The Grinch may have stolen Christmas from ski-center operators, but they're counting on Old Man Winter to make up for it.
Abnormally warm temperatures and a lack of snow have put a damper on business at ski resorts across the region. Ski hills have either opened late or been unable to offer skiers access to all available trails.
The slopes at Beartown Ski Area in Beekmantown remained dark throughout the holiday season, but operators are gearing up to have skiers there this weekend, said Malcolm Colleen, vice president of the nonprofit organization that operates the 40-year-old ski center.
As many as 150 people a day usually ski the trails during Christmas vacation, he said.
"We've lost our premium week, but season-ticket holders have lost the most."
With the peak ski season in February and March, Collin is confident the ski area will recoup money spent making snow and the $10,000 expense to repair equipment damaged in last year's ice storm.
Titus Mountain Ski Center in Malone is also banking on the mid-winter peak season to pull them through a financially difficult year.
The center's operators were greeted at the start of 1998 with a $55,000 bill to clean up fallen tree limbs and wires after the ice storm, Co-manager Shirley Johnson said.
The year ended with the ski center opening nearly a month later than usual and heavy snowmaking costs.
"We've been making snow steady, and we're talking big bucks. It's a tremendous expense," Johnson said.
"There's no snow, so all the ski hills are in the same boat this season. We're down, but not out. We're hopeful we'll make it up."
The Village of Saranac Lake has already pumped thousands of dollars into Mount Pisgah, and the hill hasn't opened yet.
Volunteers have spent the last couple of weeks making snow on the village-run mountain, but natural snow is needed before skiers can take to the slope, Village Treasurer Mary Peria said.
"There are expenses, even before we open. I don't know how much, but it will be astronomical," she said.
Big Tupper Ski Resort in Tupper Lake opened Dec. 19, about a month later than usual.
Despite making snow "around the clock," only 12 of the 40 available trails are open so far, Big Tupper Marketing Director Karen Atwood said.
"This is the lightest it's ever been. It's the latest opening for all ski areas in the country," she said.
On Wednesday, Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington was forced to shut down several lifts because of high winds.
"We're at the whim of the weather," Whiteface Assistant Manager Bruce McCulley said.
In years past, the weather has cooperated with ski-resort operators.
"We have 18 to 19 of our 67 trails open now. At this time last year, we had the whole mountain open," McCulley said.
Involved in the operation of Beartown Ski Area since it opened in 1958, Collin is optimistic a blustery North Country winter will give ski-hill operators a reason to smile.
"This is not the end of the season," he said. "We'll make it up by hook or by crook."
Marcia Lanphear is a reporter for the Press-Republican.