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Keeping up with Old Man Winter

COPing WITH All the SNOW: Businesses, school districts and area road agents weigh in on the challenges and benefits of this year’s snowfall

  • David Morrill shovels the sidewalk in front of the Hancock Market on Tuesday after the latest storm, which at least dropped light, soft snow.
  • David Morrill shovels the sidewalk in front of the Hancock Market on Tuesday after the latest storm, which at least dropped light, soft snow.
  • David Morrill shovels the sidewalk in front of the Hancock Market on Tuesday after the latest storm, which at least dropped light, soft snow.
  • David Morrill shovels the sidewalk in front of the Hancock Market on Tuesday after the latest storm, which at least dropped light, soft snow.
  • Peterborough Elementary School Kindergarten Class sledding and playing in the snow.
  • Peterborough Elementary School Kindergarten Class sledding and playing in the snow.
  • Peterborough Elementary School Kindergarten Class sledding and playing in the snow.
  • Peterborough Elementary School Kindergarten Class sledding and playing in the snow.
  • Peterborough Elementary School Kindergarten Class sledding and playing in the snow.

The snow keeps falling, but businesspeople in the region aren’t complaining. Some school officials are, though, as they struggle with decisions on how soon to call a snow day and how to make up canceled athletic events before the winter sports season ends. And area road agents are keeping a close eye on both weather forecasts and budgets as they struggle to keep up with each new blast of winter.

Snow’s good for business

Icy roads and falling snow means many people are shopping locally, said Roger Murry, butcher at the Hancock Market in Hancock, on Wednesday.

“When the snow is falling and roads are slippery, people don’t want to venture out,” he said.

Murry has been working at the market for about two years and this winter, he said, has been busier than usual.

“We are selling a little bit of everything.”

Especially roasts, he added.

“It’s nice to warm the house up with a good roast.”

A few miles down the road in Peterborough, Belletetes hardware and building supply store only had two snow blowers left on Wednesday, and the store was almost out of salt, calcium, shovels and sand. But, Henry Taylor who has worked at Belletetes since 1985, isn’t worried.

“We will be getting in a shipment of more shovels and chemicals to melt the snow this Friday,” he said, “and if we need more snow blowers, we can get them from one of our other stores.”

At Belletetes, snow is good for business.

“We rely on snow, similar to ski areas,” Taylor said.

Since much of Belletetes’ business comes from the sale of hardware items and lumber, the months of February and March are typically slow. The sale of snow blowers, shovels and accessories helps offset the fact that construction business is down, Taylor said.

Over in Jaffrey at Ronnie’s Small Engine Repair, owner Brian Boutwell is seeing a steady flow of damaged snowblowers.

“The more snow we get, the more repairs we get and the more machines just break down,” he said.

Instead of buying a new machine when late-season snow hits, Boutwell said, most people just try to keep their snowblowers running.

“This time of year people just want to limp the machines along and plan on buying a new one next year.”

Boutwell, who has owned the business for the past 10 years, said this winter’s snowfall has been good for business because it has been steady. Steady snow means cracked gear cases, burning belts and stripped cables on snowblowers, the “normal wear and tear” that brings in repeat customers.

At Pelletier’s Sports in Jaffrey, manager Scott Pelletier has seen the typical winter items selling well: gloves, long underwear, handwarmers and bait for ice-fishing. People are also coming into register snowmobiles and sharpen ice-skates. However, Pelletier said, a heavy snow storm doesn’t directly impact his business as much as one might think.

“Most people have already purchased what they need for the season [of ice-fishing],” he said.

Pelletier said he sells a lot of new kayaks, canoes, guns and bows at this time of year, which he thinks is unrelated to the weather.

“It’s just one of the oddball things,” he said. “This time of year, people are getting tax returns and coming in to buy new things for the upcoming season that they couldn’t afford last year.”

All this snow is like “frosting on the cake,” for Cathy Gombas, administrative manager at Crotched Mountain Ski and Ride in Bennington. Gombas said the heavy snow all means Crotched Mountain doesn’t need to spend additional money on firing fan guns or pumping water to make snow.

Since the trails are 100 percent open, and the snow is deep, Gombas said people aren’t just skiing in the morning, but are filtering in all day and staying later.

Last weekend, Windblown Cross Country Skiing and Snowshoeing in New Ipswich saw the largest number of skiers it has seen all season, according to Iris Waitt, manager of the ski shop. Over the holiday weekend, 1,500 people visited the facility. On a typical weekend day, 400 to 500 people visit Windblown; last Sunday, 633 people visited.

Windblown does not have the capability to make snow, so it relies completely on natural snow. Although it feels like a lot has fallen, Waitt said there wasn’t much snow in January. Waitt said this season there has also been a cycle of snowfall and then warmer temperatures leading to snow melt. This pattern of warming and then thawing isn’t good for her business. But Waitt is hoping this season, like last year, will be a long one.

“We are doing our snow dances,” she joked.

In the schools

Local school administrators say the snow hasn’t had a significant impact, because schedules are built with the expectation that a certain number of snow days will be needed.

The ConVal district has had five snow days this school year, and also an unusual early-release day on Tuesday, while the Jaffrey-Rindge district has had three snow days and two early releases.

“It hasn’t been overwhelming,” said Jaffrey-Rindge Superintendent Jim O’Neill. “I don’t see any major impact at this point. We’ll add days at the end of the year if we need to.”

If no more snow days are needed, ConVal and Jaffrey-Rindge will both have their last day of classes on June 20, a Friday.

The Mascenic School District has had six snow days and one two-hour delay. Five snow days are built into the school district’s calendar, so the last day of school this year will now be on June 10, according to the district’s website.

“The quantity [of snow] has been sizable, but not historic,” said ConVal Superintendent Brendan Minnihan. “The timing has been terrible. You’re trying to make decisions about a storm that hasn’t happened yet.”

Minnihan said he attempts to determine whether to close school the night before a storm is expected to hit, which gives more notice to students, parents and teachers than an early morning phone call.

“I’ve heard that it’s helpful having the advance notice when possible,” he said.

Both districts are calculating their school days on an hourly basis when it comes to meeting state standards, which gives a bit more flexibility in meeting state minimum standards. But O’Neill said Jaffrey-Rindge still schedules 177 days for teachers and students to be together in classrooms.

“We could in theory not go 177 days, but we have no plans to do that,” he said.

Teachers in both districts are under contract for a certain number of days on the job. Minnihan said the snow days for ConVal will mean teachers will do two additional days of professional development work. There are a number of options for when that work would be done, he said, including adding days for teachers at the end of the school year after students are finished.

Minnihan said there were no plans to cut into winter or spring vacations if more snow falls.

“It’s hard on families to do that,” he said. “People often have made plans. Whenever possible, we try to avoid that.”

Both superintendents said the snow hasn’t been a significant distraction to students.

“I don’t believe the snow days have that big an impact on what’s going on in the classroom,” O’Neill said. “One or two days are fine; it’s kind of a nice break. There have been years when I’ve had five by now.”

“When we did the early release, kids were focused in their classes, because they knew what the plan was for the day,” Minnihan said.

While snow days cause delays when it comes to academics, they can really play havoc when it comes to sports.

“We’re piling on road trips,”said ConVal Athletic Director Mark Swasey on Wednesday afternoon. “Today, we’ll be doing a basketball triple-header; boys JV at 4, varsity boys at 5:30, varsity girls at 7. Starting Friday, the girls will be playing four away games in one week.” By press time, snow conditions forced Wednesday’s triple-header to be rescheduled as well.

Swasey said some freshman or junior varsity games probably will not be rescheduled, but all varsity games must be played.

Swasey said the snow has made great conditions for the ski teams, but even there, the weather has been a challenge.

“We had a ski meet canceled because of snow. I thought that was ironic,” he said.

On the roads

Municipal road agents were spending the hours before the start of the storm on Wednesday pushing snow piles that were blocking lines of sight for cars and preparing for yet more snow.

“I would say it’s been a typical New England winter,” said Thomas Plourde, the Greenville road agent. Greenville uses a five-year average of its expenditures to form the yearly budget, said Plourde. This year might be tighter than others in terms of meeting that budget, he said, but not outside expectations. However, it is hard to tell with the winter not yet over and with the upcoming November and December still to be accounted for.

“It’s pretty much a guessing game,” Plourde said. “We’re not weathermen, and even the weathermen can’t tell you what the weather is going to be next month.”

A big cost for Greenville is materials, said Plourde, and that is the result of several smaller storms piling up.

“When you have a storm that’s four or five inches, you use as much sand and salt as if you got 14 inches of snow,” Plourde explained.

Temple Road Agent Tim Fiske said the department is currently on-budget when it comes to snow removal and plowing. He noted that there have been more than the usual number of storms occurring on the weekends, which racks up overtime hours. But he said the budget is balanced out because more storms have happened during regular daylight working hours than at night.

Fiske noted that even though the region has seen several significant snowfalls in close succession in the last few weeks, that’s not unusual for this portion of the winter.

“February is a snowy month,” he said. “It was the same last year. We didn’t get anything in January, and in February it snowed half the month, and that’s pretty typical.”

He noted that most people seem to notice the February storms more because as spring approaches, people are anticipating the warmer weather.

“They’re looking at the light at the end of the tunnel. Everyone’s getting itchy and not liking it,” he said.

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