Old Man Winter has not always cooperated with skiers in southern New York.
With the exception of the last few days, winter temperatures have been virtually non-existent, compounding problems for Section 1 high school skiers.
Season-opening meets were postponed this week.
But on Thursday, Thunder Ridge in Patterson opened for the first time this season and was mobbed with skiers and snowboarders, including some Section 1 skiers.
With the section’s traditional other location, Tuxedo Ridge, shuttered for at least this season, high school skiers will also use Campgaw Mountain in Mahwah, New Jersey. It also opened Thursday.
It won’t be until next week, though, that gates will be set up for actual race training and racing at either location, since a deeper base of snow is required.
“You can go to Canada. No one is putting up gates. Everybody got caught by this,” said Carmel resident Dean Ryder, who has owned Thunder Ridge with his brother, Wayne, for more than 20 years.
The Ryders, who took over management of their ski area just last year and have made multiple changes – from significant lodge upgrades to retooled groomers and renovated chairlifts – had planned to open Thunder Ridge mid-December.
“It’s the warmest fall I can remember,” said Ryder, who began skiing at Thunder Ridge, then named Birch Hill, back in the mid-1950s.
“The weather has been a struggle,” said Campgaw sports director Andrew Kattermann, who said Campgaw started making snow last Friday.
“One thousand times a day, kids are coming in and asking me (when we’re going to ski). This has never happened in all the years I’ve been coaching,” Bronxville’s 21-year coach, Jim Agnello, said earlier this week. “We’ve never not been able to start the season. We’ve had warm winters, where a bunch of meets get canceled. But we’ve never had this situation where literally nothing is going on.”
Bronxville, which in past years had stopped dry-land training before the holidays, finally got on snow Thursday, with Agnello reporting good conditions at Campgaw. The Broncos’ first meet is now slated for Wednesday.
Horace Mann, the Bronx high school that competes with Section 1 under the section’s Friends and Neighbors policy, finally got on the slopes at Thunder Ridge Thursday.
“They did a great job. It’s unbelievable,” Horace Mann coach Rawlins Troop said of Thunder Ridge’s snowmaking.
Still, he’s worried about next week. Noting that his 27-member team is now scheduled to race for the first time Monday, he pointed to Sunday’s rainy forecast and said, “I don’t see that happening.”
But the biggest struggle with Section 1 skiing may not be the weather. Teams from Rockland are complaining about having to travel to Thunder Ridge this season and teams from northern Westchester and Putnam are less than happy about having to compete in New Jersey.
In previous years, schools did all their racing at either Tuxedo Ridge in Orange County’s Tuxedo Park or at Thunder Ridge.
But Section 1 decided this year that all slalom races would be held at Thunder Ridge and all giant slalom races at Campgaw.
Section 1 Northern League ski coordinator Jane Singh, who coaches Fox Lane, has defended the move, saying that the change will provide an even playing field for selections to the Section 1 championship at Hunter Mountain, since kids will be skiing on the same terrain. She also maintains that Campgaw’s GS course is superior to Thunder Ridge’s and Thunder Ridge’s slalom course is superior to Campgaw’s.
But the location shift means some top skiers won’t go to sectionals.
For instance, coach Wendell Hala, who expects to carry 28-30 kids on his Suffern High team, said many of his skiers won’t compete in slalom at all this year because they would be on the bus between three and four hours for each slalom meet. At this point, each team is scheduled to do four slalom meets and two GS meets.
“I think I counted 10 kids who said they’re willing to go up. But more than half of my team can’t do it because of academics. It’s just too much,” Hala said. “We probably won’t get up there until 5 and won’t start (racing) until 6 and won’t get back until well after 10. … One girl in particular (who was in sectionals last year) has six AP classes. No way she can do it.”
“I’m supporting my kids’ decision,” Hala added. “I’m not going to force them. That’s just not right. ADs (athletic directors), including my own, tried to fight this, to no avail. It looks to me like we don’t have much of a say, including ADs. My biggest concern is losing a lot of my team next year if this stays the same. They may look to other sports or do nothing. It’s so demanding on them to travel so far.”
The other problem is cost. Yorktown coach Wendy Nufer said Yorktown skiers and the Yorktown district combine to pay for skiing but because using Campgaw and Thunder Ridge was going to cost three times as much as it cost Yorktown to use just Tuxedo Ridge, the school is cutting back on slope practices.
Teams like Yorktown were already slated to do far fewer races this season. In slalom, Yorktown had eight races in 2015.
Agnello said Bronxville, which has 40 skiers, was looking at a $6,000 increase in ski costs until Section 1 agreed to kick in money to offset everyone’s costs. Now it’s still a few thousand dollars more, which the district will have to cover.
“Some schools are just going to cut back and not allow every kid to race every race,” Agnello said. “Some schools can’t move money from basketball to this or that.”
“I think you’re going to see more coaches quit at the end of this year who are very unhappy,” Agnello said, adding of the venue changes, “there’s no rational reason. There’s no anything.”