Saturday at Hilltop Ski Area draws a modest crowd. Families and begininer skiers start cruising down the slopes at about 10 in the morning. That's about the same time Bob Johnson takes the snow cat to groom the slopes. The enclosed tracked machine has a blade on the front and pulls an attachment behind that makes skiied out snow fresh.
"The season started out really good," Hilltop CEO Steve Remme said. The ski area makes snow at the beginning of the season. Remme said that base helped it to stay open even during January's rain storms.
After a lot of the snow melted, February has been an unusually dry month. Climate data from the National Weather Service shows Anchorage gets an average of 10 inches of snow in February. Halfway through the month, there has only been one inch.
Those working at the ski area say conditions haven't been that bad. Lift Operator, Brad Bovey admits, "well, more is better." Remme said it's just hard to get people to come out when they don't see fresh snow in Anchorage. "A lot of people didn't think there was any snow because when you look in your yard, there's no snow, so it's been kind of slow the last few weeks."
Remme compared the risks involved in running a ski area to agriculture, "If it doesn't rain you're crop doesn't come in so in our case if it doesn't snow, the crop doesn't come in," he said.
Out on the groomer, Johnson said this year isn't anything to worry about. He's seen low snow years in the past. Winter isn't over yet and both Remme and Johnson prefer to be optimists. Remme said, "You get used to it and roll with the punches." He's looking forward to a good spring break. They're both hoping for the best knowing mother nature brings surprises.
Another local business that makes money from a lot of snowfall is Alaska Snow Removal. President, Tabb Thoms said at their peak, they've had over 200 people working to remove snow from sites around town, now it's more like 40 people. He said it can be hard to have personnel who don't have enough work. The business is diversified to try to handle the difference. This year has been an especially icy year. That means his crews have dropped almost three times the average amount of sand to keep the roads and sidewalks safe to walk on.