After the snow on its trails thawed four separate times this winter, Wisp Resort in McHenry closed for the season on Sunday, blaming "historic, unseasonably warm rainy weather" for an early end to skiing, ice skating and snow tubing at the popular Western Maryland resort.
The Baltimore region has seen less than an inch of snowfall all winter, and temperatures in the 50s, 60s and 70s in recent weeks have made February one of the warmest on record, according to the National Weather Service. The second straight winter of warmer temperatures has melted snow from the runs and made filling chairlifts difficult.
While Marylanders across the state have emerged to bask in the unseasonably warm weather, the region's wintertime attractions have been weathering the warmth.
"The forecast for the next several days calls for continued high temperatures in the upper 50's with more rain. There is no sign of any winter weather over the next several weeks," Wisp's announcement said. "Thanks to all who have done a stellar job in making the most we could out of a difficult season."
Ski resorts have been desperate for temperatures to drop for weeks so they can re-pack their brown, patchy slopes with man-made snow to prolong the winter. Many have closed trails; Wisp reduced skiing hours before announcing its closure. Those that offer other outdoor entertainment in the off season have begun to do so.
"It's pretty much spring conditions," Wisp spokeswoman Lori Zaloga said. "At this point we've rebuilt our snowpack three different times. ... I've been here 13 years and I've never experienced a February like this."
Wisp's owner, Pacific Group Resorts, gave season pass holders six complimentary tickets for use at its other resorts, Zaloga said, such as Ragged Mountain in New Hampshire and Mount Washington in British Columbia, Canada.
"While we're sitting here looking at melting snow, they're getting feet of snow," she said.
For nearly 20 years, police crews have carried chainsaws out onto the frozen Deep Creek Lake nearby to carve out the ice — some years a foot thick — to make way for a popular charity sprint into the bitterly frigid February water.
No chainsaws were needed for this year's Deep Creek Dunk. The lake didn't freeze.
"The joke has been made several times," said Sean Cassell, a spokesman for Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in West Virginia: "The kayakers are having a wonderful winter."
Sixty-degree temperatures over Presidents Day Weekend forced the town of Oakland in Western Maryland to postpone its Winter Fest celebration so the central feature — dozens of ice sculptures — wouldn't melt by mid-afternoon.
Besides, frozen cantaloupe bowling isn't nearly as fun if the bowling ball gets soft.
"The forecast was just entirely too warm," said Michelle Ross, the town's business coordinator. "The sculptor called me and said, 'This isn't going to work.'"
Organizers postponed the festivities a week in hopes of colder weather, but they planned to put the ice sculptures out this weekend whether they get it or not.
"Hell or high water, that's how it's going to be," Ross said.
Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pa., closed eight of its 23 trails Monday, although several visitors have been hitting the links at the golf course in the last week, said Katrina Gayman, director of marketing and sales.
Whitetail has invested millions of dollars in snow-making equipment, with snow guns awaiting any temperature dip to start blasting flakes onto the trails. To prepare for the current warm spell, officials let the equipment run for 40 hours straight — enough for more than a foot of snow, Gayman said.
"We're not ready to close down yet, so if there's any opportunity to make more snow, when we see an opening, we will do it," she said.
The early spring temperatures have closed Limelight, one of the marquee runs down the mountain, but Whitetail has already been open longer than last year, when it opened late due to warm temperatures and the season lasted only 66 days.
"We're hoping this is cyclical," Gayman said of the warm weather.
The trails at Roundtop Mountain Resort in Lewisberry, Pa., were in decent enough shape to host the Pennsylvania Alpine Racing Association's U-12 State Championship this weekend, according to Chris Dudding, marketing director.
Fifteen of Roundtop's 21 slopes remained open Monday, with a 21-inch base of snow. The resort had roughly the same attendance numbers over Presidents Day Weekend as it did over the same weekend the previous year, Dudding said.
"We are holding up pretty well," he said in an email. "Would we enjoy some colder weather? Sure! Are we still having fun playing the cards we have been dealt? Absolutely."
Visitors skated through a film of water last week on the ice rink at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden in Washington, many of them forgoing their heavy winter coats, general manager John Connor said. The rink will remain open until March 12.
"We have some high school kids thoroughly enjoying themselves, sliding around in the water," he said.
Three other outdoor rinks in the area, in Silver Spring, Rockville and Pentagon Row, are using a "proprietary product" to keep the ice cold and the rinks open, said Lance Curran, managing partner at Tri-State Ice Management in Annapolis, which owns them.
Curran wouldn't say whether the product is some type of equipment under the ice or a chemical solution being applied to it, but he said the rinks don't sweat under the sun's glare, much less turn into puddles.
The Silver Spring rink will be open until March 26; Pentagon Row until March 19; and Rockville until March 12. As long as the ice stays firm, he said, most skaters prefer the warmer temperatures.
"Only a small percentage of people like to bundle up in hats and gloves," he said.
This year's Deep Creek Dunk was a chance for less adventurous participants to take the dip and earn their bragging rights. But most of those who take the dip are out-of-towners, many of them come to ski or snowboard at Wisp, said Nate Garland, chief development officer for Special Olympics Maryland.
The event, co-hosted by the Maryland State Police and Natural Resources Police, raises about $150,000 per year for the Special Olympics, he said. Registrations for the dunk are down about 20 percent this year, he said.
"If people aren't thinking snow, they aren't heading out," Garland said.
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