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Balmy Weather Takes its Toll on Mid-Atlantic Skiing
By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor
January 8, 2007

The ski season was off to a reasonable start: in North Carolina, the Cataloochee Ski Area surprised many by opening on November 4, 2006, earlier than any other resort in the mid-Atlantic. Snowshoe Mountain Resort opened on Thanksgiving Day, and by late November and early December, virtually all resorts in the region commenced snowmaking in earnest. Resorts big and small began launching their season during the first two weeks of December. And then, the cold air swirled away and disappeared from the region, as if frightened away by an unseen force -; global warming, or perhaps El Nino, theorized many skiers as they looked forlornly at quickly-melting slopes. Since mid-December, sustained cold weather hasn’t returned. The long warm spell is having a profound effect on the ski industry, from North Carolina up to New England. But the effect has varied from resort to resort.

Resorts at higher elevations have fared better.

“Here at Snowshoe Mountain we have been able to make snow over 40 nights this winter and have 30 trails open,” said Snowshoe’s Andrea Smith. “An average of nine to ten thousand guests per day helped Snowshoe post a record holiday season over the past few weeks.”

Bill Rock, Snowshoe's General Manager, says that Snowshoe had the best Christmas week in the history of the resort, with visits 15% ahead of last year.  Snowshoe's high elevation has sheltered it from the warmer temperatures plaguing most mid-Atlantic resorts.
Bill Rock, Steve Farmer, and Ed Galford open Snowshoe’s newest lift, the Soaring Eagle Express, on December 29, 2006. Bill Rock, Snowshoe’s General Manager, says that Snowshoe had the best Christmas week in the history of the resort, with visits 15% ahead of last year. Snowshoe’s high elevation has sheltered it from the warmer temperatures plaguing most mid-Atlantic resorts. Photo provided by Snowshoe Mountain Resort.

Snowshoe credits their 4,800-foot elevation, snowmaking capability, and off-slope activities with these record numbers. But while Snowshoe’s numbers are up, other resorts’ numbers are most definitely down, and Snowshoe is undoubtedly benefitting from the resulting decrease in competition. Some resorts close to Washington, D.C., such as Pennsylvania’s Whitetail and Liberty Mountain Resorts, had to shut down before the Christmas holiday, shortly after opening for the season. They have yet to re-open. Only a few resorts remain open in Pennsylvania, and with limited conditions. No snow means no visitors, and no revenue. Losing the period between Christmas and Martin Luther King Day means that 1/3 of the season’s revenue could be lost, unless skier traffic picks up in the latter part of the season. Ski resorts hire a significant number of temporary workers during the winter months, and when the slopes are closed, these workers do not receive a paycheck; the income they are losing will not be recouped if and when the season turns around.

According to a story in the Washington Post, local retail shops are also hurting from the extended mild spell, which the Post reports is the bleakest in 25 years. Shops such as Ski Center, Princeton Sports, and Ski Chalet are seeing lower sales of ski equipment and clothing this season.

Resorts such as Wisp, Seven Springs, and Snowshoe have offered reasonable early-season skiing, making snow periodically as the temperature dipped below freezing and relying on talented groomers to preserve and shift snow around, covering up bare spots. Seven Springs Resort even trucked snow from the bottom of its slopes to the top, giving groomers a chance to spread it out along the slope.

Every resort official and employee is undoubtedly keeping a close eye on the weather forecast and, for the first time in a long while, it is starting to look promising. Low temperatures will be dipping below freezing by Tuesday night, and all local resorts should have at least three or four nights to make snow. That should be enough for many closed resorts to re-open, and open resorts to fortify and expand open terrain. Improvements in snowmaking in recent years, such as the installation of high-efficiency fan guns and computerized control, will allow resorts to quickly make high-quality snow. By next weekend, temperatures might climb again, although nowhere near the 60’s and 70’s they reached in recent days. Although long-term forecasts in this region are notoriously finicky, some forecasters, such as AccuWeather and CapitalWeather.com, predict that temperatures could plunge towards the third week in January.

That could salvage the ski season. And, winter sports enthusiasts should also take comfort in the fact that many of the region’s largest snowstorms have occurred in February and March -; so while Colorado may have been getting most of the natural snow so far this season, there still could be plenty of snow storms in the mid-Atlantic region.

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Clay Baker
11 years ago
While this year’s start to the season has been dreadful, I think the owners/operators of the local resorts need to be commended for doing everything they can to keep terrain open. I have also been very impressed with the cheerfulness and attitudes of the workers at these resorts during such trying times. Skiers are angry and frustrated and their livelihoods aren’t on the line. Every resort worker that I have interacted with has been upbeat and plesant - something us skiers may want to take a lesson from.
Tucker
11 years ago
You got to play with the cards your delt…and don’t be a dirt chicken…
Iwan Fuchs
11 years ago
we have the same issue in the Alps. I hope we all will get some. We just got some over Christmas but need still a few Meters.
But we are still very happy compared with some other resorts. we still have the glacier.
Connie Lawn
11 years ago
It is getting colder, but this is a terrible situation. Hope we all get out there and support our local resorts when they open again. I feel so sorry for the owners, workers, volunteers, and all of us. Happy New Year? Yours, Connie
Rafael
11 years ago
Think positive. The lack of early snow may become a great late season. Take Snowshoe…it averages 180 inches a season. It has gotten 13” so far. Even if they have a poor season of 120 inches that means that between now and the end of March (2 and 1/2 months) they may get 107 inches…and that is a lot of pow’!
birdmon fowler
11 years ago
Hold on to your hats, this week is the first of 4 artic dumps of air. Next week looks like low of 20 to mid teens. wked of jan 21 looks like more terrain to open. pic of artic jet on skidome.org

And thanks to the Resorts, making investment in snowmaking. And to the snowmaking crews.

get em waxed and ready.
happy happy joy joy
Birdmon
Shout it from a mountaintop.
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