Editor’s Note: Earlier this week, DCSki Columnist John Sherwood participated in a conference call with several Intrawest managers about the state-of-affairs at Snowshoe Mountain Resort after what has been one of the warmest Decembers in recent memory. The call was hosted by Vice President and Snowshoe General Manager, Bruce Pettit, and Steve Rice, Intrawest Corporation’s Senior Vice President for East Coast operations. Intrawest owns ten major North American ski resorts including Snowshoe, Stratton, and Tremblant in the East, and Mammoth and Whistler/Blackcomb in the West.
More than a full month after the originally planned opening date of November 21, Snowshoe Mountain Resort finally will open for skiing and riding this Saturday, December 22. The resort anticipates having 7 trails and 3 lifts open, and top-to-bottom skiing at both the Snowshoe and Silver Creek areas. The following trails will be open: Skidder, Cross Cut, Gandy Dancer, Cant Hook, Powdermonkey, Green Horn and Lower Mountaineer. The following lifts will be running: Skidder, and Grabhammer lifts at Snowshoe, and the Mountaineer lift at Silver Creek.
Snowshoe received an inch of natural snow on Tuesday, and three inches early Thursday morning. On Wednesday night, temperatures actually dropped to 15 degrees. As of 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, December 20, over 150 guns were at work preparing the slopes for this weekend, putting out over 2,500 tons of snow per hour. With more cold weather in store, these snowguns may not be turned off for a long time.
According to Bruce Pettit, the Snowshoe General Manager, “December 22 is the latest opening date in the history of the resort. However, Snowshoe may be the only resort in the Mid-Atlantic to have any terrain open during the Christmas holidays.”
When asked if pent up demand for skiing will transform Snowshoe’s limited terrain into something resembling the beltway this weekend, Pettit provided some valuable information on what people can expect as far as crowds are concerned.
“Normally, our lodging is 65 percent booked during the Christmas Holiday period. This year we are only 45 percent booked. Furthermore, typically 92 percent of our skiers stay on the mountain, and only 5-8 percent can be defined as day trippers. In other words, this weekend shouldn’t be too crowded, but New Year’s weekend may be a very different story.”
By that point, however, cold weather and perhaps some more natural snow should allow the resort to open up enough additional terrain to handle the excess demand. Snowshoe also hopes to open some of its 40 kilometers of Nordic terrain as well as its snowboard terrain park by the New Year’s eve weekend.
As for the economic impact of the warm December on one of West Virginia’s largest private employers, Pettit pointed out that Snowshoe along with most Mid-Atlantic resorts don’t depend on most of December to balance the books.
“The period before Christmas is historically a slow time -; 3-5 percent of the yearly business. From Christmas to early March is when we make hay,” he explained.
Overall, Snowshoe employs between 1,200 and 1,300 people during the height of the winter season.
Steve Rice, the Intrawest East Coast manager, added that this season could still be profitable for the East Coast and Mid-Atlantic.
“9-11 injected a lot of caution into openings. We did not know what the impact would be so we were conservative on spending,” Rice said. “In the East, demand is actually up in terms of season pass and frequency card sales, as well as reservations. This could shape up to be the most profitable season in history if the weather does indeed turn cold as predicted. Ski retail stores have already seen a 15 percent increase in sales over last year for the October through December period.”
When asked about how important Snowshoe is in Intrawest’s galaxy of resorts, Rice noted that Snowshoe is in the top five percent of all North American resorts in terms of skier visits.
“In our corporation, [Snowshoe] ranks ahead of Stratton in terms of skier visits,” Rice explained.
Snowshoe had 473,000 visits last year - approximately 25,000 more than Stratton. Snowshoe ranks even higher in terms of profitability.
“Of the ten resorts owned by Intrawest, Snowshoe is a prominent resort in terms of profitability. The Southeast is the only region of the country which has seen consistent growth as measured by skier visits during 3 out of 3 of the past years. This region and the Mid-Atlantic are absolutely crucial to the industry writ large,” he said.
During the next 5 years, Snowshoe hopes to develop 1-2,000 acres of the 11,000 acres it currently owns, but the resort sees itself more as a portal to nature than a theme park.
“‘Forever Wild’ is our motto. We aim for rational, sustainable growth with a minimal impact upon our natural surroundings. People come here to enjoy nature and we intend to insure that nature is respected during all phases of development,” explained Rice.
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.
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