UPPER SALFORD — So is all the snowfall luring you toward the wintry slopes, skis in tow?
No one will be happier to know that than Rick Buckman, owner-operator of Spring Mountain Ski Area.
You may see the snow as an omen that it’s time to hit the trails, but at Spring Mountain, which opens on Thursday, natural snow is mostly just an ice breaker for the season.
Like most ski areas, Spring Mountain doesn’t need the genuine article to prosper because the man-made stuff will do the trick every time.
The kind that falls from the sky is really nothing more than a mood enhancer.
“The real stuff gets everybody in the mood for skiing and snowboarding,” said Spring Mountain owner Rick Buckman. “It gets people thinking about it, which is great. If people don’t have snow in their backyard they don’t even think about skiing or even think that we’re open. We do have a lot of local people that know when we’re open, but in the whole Philadelphia market a lot of people are casual skiers once or twice a year. They don’t think about skiing until they see a little snow fly.”
Spring Mountain is opening more than two weeks earlier than last year, which hopefully signals a more profitable season for the Schwenksville location.
“Weather-wise, we’re in much better shape than last year, when our biggest snowstorm was at the end of October,” Buckman said. “The last two winters were really bad for us. We had less than 12 inches of natural snow from the last two winters combined. The two winters before that we had 122 inches. So it was a big difference. That’s why we don’t depend much on natural snow.”
On Tuesday, Buckman and his men were out with their tillers and snowcats — vehicles designed to groom ski trails — leveling out the snow they’ve been cranking out since the middle of November into a highly skiable surface.
“The amount of time to cover the mountain with man-made snow depends entirely on the temperature and humidity,” Buckman allowed. “The colder and drier the air, the more water we can provide to the water guns. It can mean the difference between each gun producing only a few inches and an impressive 10-foot pile of fluff.”
Nearly three dozen snow guns have been working overtime since before Thanksgiving in fabricating an Alps-like situation at Spring Mountain.
Water is supplied by the Perkiomen Creek and channeled through a series of hoses that hook up to the cannons. Aerators then turn the flow into a fine mist that is then blown into the air with huge fans.
“The intake on the snow guns varies. They can accommodate anywhere between 7.5 and 120 gallons per minute. It takes just under 150,000 gallons of water to make a foot of snow on one acre of ground,” Buckman said.
Once the “foundation” is in place, it’s a matter of maintenance through occasional warm spells and taking advantage of temperature dips to replenish any snow that may have melted.
With the early opening, Buckman seemed optimistic about the coming season.
“Those days between Christmas and New Year’s can be 25 percent of our revenue. So that really hurt us not to be open until Dec. 30 last year.”
With eight trails, two snow tubing runs and six ski lifts, Spring Mountain Ski Area is the closest ski mountain to Philadelphia, south Jersey and Delaware.
“We’re certainly the only ski area in Montgomery County,” said Buckman. “It seems that everybody you talk to in the area has learned to ski here.”
Thirteen years ago, Buckman came along and transformed a then-38-year-old shuttered ski resort from a corporately held, vulnerable piece of prime real estate to a thriving family-run operation.
A total of 180 acres purchased from Spring Mountain Winter Sports was divvied up between Spring Mountain Adventures — the corporation formed by Buckman and his wife Gayle, which owns and operates the business on 20 acres — Montgomery County and Upper Salford Township.
The 80 acres of county-owned land are preserved as open space, while Spring Mountain Adventures leases trails on the remaining acreage from the township.
“I had learned to ski here in 1970 and I didn’t want to see the land go to a developer,” Buckman said. “It’s a perfect example of how a public entity and a private entity can work together and get something done.”
Information from the Times Herald, www.timesherald.com