Ski resorts done with the winter that wasn’t

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The nation’s ski resorts had one of their worst seasons for attendance in over a decade — and there’s no relief in sight.

Dozens of ski resorts across the country are closing their lifts early, saying skiers have given up on snow and are breaking out their bikes and golf clubs.

“It will be a terrible year for many North American ski areas,” says Greg Ralph, marketing director at Monarch Mountain in Colorado. “Hopefully it’s an anomaly.”

Annual ski resort visits could be down more than 15 percent) — the lowest since the 1990s, says Troy Hawks of the National Ski Areas Association.

In Vermont, Erik Ryden, 22, of Burlington packed up his snowboard in mid-March to focus more on warm-weather activities like running and hiking.

“With the conditions generally being so bad, I packed in the season weeks ago,” Ryden says.

Vermont, the third-largest ski state behind Colorado and California, had 15 of its 18 resorts close in March. Typically, they remain open into April, says Parker Riehle, president of Ski Vermont, which compiles information on ski resorts and conditions.

Monarch Mountain closed a week early after a season with just over half the average snowfall and 17 percent fewer visitors, Ralph says.

“You need snow to motivate people,” Ralph says. “Snow trumps all — bad economy, gas prices. With good snow, people are going to come up.”

The problem isn’t getting snow on the mountains — a feat made possible, although expensive, by snow-making machines. It’s getting people in the winter mindset.

“It’s known as backyard syndrome — what people see in their backyard will determine their enthusiasm level,” says Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association. “When people don’t see snow, that’s a more difficult marketing job for the ski areas.”

Costs of blowing fake snow and increased advertising can be too high for ski resorts to stay open, says Karl Stone, marketing director for Ski New Hampshire.

“It’s just not economically feasible to make snow for the lost business levels we saw this time of year,” Stone says.

Although the warm weather has hurt ski resorts nationwide, Northern California and the Northwest from mid-Oregon to Alaska were exceptions. Many resorts there have extended their seasons thanks to significant storms in March and April, says Charles Greer of SkiTown, a national guide.

“All it takes is a couple of storms to change everything,” says Eric Doyne, spokesman for Ski Lake Tahoe.

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