It was late January before winter turned serious in upstate New York, but before that —including the lucrative Christmas school break — rain fell instead of snow and warm temperatures thwarted even snowmakers. Skiers cried in frustration.
"Everybody was pretty much climbing the walls," said Maria Lattanzio, activities vice president for the New York Capital District Ski Council. Skiing, she said, is "kind of what we live for."
But should that weather pattern recur, some resort areas have alternatives.
In the Adirondack Mountain village of Lake Placid, it's skating, bobsledding and watching world-class ski jumpers, aerialists and figure skaters either at scheduled events or in training. Even in unseasonably warm spells, the refrigeration systems work, and evenings you can skate on the former Olympic oval overlooking Main Street in the village that hosted the Winter Games in 1932 and 1980.
"It's just a very nice vibe that goes on there at night," said Sandy Caligiore of the Olympic Regional Development Authority. "You've got restaurants right across the street in case you get hungry. There are hot drinks from the vendor on site."
Locals and visitors alike turn out to skate under the lights, he said. Public hours are 7-9 p.m. nightly from about mid-December to late March. Daytime sessions are added during the holidays.
Another family option in a too-warm winter is swimming — indoors.
In the eastern Adirondack foothills near Lake George, the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Waterpark is less than 25 miles from the Gore and West Mountain ski areas.
At Greek Peak Mountain Resort in central New York's Cortland, the Hope Lake indoor water park is under construction, scheduled to open next year.
At Plattekill Mountain at the edge of the Catskills in Delaware County, mountain biking is the warm weather mainstay and lasts until Nov. 11. Sometimes the cyclists have had to put on chains and race on the snow, Danielle Vajtay said. Less than a month later, on Dec. 8, there's a 99 percent chance that skiing will begin, she said.
"We have a whole beginner area with its own separate lift where we do all of our beginner lessons. It's a 600-foot trail. We use it as a snow-tube trail at night," Vajtay said. "It's very easy to bury in snow even if you've got just a couple of cold nights."
They will make and pack so much snow there that it will stay open while they work on the other 35 trails.
Scott Brandi, executive director of Ski Areas of New York, said snowmaking technology has improved so much that skiers in the city should always call or check online, even when the weather appears impossibly warm outside their windows. He noted that winter is long in the Northeast, with limited outdoor options for children, and parents should use every opportunity "to get them away from those damn video games."
At Whiteface Mountain, 10 miles north of Lake Placid, snowmaking can start weeks before winter.
"We'll look on November 1st and on that day we'll see what the long-range forecast is. If it looks agreeable we'll start making snow right after the first," Caligiore said. "It's always a case of what's the prudent thing to do. If we get three cold days and it goes up to 60, that doesn't make sense."
Most ski areas make snow, and some skiers will drive hours to find it, even when there are limited trails open. Others will wait, and if this season is anything like the last, good snow will follow. A Feb. 14 storm pummeled upstate New York with two to three feet of snow.
"Once we got that Valentine's Day dump that just lit the season right up," she said. "The late season conditions were absolutely phenomenal."
And in most resort towns, there are other ways to spend your money.
"You can go out and eat, drink, shop, whatever," Lattanzio said. "There's always shopping."