disadvantage in elevation, we make up for it by having more than double the output per acre,” Shultz said. “We can focus a lot of firepower on a small footprint.”

That firepower is paying off.

Snowboarder David Burda, 17, said Monday that the quality of the slopes at Boyce was better than at one of the biggest winter resorts in the region.

“There's a lot of soft snow,” Burda said. “Seven Springs has been icy.”

This season, Boyce has been attracting many first-time visitors from towns throughout Allegheny County.

“It's a good place for kids (to ski) for the first time,” said Ravi Moturi of Wexford. “I'm happy it's close by.”

The slopes at Boyce Park opened Dec. 6 and have remained open every day except Christmas.

That's in sharp contrast to the park's track in recent years, when the slopes were open an average of 60 days each winter, but inconsistently, and were prone to unexpected closures due to circumstances such as a faulty ski lift or lack of snow.

Still, the slopes are not expected to post a profit.

Fitzgerald said revenue is expected to fall about $100,000 short of operational expenses this season, but the increased attendance was expected to soften the financial impact on taxpayers. If anything has hurt attendance this year, it's the subfreezing temperatures the region has experienced, said Fitzgerald. And while polar vortex temperatures in January kept people away, they made for ideal snow making conditions.

Kyle Lawson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8755, or klawson@tribweb.com.

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