Thursday December 27, 2012

DAVID SHARP

Associated Press

A week after torrential rain in parts of New England, skiers and snowboarders rejoiced over the approach of the season’s first major winter storm, an old-fashioned nor’easter that ski resort operators hope will erase memories of last year’s unseasonably warm winter.

The timing of the storm during the middle of school vacation week promised to be a boon to businesses catering to skiers and snowmobilers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

The storm system erupted Christmas Day with tornadoes on the Gulf Coast and snow across the nation’s midsection before heading for the Northeast, bringing with it expectations of a foot or more of snow across most of northern New England on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Winter sports enthusiasts were ecstatic.

"It’s just going to be very reassuring to see some snow down here for a change. Everyone is really getting fired up," said Taylor Reis, a downhill skier from Falmouth, Maine.

"We’re glued to the weather radio"

At Smiling Hill Farm in Maine, Warren Knight was hoping for enough snow to allow the opening of trails. Last year, the farm opened its trails for only five or seven scattered days because hot-cold, rain-snow cycle that left skiers disappointed.

"We watch the weather more carefully for cross-country skiing than we do for farming. And we’re pretty diligent about farming. We’re glued to the weather radio," said Knight, who described the weather at the 500-acre farm in Westbrook as being akin to the prizes in "Cracker Jacks -- we don’t know what we’re going to get."

While ski resorts celebrated, city, county and state crews prepared their snow-removal equipment to keep roads open. Airports in Manchester, N.H., Burlington, Vt., and Portland, Maine, prepared for delayed or canceled flights because of anticipated snowfall at larger hub airports.

Manchester-Boston Regional Airport planned to have a full crew on duty with a goal of maintaining the busy airport’s record of never having closed for a winter storm in 23 years, said Thomas Malafront, assistant director.

If Manchester declares a snow emergency and enacts parking restrictions, it will notify residents via email messages, text messages, Twitter and blinking strobe lights at major intersections.

The strobe lights, proposed by a city alderman, have been a success, said public works director Kevin Sheppard. "Some people didn’t think it would work, but it has worked great," he said.

Farther north, larger ski areas escaped the rain and received mostly snow over the past week, and they were eager for more.

Bill Stenger, president of the Jay Peak resort in northern Vermont, spent Wednesday enjoying blue skies, 14 to 16 inches of fresh snow and anticipation for what was to come.

"It’s probably the best Christmas holiday forecast that we’ve had for the last eight to 10 years," he said.

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Associated Press writers Dave Gram in Montpelier, Vt., and Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., contributed to this report.