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Slopes close, seasons change at Dry Hill Ski Area


The change of the seasons from winter to spring is a study in contrasts.

“March: in like a lion, out like a lamb,” they say.

“April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain,” T.S. Eliot wrote.

And so it went, in more ways than one, at Dry Hill Ski Area on the last day of its season Sunday, which coincided with St. Patrick’s Day.

A warm January and a cold March mean the area has more snow on the ground than usual, while elsewhere in Watertown signs of spring are irrepressible despite the recent cold snap.

“Look up and it’s all white,” said owner Timothy L. McAtee. “Look out from the top of the hill and it’s all brown.”

Despite abnormally low temperatures, the sky was mostly clear Sunday — conditions Mr. McAtee described as ideal for the final day at the ski area, 23682 County Route 67.

“We’re running all three lifts and tubing is open,” he said. “We’re fully operational. You always try to end it on a good-weather day. With a winter this cloudy, any sunshine feels good.”

Though the weather was welcome, in some ways it was too little too late.

“If this were December 17 and I had this much snow and this weather, I would be packed,” Mr. McAtee said.

The area experienced high winds, heavy rain and temperatures in the 60s during three thaws in December and January.

“I wish we could have had a January like this March,” Mr. McAtee said.

Because of that, the area ran its snow machines full bore when colder temperatures came around. It was all part of an effort to gain back ground lost last season when unseasonably warm conditions kept expenses high and revenue low.

All things considered, this year was much better than last year, which Mr. McAtee said was the worst he’s seen since he took over the business before the 1982-83 season.

“I spent a lot of sleepless nights that winter and spring thinking, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’” he said.

Mr. McAtee is optimistic his mini-resort will continue to bounce back. And even though the slopes are now closed, the work will continue.

Equipment is put away, lifts are serviced and the slopes, which can be mowed only when they are dry, are trimmed in the spring, summer and early fall.

And with preparations for next season starting around Labor Day, “before you know it, it’s time to start getting ready for the winter again,” Mr. McAtee said.

Season passes go on sale at that time, and the business holds a swap shop where skiers and snowboarders can purchase new and used items starting the first weekend in November. And then, a week or so later, the area starts making snow before opening in mid-December.

It’s part of a perpetual cycle that always seems to generate renewed interest.

“Every ski season has huge promise,” Mr. McAtee said.

And the change in seasons is good given that, to a large extent, his customers determine when the area opens and closes as interest waxes and wanes with the season’s start and end.

“I’d just like to thank the community — all the people who came out,” Mr. McAtee said. “We had some great skiing. Have a good spring and summer and get excited for next season.”

For Mr. McAtee, however, it was back to work. Sort of.

Even though it was the last day of the season, he had his ski boots on, ready to head out onto the slopes with an improperly attached lift pass to see if his staff would notice anything amiss.

Why? “To have a little fun,” he said.

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