Skiers frolic east and west after record snowfall

— -- When political eyes turned to New Hampshire for this week's presidential primary, they were greeted by sunny skies and shirt-sleeve temperatures — not an ideal endorsement for area ski resorts, concedes Ski New Hampshire's Karl Stone.

"But," Stone says, "we did have plenty of deep snowbanks in the background."

A balmy January thaw and long-term predictions of warmer winters notwithstanding, ski resorts in New England and across the West are celebrating the best conditions in years.

Many New England resorts logged record or near-record snowfalls in December, a sharp contrast to last season, when significant snow didn't arrive until mid-February, says Mike Doyle, skiing guide for

Along the West Coast, skiers, snowboarders and other winter-sports enthusiasts are cheering what has been dubbed the "Storm of the Century," a series of three Pacific blasts that pummeled mountain resorts from British Columbia to Southern California last weekend.

In Northern California's Sierra Nevada, the storm system dumped up to 11 feet of white stuff at the ski resorts ringing Lake Tahoe, with a fourth storm delivering more than a foot this week.

"The change in the mountain over the past week has been phenomenal," says Rachael Woods of Lake Tahoe's Alpine Meadows and Homewood resorts.

Skiing at Oregon's Mount Bachelor, a beneficiary of this year's La Niña weather pattern that often brings more precipitation than usual to the Pacific Northwest, is "the best I've ever seen," says Ian Hodge, a 30-year resident of nearby Bend.

Rocky Mountain resorts are racking up their own impressive numbers. A storm this week dropped 3 to 4 feet on Utah's Wasatch Range, while Aspen, Colo., already has reached its January snowfall average of 45 inches.

"These are equal-opportunity storms, blanketing the entire West," says Dan Sherman of Aspen-based tour packager, where sales for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend Jan. 21 are up nearly 20% from last year.

The downside to the prodigious snowfalls: a mounting risk of avalanches.

So far this winter, according to the website, 14 avalanche deaths have been reported in the USA. The national average for a season, which can extend into early spring, is about 25.

Last Friday, a 13-year-old hiker in a national forest northeast of Seattle became the ninth avalanche victim in Washington this season, which is shaping up to be among the state's deadliest.