Photo by Jarrett Baker.
Many students at the University of Florida chose to head to the Caribbean for Spring Break. While I enjoy the beach, sand and surf are nothing special for a Floridian. I wanted snow and skiing, which either meant spending $1,000 for a University of Florida sponsored five-day trip to Colorado, or paying much less and skiing with DCSki Columnist John Sherwood at Timberline Resort near Davis, West Virginia.
The conditions were epic: Timberline received 30 inches of snow during the week prior to our trip on 4-6 March. In fact, it was still snowing when we arrived at John’s condo. When we stopped for groceries at Davis, I noticed that the shopping cart was covered in snow! “I’ve never seen a grocery cart filled with snow,” I remarked to John. “It keeps the perishables from spoiling,” John snidely replied.
Timberline claims to be the Ski Capital of the Mid-Atlantic, but Snow Capital would be more fitting. Mid-Atlantic skiers often gripe about lackluster conditions at local resorts. However, anyone fortunate enough to ski Herz Mountain on March 5-6, 2005 will attest to the New England-like conditions.
The mountain was 100 percent open and sported a 34-64 inch base. Most of the trails were covered in soft powder on Saturday, and were fast and groomed on Sunday. I skied everything, including the trees, Off The Wall, The Drop, Salamander, and the pump house glades. Every skier with whom I spoke shared my sentiments about the stellar conditions. “I was in the Austrian Alps last week,” John said, “and I was worried that Timberline would seem like a mole hill by comparison, but it really skied huge this weekend because of all the open terrain and new snow.”
Despite prime conditions, turnout at Timberline was low and lift lines, virtually non-existent, especially at Silver Queen. A contingent of DCSki readers held a slopeside gathering on both days. On Saturday, queenoftheslopes, tromano, johnfmh, wgo and johnl skied together, but I missed joining that group because I was late getting to the summit at the arranged meeting time of 10 am. On Sunday, however, I skied with queenoftheslopes, tromano, Denis and JohnL.
As a southerner with limited skiing experience, I was a bit nervous about skiing with such an advanced group, but I managed to keep up and even get a good “bump clinic” from JohnL, one of the group’s best skiers. The natural bumped terrain on The Drop was a perfect place to improve my technique.
Denis explained the ins and outs of telemark skiing. After talking to Denis, I decided that I will probably “free my heel” if I ever move north and have more time to devote to winter sports. Prior to this weekend, I had never skied glades, but Denis gave me some great advice: “Aim for the spaces between the trees,” he said. I consider myself an advanced skier, and the DCSki readers I skied with were definitely experts. This group made even the toughest terrain seem easy. Following the lines of the group’s better skiers not only gave me a shot of much needed confidence but improved my technique.
None of the DCSki group complained about slow lifts. However, they did question the resort’s decision not to groom Off The Wall at least once at the beginning of the season. The Whales were “death trap kickers” with non-existent landing zones. These un-groomed snow mounds simply made much of the trail un-skiable.
When I picked up my ticket on Saturday and mentioned that I was a columnist at DCSki, the ticket lady immediately called Kristin Messenger, the resort’s spokesperson. Kristin asked me to stop by her office late in the day for an interview. “There are a lot of misperceptions about Timberline on the DCSki Forums that I’d like to clarify,” she said.
Criticisms of the resort abound on DCSki and elsewhere: the lifts are antiquated, snowmaking is inadequate, and management takes the profits from real estate sales and keeps it for personal use. Some of these concerns are valid: the resort possesses an antiquated infrastructure. However, the rumor that Timberline’s owner, Fred Reichle, is stuffing his pockets with profits from the recent land boom is false.
During our 15 minute interview, Kristin informed me that most of the recent lot sales on the mountain were sold by third parties, and that Timberline has profited very little from those sales. Timberline owns the ski lodge, slopes and supporting infrastructure, but very few land lots. “Every home sold at Timberline is based on the fact that there is a ski resort here,” Messenger said. “Timberline receives no money from most of those land sales.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, under the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act, recently granted permission for Fred Reichle, Timberline’s owner, to sell the 12 lots he owns, but thus far, he has only sold two lots.
Messenger informed me that most of the resort’s revenue comes from sales of lift tickets. “We try to put everything we have back into (the resort), that’s for sure,” said Fred “Doc” Reichle. It costs a lot of money to employ a full and part-time labor force of over 300 people.
Some DCSki readers gather together on the slopes of Timberline. Photo by John Sherwood.
The solution to Timberline’s capital shortfalls, Messenger says, is to apply for grants and tax incremented financing from property tax revenues. West Virginia distributed $266 million in improvement grants during 2003. If Timberline can acquire $3-$5 million in funding, the first improvement will be to install a high-speed detachable quad. Following the installation of the lift, any additional money will be invested in a new lodge and other improvements.
Timberline’s snowmaking system pales in comparison to the ones at Snowshoe or Seven Springs. However, a new vertical pump was installed last summer that increased uphill capacity by 25 percent. Reichle “hopes to increase snowmaking capacity even further this summer.”
The resort offers some of the best terrain in the mid-Atlantic. On a weekend like March 4-6, when Timberline was 100 percent open and thirty inches of powder were waiting in the trees to be tracked out, Herz Mountain resembled New England instead of West Virginia. If Messenger and Reichle can secure state financing for a high-speed detachable quad, Timberline will undoubtedly see increased skier visits and revenues, which will in turn finance additional improvement projects. “These improvements will have a very positive economic impact,” Messenger said. “Hopefully we will be able to present that (to the state) and get some results.”
It is my understanding that tax incremented financing from property tax revenues means that a county lends or grants money to a ski resort from its tax base (property taxes). The county, in this case Tucker County, would be betting that new improvements to Timberline would raise property values in the area, which would lead to increased tax revenues. Historically, such expectations have been realized in the ski industry but Timberline will have to work hard to sell the concept to a reluctant populace. Tucker desperarately needs more money for basic services and may be reluctant to enter into such a scheme without a clear guarantee of financial relief down the road.
A new lift at Timberline - Sounds like you were sold some snake oil. But I have an Idea - Instead of having to apply for grants to get things done why don't you just run the place like a business. Open up some more tree runs build some more terrain parks. Know what your paying clientel wants and give it to them. Know where the major demographics are in the industry. Here is a novel idea - hire some people who know the ski industry to help you make some decesions or better yet use those folks you already have on staff in the departments that actually do ski. Finally, market to skiers not boyscouts and church groups. If you are really depending on tickets sales, food sales, and other amenities for income(which I find hard to believe) then you have to know that you are going to make more money off of one paying "skiing" family than twenty boyscouts who get a discounted rate for tickets, food, and lodging. The problem at Timberline is the lack of knowledge of their product, the industy, and bad marketing and simple bad business.
The reality of the North American ski industry is that a resort needs to develop land lots to achieve decent profits. Ticket sales are not enough. Since Timberline does not have much land to develop, it needs to look elsewhere for financing. Tax incremented financing from property tax revenues is a good idea. It would allow T-line to modernize, which would bring more tourists to the county and cause property values to rise even further, which would translate to more tax revenue for Tucker County down the road.
Personally, I think Timberline's main priority should be snowmaking as opposed to new lifts, buta a new lift is very "sexy" and would create some buzz for the resort in places like Ski and Skiing magazines. The buzz would lead to more ticket sales, which would allow more snowmaking development down the road.
If Timberline does get the new lift, it needs a better marketing strategy to promote it. Relying on the county convention bureau and word of mouth for advertising doesn't cut it.
Also, the owner needs to quit slinging hamburgers in the cafeteria and start schmoozing local politicians, property owners, and other interested parties. It's good to go out and visit the troops occasionally but most of his time should be focused on the bigger picture issues.
For t-line to get the income necessary to support the improvements required to remain competitive in the Mid-Atlantic ski industry, they need to increase their client base. To increase their client base, improvements need to be made and aggressively marketed. This is the old chicken or the egg debate, but one thing is certain, the status quo is not where Doc wants to go. Some of the options to get the revenues required to make the necessary improvements are "iffy" given the affluence or lack thereof of Tucker County. I believe starting with affordable customer service improvements would be the way to go. Pave and reconfigure the skier drop off area. If youcan't replace the base lodge, at least make it more aesthetically pleasing (read remodel). Go for grants, or loans, or look for investors who can help finance the installation of a quad lift. Move the triple to a place where it can service another part of the mountain. Cut new trails but only with fixed base snowmaking installed. All this needs to be a part of a capitol improvement plan for the next five years at t-line. By that time, Tory Mtn should be ready to enter the mix as a competitor and Doc needs to have t-line ready for the challenge.
"Cut new trails but only with fixed base snowmaking installed."
Agreed. It's stupid to even think about a new trail until the resort can get snow made quicker on pre-existing trails and start making snow on The Drop. And a natural snow trail in this region is a joke. How many days has The Drop been open this season? 10?
Speaking of small improvements, more lighting for night skiing is an obvious one along with later night skiing hours for big weekends.
I think the resort is in a lose-lose situation right now. I'll give the resort officials the benefit of the doubt when they say they haven't profited any of the real estate profits. I think snowmaking and a new lift are the necessary improvements, even before a new lodge or added lighting. There needs to be something major that draws more visits...a few new lights and oriental rugs won't do that.
I just don't think a high speed is what they need. It would be nice to get up the hill faster but the crowds aren't really there except busy weekends to justify it.
Sure, they would have a grant to install it but who's gonna pay for the extra electricity. Its my understanding that it cost significantly more to run a high speed than a regular lift given the acceleration of each of the chairs at each station and the higher speed in general. I think if their finances are already tight enough to need grants then they'll probably actually lose money by installing the high speed.
It may draw in a few extra people but without providing more consistent terrain options throughout the season with much improved snowmaking capacity AND operation you won't see much more skier draw.
I think the place does an OK job actually. I still just believe that the bar has been set really high recently by Whitetail, 7 Springs, Wisp, and Snowshoe so comparitively it looks like the owners are cheap and are bad managers. Like the past few weeks have proven, this place is as good as it gets when the conditions are right. So for now I'll just show up when its prestine and I can actually make it. The rest of the time I'll be at a more agressively managed place.
JR, maybe you're right, but the fact still remains that lift capacity is a big draw. Maybe upgrade to a fixed quad, but remember, this is the east, and 90% of the paying public skiis on weekends, hence customer satisfaction is important if the crowds are to do the mid-week routine. I agree with John as well about the lighting. CV doesn't ski at night because their lighting is very poor, worse than t-line if you can imagine that. If they just cleaned up around the lodge, paved some areas, better traffic flow, renovated the cafeteria to acomodate the crowds, and improve it's traffic flow, Buy tables and chairs that don't fall apart, Improve the haunts for ski school and the aid room. I can go on and on but if it were MY ski resort, those would be a priority. I've organized events which were held at t-line only having to use CV for banquets, and apre' events. It should all be accomodated on site, not elsewhere. They lose major dollars by not being able to do these things.
My issue with it was that, if it does cost significantly more to operate a high speed, it would increase the operating costs during midweek operations that probably already run in the red a lot of the time there. Then I remembered that Wisp runs at least 5 lifts midweek, 7 springs probably the same or more, Snowshoe runs 10, and so on and so forth so Timberline should be able to afford 1 high speed and 1 beginner midweek I would think.
Whitetail's high-speed quad (and to some degree Snowshoe's Western Express) has introduced Mid-Atlantic skiers to the concept of the 4 hour ski day. Except during the most crowded Saturday conditions, that quad allows people to pack a full day of skiing into just four hours, leaving the remainder of the day for other activities: shopping, chores, work, etc.
The Timberline skier wants the same luxury--especially the increasing number of day trippers at the resort. A high-speed, combined with the new road, would make Timberline even more feasible as a day destination for Northern VA skiers.
Also, for those staying longer, that lift would tire people out quicker and send them into the lodge to spend money at the cafeteria or bar. Condo owners like myself and Kim could arrive mid-day on Saturday and still get a heck of lot of skiing in by 9 pm. Alternatively, we would leave earlier on Sunday after getting in 20 runs in the morning.
Guess you were right. :)
What an amazing think tank dc ski has been on the topic of improving the "business" of Timberline. As many good ideas have come up on this sight it is amazing that they haven't been putting there heads together at that mountain to get something going. I mean I have read some really solid, simple ideas that wouold make the mountain so much more customer friendly- things that seem obvious. We are your customers if you are listening - this is what we want.... Again, all these ideas seem so obvious. It just blows my mind at the lack of change or urgency to create something new and profitable or even exciting. I guess I just don't understand.
They've been reading, and they've been thinking of ways to make it look like they can't help their current situation.
lol hee hee nice readin' about you cousin! Wish I could have been there ;-)
This is the first time I have weighed in on the subject of Timberline. I skied there the last weekend of Feb, for the first time in several years, and was reminded of what a great ski mountain it could be. Wonderful fall line trails, etc. But each time I get on a lift, and sit and sit and sit while it creeps up the mountain, assuming it does not stop often, I am reminded of what is bad about Timberline and why I don't visit more often. So for starters...a high speed quad that does not stop at mid-station is a must. In the meantime, I do not understand why they won't run the current chairs faster, as does CV. Good reliable snowmaking and grooming is the second must. And they need to build a lodge, anything other than the cut up disaster of a building they now call a lodge. Why can't they at least paint the bathrooms, and spruce them up. They are too small, too crowded, and just plain awful.
Timberline...so much to offer, such a terrible offering.
While I firmly believe that the high speed quad is essential, I wonder how they will fare trying to get a grant from the state or Tucker County when the CV ski area is state owned. I would think it would be difficult (albeit misguided) to get the state to help take customers from the CV ski area.
Has anybody seen the new Timberline Realty brochure? On the second or third page their is a spread on the Winterhaven developement and it promotes this new development:
- 2 new trails
- a new lift
- a new hotel
- 100 plus new slopeside community homesites
I wondered a couple things after reading this advertising then reading Jarret Baker's article here; 1st-Is this plan false advertising, 2nd - If they do put a new faster lift in are they going to be STUPID enough to put it where it won't allow access to the entire mountain(ie leave that old, slow, rusty triple where it is and put a new high speed quad in that will only access the "winterhaven" side of the mountain), 3rd - If this is the plan then I wonder why Kristen or Fred, the official and owner from timberline qouted in the article, didn't mention anything about it when interviewed by dcski about future development. Oh yeah- I found out that infact the owners of Timberline also own the reality company and all the water and sewer rights to the Timberline community and other developments, so I would guess ---to say they are relying on ticket sales solely for income is a bit of a stretch.
Jarrett writes a story capturing the great skiing and great spirit of a DCSki gathering on the slopes on the best weekend of the year, and what happens? 18 comments on the resort management.
The theory of tax incentive financing is that ifg you add an ammenity to a community such as a new lift or performing arts center, property values increase and as a result, the county gets its money back and then some. Since CV has no slopeside real estate, it is not as good of an investment for the county as Timberline. However, CV is certainly welcome to put forth a grant proposal. In fact, I encourage it to do so.
I'm very suspicious about the new trail or trails. If the rest of the mountain gets robbed of services for these runs, we're in for trouble. These new trails have a Western exposure and will always have the worst snow (if any) of the mountain. I'd hate to see Timberline waste resources blowing snow on the new trail and leave Thunderstruck bare for most of the season. Similarly, putting new chairs up to service western trails at the expense of improving the main lift (Thunderdraft), would be incredibly short-sighted and could even lead to law suits from people who live on the East Side of the Mountain (i.e. why was their tax money spent on servicing the southwestern side of the mountain).
I think it just goes to show how poorly that Timberline is really run. It is so obvious to everyone that whoever is calling the shots at Timberline just has no idea how to run a business. How many times have you said yourself or heard one of your friends say "If I only owned Timberline..I could make a killing". That place could be a gold mind. All it would take is a little good business planning. It's so obvious to everyone except those who run and market the place. They are sitting on a gold mind and they can't figure out how to use a shovel. I think that is why there are so many comments.
I know people have said it on this sight before but I'm going to say it again because if Fred Reichle and Kristen are reading my comment I want them to hear this- KNOW YOUR PRODUCT , KNOW WHAT IS POPULAR IN THE INDUSTRY, KNOW WHAT SKIERS AND SNOWBOARDERS WANT AND GIVE IT TO THEM. AND IF YOU STILL DON'T REALIZE IT-- YOUR PRODUCT IS SKIING AND SNOWBOARDING NOT THE CAFETERIA!!! IF YOU DON'T SKI OR SNOWBOARD THEN FIND SOMEONE WHO DOES TO HELP YOU MAKE INDUSTRY MINDED DECISIONS AND CAN HELP YOU WITH TERRAIN IMPROVEMENTS AND EXPANSIONS. I'VE MET LOTS OF ON SNOW EMPLOYEES AT TIMBERLINE WHO HAVE GREAT IDEAS---USE THOSE PEOPLE AS RESOURCES! THEY KNOW WHAT SKIERS AND SNOWBOARDERS EXPECT FROM A MOUNTAIN. HAVE YOU FOLKS IN MANAGEMENT EVER VISITED ANOTHER MOUNTAIN? DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE AS CUSTOMERS ARE EXPERIENCING AT OTHER PLACES? DO YOU REALIZE HOW FAR BEHIND YOU ARE?
Hey Jarrett, thanks for the report. Spent the weekend getting ready for a week in Crushland! Yeah, it's fun to wonder what T-line could be. Looks like from what i've read in your article and the Mess. Forum we've got a few more devotees. Really sorry to miss the first? Official DCSki gathering on the slopes. Grandpap used to say, some folks like chocolate, some like vanilla. I like Timberline!!!
Thanks for all your kind and insightful remarks everyone. I'm not sure if it was an official DCSki gathering....we didn't have a DCSki banner or a sign that said "Welcome DCSki!"
honestly, the problem is not the lifts. it's the fact that they can't run them at speed and just can't keep their hands off the stop button. i took a lift ride up the mtn Sat night that took no more than 5 mins. i was told if they ran it that fast during normal hours, they would kill 1/2 the people on the hill. well, to former employee's point above, packing the lift with boyscouts and church groups that can't get on or off while providing them a weekend's lodging, meals, lift ticket, rentals, and a lesson for $130, is just poor business. and the result is just what you have...a bunch of pissed off people otherwise known as the paying general public. it chases away money. and to someone else's point, the current management doesn't know squat about attracting money. grants won't cure poor customer service, and lack of ski industry knowledge. timberline is a skier's mtn. it has such potential to be so much more, but i don't see it anytime soon under the current regime. i go there to ski a great hill so close to DC. i really don't want a high speed quad. i like having a great choice of lines down a trail without so many people in the way. could you imagine all those boyscouts on the trails with a high speed? it's the business model that needs to change.
Hi folks.. Just a note from your friendly Editor. Discussions about how to improve mid-Atlantic resorts are always welcome on DCSki, but please use caution not to single out specific individuals or positions for criticism. I had to edit out a few of the comments in this thread because they were slightly over the line. I hate censoring but have to step in every now and then when things get too close to the line.
I agree that the personal comments about the marketing director was out of line. It was a cruel comment and I'm glad you pulled it. But you also edited my comments that I think were appropriate. My point was if they want to make money and run the place like a business then they need to market the product. The product is skiing and snowboarding not a comedy show or the cafeteria or nightly entertainment. Those kind of shows and programs will be attended if people are there at the mountian, but people aren't going to drive three hours to watch a comedy show and eat at a cafeteria. I was just commenting on the first principal that anyone in marketing should know--know your product so you can market it. I think one of the major problems at Timberline is they don't realize what there product is- this just seems evident when I read the timberline web site and observe what they give the most press-comedy show, nightly entertainment, and the grill. I work in printing so I often notice the flyers in the lodge-they staple so many flyers to the walls that you can't even read one. It is ridiculous; there are flyers everywhere. To staple a bunch of flyers everywhere inside your lodge and think that is advertising or marketing, well I'm sorry to say is at the kindest - a bit uneffective and unattractive.
Scott, you, of course, are right. I am as guilty as the next in tripping over the line when it comes to things near and dear to me such as the mountain that could be. I have always enjoyed the "rustic" atmosphere at t-line, but ifit is for effect, it is way overdone. Every point made in this thread is valid and lord knows when those who can change things will do so. My hat is off to DC Ski for the opportunity to share our opinions with others who have concerns about the apparent floundering of a business which supports our needs. The reality is that we DON'T want to se this mountain go down the tubes and become an archive with the "lost ski mountains" as such. I do believe, after the past season, that the owners are making efforts, but it is our hope that it is not too little too late.
lets hope they read them first ? they know what
needs to be done but will they do the right
thing ! we can only hope!!!!!!
Jarret, Excellent article. The one thing that the group noted that I would like to comment on is "...However, they did question the resorts decision not to groom Off The Wall at least once at the beginning of the season. The Whales were death trap kickers with non-existent landing zones. These un-groomed snow mounds simply made much of the trail un-skiable.
I find that to be the attraction. Off the Wall is quickly becoming Timberline's signature run, because it is "off the hook" It provides big mountain thrill, on a small mountain. The whales are not meant to be kickers. They're there to have fun on, like dropping into a chute off of the tops, and there aren't any groomed landings in chutes. I was on it this past weekend and there were zero bare spots. To have something that steep, fully covered, this late in the season, is icing on the cake. Incredible skiing, for beginner to expert. Thanks again for a great article.
I made runs down OTW both days I was there. Saturday definately offered better conditions. I'm glad you enjoyed the slope as it was. I'm assuming the kickers are about the same as they were nearly a month ago. However, they are way too big. I am not the only one who feels this way. Most of the DCSkiers I was with concurred. What is more, one skier who liked the whales last year felt that they were too large this year. The wall of the kicker was solid ice, and was not skiable. Additionally, there was no run-out area inbetween the kickers. Bottom line, the mounds of snow should be groomed at least once.
Just because you can't ski them doesn't mean that others can't. Yes, it is semi-difficult terrain, but that is the point-it is a double black diamond. Isn't it nice to have something like that on the east coast. I recently returned from out west and some of the chutes and couilours were to steep and narrow for me and my friends, but we saw others dropping in. We admired there skill and skied on until we found something that was at our level, we certanly didn't say, "that is just to difficult for us so this resort should bring a groomer up here". Give me a break. I would feel like a touron or a picker if I said something like that. But I don't even think those big bumps on off the wall are that difficult; I'm not trying to brag or act like billy-bad ass but my friends and I skied down the back of those big bumps on Off the Wall all weekend long MArch 5,6 and last weekend- they are fun. I was glad they were there because it was good practice for out west. THEY ARE NOT KICKERS!!! I enjoyed most of your article, but sorry, when you call them kickers it just shows that you don't know what you are talking about. Sounds like you should just stay on trails that are more at your level of skiing or snowboarding.
As someone who most certaintly knows what he's talking about wrt advanced terrain in North America, 80% of those OTW snow mounds on the DC Ski Weekend were kickers.
And by the way, Jarrett is a kick-butt skier, especially for someone who lives and goes to school in Florida. I wouldn't be dissin his skiing skills or his editorial skills.
It's nice of you to stick up for your budy but come on. I don't want to get into an arguement about semantics, but whatever you want to call those shapes on Off the Wall they are great fun and really not that difficult if you know how to ski them. And honestly if you guys are strong skiers you should be able to ski any line on that slope no problem. I've seen lots of skiers and boarders rip those "things" up with no problem at all.
skied OTW on 3/19 & 3/20 and it was a blast. I didn't see any "kickers", just mounds of fun. The people I saw skiing/riding OTW, could either ski/ride it with authority or they just flailed about. Nothing in between.
T-line, please do not groom OTW. If I wanted to ski groomers, I'd ski CV. In fact, I think they should plant some large trees on OTW so some added fun. :)
From my experience, OFW is normally not groomed because of the lack of snowmaking on this trail. Understand it is hard to ski for some folks, but OFW
normally is still skiable when Timberline Closes in Late March /April to due to its Northern exposure. Understand, a H Spd quad would be and excellent upgrade to Timberline considering its unique trail/mtn layout, but sometimes I get the impression the owners want to keep this way. You have to admit on a great powder day, Timberline has a unique ambience to it. Have great day.
Ski Fast, but in control