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Ideal weather keeps skiers on slopes at Western Pa. resorts

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 10:06 a.m.
Libby Hitchins, 8, of North Fayette gets a thrill from riding the ski lift at Boyce Park's ski and snowtubing slopes in Plum on Sunday Feb. 3, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Snow enthusiasts enjoy the perfect ski conditions at Boyce Park's ski and snowtubing slopes in Plum on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Jessica Melodia, 35, of Shaler goes over a small bump on her snowboard at Boyce Park's ski and snowtubing slopes in Plum on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Skiers ride the ski lift to the top of the hill at Boyce Park's ski and snowtubing slopes in Plum on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
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A skier makes his way down Stowe slope at Seven Springs Mountain Resort on Feb. 1, 2013. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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A competitor soars off of the halfpipe during a practice session for the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Qualifiers at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The event, which runs until Feb. 3, 2013, brings some of the country’s best amateur skiers and snowboarders one step closer to competing at the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., and possibly on to the Olympic Trials. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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A competitor grabs her board in the halfpipe during a practice session for the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Qualifiers at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The event, which runs until Feb. 3, 2013, brings some of the country’s best amateur skiers and snowboarders one step closer to competing at the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., and possibly on to the Olympic Trials. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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Skiers ride the Tyrol life at Seven Springs Mountain Resort on Feb. 1, 2013. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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A competitor practices on the halfpipe for the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Qualifiers at Seven Springs Mountain Resort. The event, which runs until Feb. 3, 2013, brings some of the country’s best amateur skiers and snowboarders one step closer to competing at the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., and possibly on to the Olympic Trials. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
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A halfpipe competitor soars high above Seven Springs Mountain Resort during a practice session for the Burton U.S. Open Snowboarding Qualifiers. The event, which runs until Feb. 3, 2013, brings some of the country’s best amateur skiers and snowboarders one step closer to competing at the U.S. Open in Vail, Colo., and possibly on to the Olympic Trials. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

On Friday, the eve of Groundhog Day, Paul Gasparovic rooted for Punxsutawney Phil to see his shadow.

His reason was simple: He wants to keep skiing as long as he can after going just once last winter.

“Occasionally, it's nice to have a year like last year — you just do different things (other than skiing)” said Gasparovic, of Liberty, a member of the Pittsburgh Ski Club.

But, he added: “With it being so warm last year, I don't want an early spring this year.”

After a 2011-12 winter that saw higher-than-average temperatures and lower-than-average snowfall, the 2012-13 winter is bringing much more snow.

“Overall, we're a little bit warmer than average, with heavier snowfall,” said Pat Herald, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Moon.

Through Feb. 3, 30.2 inches of snowfall were reported in the Pittsburgh area, an increase from 19.6 inches in 2012 and from the normal rate of 22.8 inches.

That means ski resorts have been busier this year than last.

“It's definitely snowier than last year,” said Anna Weltz, a spokeswoman for Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

“When we had those frigid temperatures and those deep wind chills (in late January), we were presented with the opportunity to make snow, plus we were receiving snow on top of that.

“We were getting wonderful powder conditions. These are conditions that skiers and snowboarders crave.”

Three local skiing options — Boyce Park, Hidden Valley and Seven Springs — reported different results from the winter of 2011-12. While Seven Springs and Hidden Valley said business stayed close to normal, Allegheny County Parks Director Andy Baechle said last winter was “one of the worst years on record.”

Boyce Park, which aims to open 90 days a year, managed just 21 last winter because of lack of snowfall, Baechle said. The snow tubing area stayed closed nearly all winter.

“Usually, (we close because there's) not enough snow at the bottom or something like that, that we feel would make it an unsafe condition,” Baechle said. “We just never want to open unless it's safe.”

Boyce Park opened on Jan. 6 and was open for business for 14 days through Jan. 27, although warm temperatures last week forced some closures.

Weltz said Seven Springs saw increased business last year because the resort was able to keep all of its terrain open for the majority of the season.

“While it wasn't the snowiest winter we've ever had, it was a good winter,” Weltz said. “There were a lot of resorts up and down the East Coast that didn't remain open or didn't have a lot of terrain open. Because we were able to make snow in aggressive formats but also strategic formats, we had more terrain open when some resorts weren't open at all.”

That strategic snowmaking included making snow when the slopes were open — something Weltz said Seven Springs usually tries to avoid.

Hidden Valley spokeswoman Laura Argenbright said the resort also saw good business last year because of its snowmaking ability.

The resort offered a number of skiing specials and heavily advertised that it had snow.

Argenbright said skiing and snowboarding visits are up 11 percent this year over last.

“Better weather does help, and we have seen a lot of return business that we earned last year,” she said.

Ski fans hope more snow is coming, even if Punxy Phil predicted an early end to winter.

“I personally just hope (winter) doesn't end too soon,” said Gasparovic, who with his wife, Linda, has skied at least twice this season.

“I enjoy four seasons. It's just something I like about the Pittsburgh area.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-8527 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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