Skiers hit the slopes: Season off to strong start at Tussey Mountain

Tussey Mountain was able to open its slopes during Thanksgiving weekend for only the second time in the past 24 years, giving the business a head start on season revenue.

With increased snowmaking capacity and favorable weather conditions, workers were able to get everything ready for the early opening, Director of Operations Bennett Hoffman said.

They are in the second year of a five-year master plan to increase snowmaking ability, Hoffman said. This year they purchased additional equipment and can now run the snow guns through a computerized system.

He still prefers the real fluff, but the man-made snow is a workable substitute.

“We’d like to see more natural snowfall, but that’s why we continue to invest in snowmaking equipment,” Hoffman said.

The holiday season is a big time for the mountain but the biggest rush comes in January and February when the Penn State students start their spring semester. Hoffman said they get a good amount of business from students, and the university’s kinesiology classes utilize the slopes during the semester.

Optimal conditions to create the snow are low humidity and dew point with temperatures below freezing, he said. Conditions lined up well last week and workers were able to blow snow for more than 36 straight hours.

A key to keeping the slopes ready for skiers and snowboarders is maintaining the snow, he said. Tussey has machines that till it, mix it up and pack it down to keep it fresh for customers.

But in the end there is no true substitute for real snow.

Hoffman said people really get excited about winter sports when they can see snow in their backyards. He said some people don’t completely understand the concept of man-made snow and only come out when the real stuff falls from the sky.

“Our best marketing tool is snow,” he said.

Though the county has seen some snow this year, Hoffman said they are never satisfied, always wanting to see more and hoping the next big snowstorm is on the horizon.

As part of the snowmaking improvement plan, Tussey officials will attempt to improve the water pressure for the machines in future years, which will make the process easier and more efficient.

With the good, early start to the season, Hoffman is hopeful that they will have a strong year for business. Last year they were able to stay open until the end of March and he would like to see a similar pattern in 2014.