In November of 1995, Intrawest Corporation purchased West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based resort and real estate developer - which owns resorts such as Colorado’s Copper, Vermont’s Stratton, and Canada’s Whistler/Blackcomb - had big plans in store for Snowshoe. Those plans began to come to fruition last summer, as Intrawest pumped $12 million into the resort, adding a high-speed detachable quad, increasing snowmaking capacity, and adding a tubing hill.
“There is a very different feel to publicity about the mountain,” said John Menocal, a property owner at Snowshoe for eight years and a Courtesy Patroller for six.
“It all seems to be done in a much classier way. This speaks to the new style of the new owners. They have a focus and know how to build a resort that has class,” he added.
Indeed, Intrawest has prided itself on building and developing classy resorts. The company is currently developing nine resorts, including New Jersey’s Vernon Valley/Great Gorge, which it acquired earlier this year.
Another recent addition to Intrawest’s portfolio is California’s Mammoth Mountain. Mammoth, one of the busiest and largest ski areas in the nation, was privately owned by founder Dave McCoy for over fifty years. McCoy struggled over the years to develop Mammoth, putting profits back into the resort while pioneering innovations in lift equipment design. McCoy’s efforts over the years have transformed him into a legend in the ski industry. In recent years, McCoy began to look towards retirement, and realized the future development and prosperity of the resort would require help from an outside commercial developer.
Several large developers began to court McCoy, including the American Skiing Company (owner of Killington and other large resorts) and Intrawest. Ultimately, McCoy believed Intrawest would serve the best interests of Mammoth and its town. Intrawest acquired 33% ownership of the resort, while allowing McCoy to continue serving as the resort’s President. Last November, Intrawest increased its ownership to 51%; this past January, Intrawest increased its ownership to 58%, cementing majority ownership in the resort.
Back on the east coast, Intrawest has been busy charting a future for Snowshoe. This summer’s enhancements were merely the beginning of a multi-year expansion plan, which will include installation of new terrain and lifts, and a new mountain top village, Wildcat. The slopeside Wildcat will include retail shops, restaurants, and real estate offerings. In early March, Snowshoe launched Rimfire Lodge, the first development of Wildcat. By all accounts, the real estate launch was highly successful, with 60% of the mountain homes being purchased in just one weekend.
“We didn’t launch a building today, we launched a resort,” said Michael Coyle, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Intrawest, on the day of Rimfire Lodge’s launch. “Although millions of dollars have been poured into the improvement of ski facilities since Intrawest purchased [Snowshoe], this building is the true signal that renaissance has begun.”
According to Snowshoe’s Joe Stevens, the first phase of Rimfire Lodge will offer 75 mountain top units ranging from junior studios to 2 bedroom units. Price range is $90,000 to $290,000. The first phase of Wildcat Village is expected to be open by summer, 1999.
John Kirkman, a self-described “Snowshoe junkie,” has purchased three condominiums at Snowshoe since 1993, and considers his purchases to be an “outstanding investment.” He rents out his units and has been booked for most of the winter season.
“I actually fell upon Snowshoe by accident,” said Kirkman. “I was looking for a place away from the city and wanted cool summers and snowy winters. My instincts told me to look to the windward side of the mountains.” Kirkman came across Snowshoe, and discovered several inches of new snow on the ground, while nearby areas had no snow. “I was blown away by how beautiful it was up there,” he recalled.
Snowshoe’s location guarantees an abundance of snow each year. For example, while resorts close to D.C. suffered through one of the mildest winters on record this year, Snowshoe has received over 190 inches of natural snow - and the snow hasn’t stopped falling yet. The combination of natural snowfall and aggressive snowmaking (too aggressive, say some) have virtually guaranteed that visitors will be skiing and boarding at the resort well into April.
“While Snowshoe will never have the terrain of Summit County or Whistler, they will have years where the snowfall matches up,” said Kirkman. Snowshoe has a 10-year average annual snowfall of 180 inches.
Snowshoe’s location is excellent for snow, but its isolation makes it difficult to get to.
“Getting there can still be a challenge,” conceded Menocal. The resort is approximately 6.5 hours from Baltimore, and visitors must traverse winding, two-lane mountain roads to get to the resort. However, Kirkman comments that the “roads are very well-maintained in the winter.” There is some talk that the state of West Virginia may widen Route 55 to 4 lanes, although this is many years away.
Despite its isolation, Snowshoe is ideally situated within 500 miles of 1/4 of the East’s population, according to Bonnie Branciaroli, Marketing Director of WV Outdoors and WV Agency. Branciaroli, who publishes magazines that highlight recreation opportunities available in the state of West Virginia, describes West Virginia as a recreation mecca that has witnessed a large growth in tourist visits during the past few years. The popularity of four-season resorts such as Snowshoe has helped to fuel this increase.
Intrawest has already demonstrated its commitment to improving Snowshoe, and appears on track to transform Snowshoe into a world-class mountain resort.
“There are some pretty exciting times coming up,” concluded Menocal.
The Renaissance of Snowshoe: Plans for Future Enhancements
|Phase||New lifts and terrain||Snowmaking||Amenities|
Ballhooter detachable quad, Cub lift, Tubing lift
Cub Run (4 acres), new teaching terrain
|All new compressors - more water pumping capabilities, new snowmaking guns||Tubing area, night skiing at Silver Creek, new food court restaurant, terrain park, state-of-the-art telephone system, more skiing|
Cupp (detachable), Skidder (relocated)
20 acres of new terrain at Cupp Run, 2-4 acres new beginner terrain at Skidder
|New snowmaking for additional terrain at Cupp, new lake, more compressors (2)||More skiing|
North Cheat (detachable)
1st phase of Cheat system skiing - 20 acres
|Additional snowmaking for Cheat terrain||Shavers Center enlarged, warming Hut - basin side bottom of slopes, more skiing, Aqua Park/Sports Fun building|
South Cheat (fixed), Powder Monkey
2nd phase of Cheat system - 20 acres
|New compress (1), additional snowmaking for Cheat terrain||More employee housing, Golf school, more skiing|
Hawthorne (detachable), lengthen Widowmaker Lift to connect to Hawthorne
Hawthorne slope system - 30 acres
|New compressor, new additional snowmaking for terrain at Hawthorne||More skiing|
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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