Ski season comes early at Tussey Mountain

There’s nothing quite like a fresh blanket of snow to give skiers that itch to hit the slopes.

And for ski resort operators and winter sports retailers, the white stuff is the best kind of advertising.

Tussey Mountain will open its slopes Friday, thanks to the recent natural snow as well as an arsenal of high-tech snowmaking equipment.

Tussey opens at noon Friday, and will remain open the next several weekends until there is enough snow to go seven days a week, said Bennett Hoffman, director of operations.

“We do need Mother Nature to lay snow in their backyards,” Bennett said. “They get excited, they get into the winter mode.”

The area saw as much as 3 inches on Tuesday and another dusting Wednesday. That, combined with the 2 foot base expected on two Tussey trails, will allow for earlier-than-usual skiing at the mountain resort near Boalsburg.

“Our investors have been re-energized, and we’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes quality improvements,” Bennett said. “It’s always been a work in progress, but we’re very focused on being an all-around resort. Our vision is to provide an exceptional experience for all of our guests.”

That includes having invested in newer and more efficient snow-making equipment, Bennett said, which allows crews to blow more snow at higher temperatures.

It’s getting harder to differentiate natural snow that falls from the sky and the stuff that comes out of snow guns, as new technology continues to improve snowmaking.

“The new technology allows us to blow with higher temperatures — about 5 degrees warmer than we could,” Bennett said. “We continue to invest in those types of guns.”

Two of the more popular trails, Utah and Little Bear, will be open at noon Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. Crews were expected to blow snow on Thanksgiving right up to Friday at noon.

The early start and new snow has skiers excited, Bennett said.

“We’re doing very well with season passes,” he said. “The phone’s ringing off the hook. We’ve really been promoting the quality initiatives, and people are happy to see Tussey Mountain is moving forward.”

That Tussey is opening earlier combined with a couple days of winter weather has a ripple effect on local ski retailers as well.

At Appalachian Ski and Outdoors in downtown State College, Matt Stump, the ski buyer for the store, said he’s seeing an uptick.

“We’re glad (Tussey’s) opening early. And, obviously, the snow has been beneficial to us,” he said. “Every time it snows, you can’t do wrong in the world of skiing.”

A self-proclaimed “weather farmer,” Stump said the outfitter is seeing the entire gamut of customers.

“We’re seeing all of it,” he said. “skis, snowboards, people bringing in their old equipment, we’re getting good tunes on skis and snowboards. People are trading in their old straight skis for parabolics.”

Stump said the only merchandise decline he’s seen has been in telemark skis, which are a crossover ski between alpine and Nordic. And with the latter, once people see snow in their front yards, they get a bit more anxious to break out the cross-country gear.

“Nordic is always slow until we get snow, then it snows and everybody’s excited to get out there,” he said. “Especially here, where you can get out onto a sidewalk and within 5 minutes, you’re out on a farm or in a field.”

Appalachian also offers rentals, which, Stump said, gives people “the itch” to get their own ski setup. On Black Friday, the store will have sales on both soft and hard goods, and will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

“It seems like people are itching to get out there,” Stump said. “They’re waiting for the weather, and we’re just as excited.”