Lack of snow in Hanover slows down business

by Paulomi Rao | 1/7/16 10:35pm

With temperatures reaching 69 degrees on Christmas Eve, the town of Hanover experienced a record-breaking warm December and holiday season. The unusually high temperatures — an effect of El Niño, where warm bands of ocean air hovered over the Upper Valley — caused local ski resorts to stay closed and the Connecticut River to remain unfrozen into January.

The Dartmouth Skiway, home to the College’s varsity Nordic and Alpine ski teams, will remain closed until Jan. 9. The lack of snow and colder temperatures necessary for snowmaking were absent throughout December. Skiway manager Doug Holler said that the annual physical education ski instructors’ clinic was shifted to Ragged Mountain Resort in Danbury because none of the trails were open.

“North country really depends on the tourism with the cold and snow,” Holler said. “This year, income for cold retailers and ski operators across the area will be hard.”

This time last year, he added, snow had heavily covered Hanover and most ski resorts in the area were open.

“As a ski place, we always hope for the best, but it’s going to be a very tough year for people who depend on the cold or snow,” Holler said.

While the warm temperatures may be worrisome for businesses, Peter Kulbacki, Hanover’s director of public works, welcomed the belated arrival of winter.

“The warm temperatures are helping out our winter time budget,” Kulbacki said. “Usually by this time of year we have had three to four major storms and so far we have only had one medium one. If this keeps up, there will be savings on our budget at the end of the year.”

Kulbacki acknowledged that many outdoor retailers might be concerned that the warm temperatures may effect their expected revenue.

“In terms of tourism, I think traffic volumes will be down for ski slopes,” Kulbacki said. “People will be looking for late fall activities instead of winter activities.”

The recent mild weather has also allowed Hanover to finish several outdoor construction projects that it is usually unable to complete because of frigid work conditions. Kulbacki said that the town is looking forward to completing work — such as trimming trees and digging ditches — that they usually are not able to do at this time of the year.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin echoed a similar positive outlook on the unusual climate. She also highlighted the increased number of projects the town has been able to complete.

“There is always a silver lining to every cloud like this,” Griffin said.

The town recently finished building a brand new sand and salt storage building at the public works facility this past fall. The construction of the building is intended to allow the town to buy large quantities of sand and salt in the summer, Griffin said. She added that the town can then stockpile salt and sand then when the items are in abundance and prices are significantly lower. This will ultimately allow the town to save money on its winter budget.

“The delayed winter was particularly helpful to us because we were cutting it pretty close in terms of when the facility would be available to us and when we anticipated needing the sand and salt for winter,” Griffin said. “If there were ever a winter where it was beneficial to the public works department to have a late start to cold weather, this winter would be a good one for us.”

While the delayed winter weather allowed Hanover to complete tasks and save money on sand and salt, the town did experience mud season conditions normally not observed until the spring in late November. The muddy conditions required extra maintenance work, Griffin said, forcing several crews to haul gravel out to the roads to mitigate the conditions.

“It was really strange to see that happen so early,” Griffin said.

In addition, as the temperature remained high, construction crews were worried about the increased possibility of water and sewer main breaks, Griffin said. Usually, when there is a lot of snow on the ground and the temperature dips, the snow tends to insulate the piping and helps to prevent breaks. She noted that when there is not much snow and the temperature drops below zero, problems may arise. The frost levels can get deep into the ground and may cause sewage and water lines to rupture, she added.

“When it is ten below zero in the middle of the night and your crew tries to dig up a street to locate a water or sewage break, it’s pretty miserable work conditions,” Griffin said. “We are concerned we will see much more of that.”

In terms of other ski resorts, Griffin said she imagines a number will delay their openings until mid-January in hopes of receiving more snowfall and capitalizing on the cold temperature. She also predicted that several businesses will attempt to push the end of the season back through the beginning of April.

Beyond expected delays in purchasing ski rentals, Hanover experienced a late start to holiday retail shopping downtown.

“Believe it or not, for people who live in this part of New England, snow tends to get them out to do holiday shopping because it makes them think of the holidays,” Griffin said. “So having such warm, balmy conditions, had people thinking it couldn’t possibly be the holiday season yet.”

Omer & Bob’s, a local ski and bike rental shop in Lebanon, saw a change in outdoor activity gear purchases as customers spent more time in the unusual warm weather.

“People still need to get outside,” Jonathan Wilmot, co-owner of Omer & Bob’s sad. “Just this year they stayed out longer enjoying the warm weather by biking instead of the usual skiing. As a company, we actually don’t usually plan on big snow in December. Last year’s snow was the exception, not necessarily the rule.”

In 1997, the last time El Niño hit, Hanover experienced significantly less snowfall as well.