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Young "Aiden" Enjoys the View from atop Appalachian Ski Mountain. Conditions were great up top.

Nothing could possibly illustrate our recent sentiments about how it is possible to enjoy yourself despite the “extreme ‘Spring’ conditions” this Fall than this trip report video submitted by Evan Wiley of him and his son Aiden enjoying Appalachian Ski Mountain on Saturday night despite the melting conditions.

Check it out:

If YOU have a trip report that you’d like to share, send it to me at [email protected] and there might be a couple of free lift tickets for you.


Winterplace Snow-making Effort from 2014

Hello Everyone –

So here we are at the beginning of another ski season in the southeast region and unlike last year – things are getting off to a slow start. On the positive side of things, in North Carolina, four resorts – Sugar, Beech, Cataloochee and Appalachian have all been providing some on-the-slope fun for skiers and snowboarders. That’s a start and we can only go up from there.

2015-nov-29-joe-001Sometimes I think the memories of folks who love the outdoors in the winter only go back to the previous season. If the year before was a good one, then why is it taking so long for the season to start this year. If the year before was a challenging one, the thought is the season is never going to be the same again. I think you understand my thought process. If you don’t maybe you are one of the ones that always has that cloud following you over head.

I am here to say, the season is going to get here and the early season challenges will soon be forgotten and the only thing that will lie ahead will be how many runs will every skier, snowboarder and snow tuber be able to get in this season. Anyone that knows me, understands for the most part I am a person that has a glass that is half full and looking at the pictures posted by all of the resorts in the region of the snowmaking that has taken place so far this season, when the rope drops, we will be in fine shape.

Winterplace Snow-making Effort from 2014
Winterplace snow-making effort from 2014

Sticking to the positive side of things, every skier and snowboarder around these parts needs to send a thank you note or even a Christmas card to the management team of all of the resorts. You see, not one resort in this region ever and I mean ever goes from season to season without upgrading their snowmaking operations. I am always seeing pictures of new snowguns or groomers being delivered or excavators digging ditches for new water lines that feed the on-slope snowmaking operations. If you don’t realize, all of this doesn’t come cheap and the snowmaking investment by every resort, makes sure that the product that every skier and snowboard enjoys during any given season is a good and enjoyable one. So as we come out of the Thanksgiving holiday, don’t forget to be thankful that all of the resorts in the southeast understand the importance of providing an excellent man-made snow product for everyone to enjoy.

In the late 90’s while I serving as Communications Director at Snowshoe Mountain, I can remember sitting in the management “War Room” around December 15, with every manager wondering when the season was going to start as all we could see out the window was green grass. We knew it would come, but “when” was the question of the day.  To take our mind off of the lack of snow, my wife Angie decided to travel to Elkins to take in a movie “Oceans’ Eleven.” I remember the temperature gauge on the car indicating it was 60 degrees outside, which wasn’t very encouraging. After getting to the theater and before sitting in our seat, we realized we weren’t the only Snowshoe employee with the get out of town attitude that day, as I can remember seeing over 20 familiar faces in the same theater. Hey what are you going to do, when you really have geared up to do something (that being the ski season) and you don’t have anything to do? You share your challenges (I refuse to call it misery) with your friends just because you can and they understand, because at the end of the day, there is nothing, not one little thing you can do about it, and as they say you have to sometimes just grin and bear it.

Clever bit of art sent to us called "Old Man Winter" from 2013. Photo Credit to Jackie Arrington.
Clever bit of art sent to us called “Old Man Winter” from 2013. Photo Credit to Jackie Arrington.

It’s going to come when it (the cold temperatures that is) comes, look out because there is going to be man-made blizzards everywhere on every resort in the region from North Carolina and Tennessee to the south to Maryland to the north. That means if you are fortunate to get out there on one of the first days that a resort opens this year or needing to add to its existing slope coverage, please understand that one of the most important pieces of equipment you are going to need is your goggles.

With that in mind I don’t want to hear any complaining what so ever that resorts are making snow on open terrain, just be thankful that they can make the snow and that you are out there making some turns, knowing that just a couple of weeks earlier you were worried that the season was never going to happen. By the way, be per-warned, the topic of making snow on open terrain is going to be a theme of an upcoming column, so if you don’t like it when it happens, I suggest you skip that one in a few weeks.

If you are still worried about when the season is going to swing into full gear, I suggest just keeping in-touch with skisoutheast.com. Your faithful editor, Mike Doble has again solicited the assistance of Brad Panovich, one of the best winter forecasters I know out there. Brad will let you know when it is going to happen and where, just be patient because it is going to come and you will be thankful when it does.

One final note this week, I would like to personally welcome Randy Johnson to the writing staff of skisoutheast.com. I have known Randy for more years than either of us care to admit. I am looking forward to reading his insight and stories this season and you should be also.

That’s it for this week’s column, as always, more to come as the season continues, just remember whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it! See you on the slopes.

Cataloochee is probably offering the best and most terrain today. They are closing from Monday-Thursday of this week.

Sugar Mountain Resort is closed Sunday due to the weather and to be honest I was amazed and frankly surprised to see that Beech Mountain Resort is open for Sunday, day sessions. As I looked around at the LIVE cams, the Freestyle slope at the base of the mountain evoked an “ouch” from me and the connector going over to lift 4 and down to the quad was very narrow to say the least. Freestyle is open, but Powderbowl looks like the better route down. Kudos to them for giving it the old college try as I’ll bet that they’ll have a few takers on the slopes.

There is a bit of an "Ouch Factor" when the camera pans to the right.
There is a bit of an “Ouch Factor” when the camera pans to the right.

If you head to Beech, expect “Extreme Spring Conditions”. It was good to hear Gil Adams’ voice on the snow report as I called to confirm what had already been posted earlier this morning. Beech is skiing on the same 6 slopes and trails that they had open on Saturday.

Sugar is now closed until the weather allows for more snowmaking opportunities and I suspect that you’ll see Beech closed Monday as well.

Cataloochee Ski Area is offering one less trail today and they actually look pretty good for day sessions today on 5 slopes and trails. They have already made the decision to closed Monday-Thursday of this week with the goal of reopening if the weather allows Friday.

If what we’re thinking comes to fruition, that would/could leave Appalachian Ski Mountain as the only ski area to be open this week, beginning tomorrow.

Appalachian's groomers were out early this morning as always.
Appalachian’s groomers were out early this morning as always.

Even App had to trim their open terrain to FIVE today. Appalachian dropped 6-14″ off their previous day base depth reporting. They are now reporting a 6-10″ base and we saw the groomer out doing his thing early to insure that the 5 open slopes are at a premium.

With only 6-10″ base and rain in the forecast Monday through Wednesday, we could see Appalachian pull the plug until cold weather returns. We will keep you posted when and if they make that decision.

Weather Permitting?

When WILL the weather permit re-openings? I have to tell you that the 10-15 day forecast isn’t good for skiers and snowboarders. Just looking at the forecast for the Beech and Sugar areas, we’re just not seeing a conducive snow-making forecast or ANY NATURAL SNOW through Sunday, December 13th.

In that same 10-15 period we’re only seeing MAYBE ONE NIGHT of snow-making.

Even the normally colder and snowier, mountains of West Virginia are only showing a forecast that could include 4-7 nights of snow-making and only 2-3 of those are “sure things”.

2015-nov-29-ed-galfordWe’ll do our best to get up with Ed Galford, the longtime Snowshoe Mountain VP of Operations. Ed is one of those guys who has “seen it all”. It will be interesting to get his take on what he thinks about this “yuck start” to the season. Ed learned to ski at Snowshoe Mountain and started working at the resort as a snow-maker in 1974.

Forty-one years later he’s one of those people that Snowshoe is featuring in the marketing promotions as “the soul of the mountain”.

IT COULD BE MUCH WORSE as Winter Storm Cara is responsible for at least 11 deaths and that storm has created icy travel nightmares that we want no part of.

Snow storm after snow storm has fallen in the Colorado mountains. I received yet another powder alert this morning. This time from Beaver Creek where they got another 6″ of snow in the last 24 hours.

It has been nuts out there as they’ve hogged all of the natural snow and cold thus far. Heavy snow will end November and kick off December in the Northern Plain states. Another 6″-12″ of snow could fall out there over the next few days.

…and here we are with late Summer, early Autumn weather and nothing measurable whatsoever in the form of natural snowfall yet and as previously stated, we’re not seeing any semblance of “winter” through December 13th or so.

On Saturday, our Randy Johnson posted a new story about how Gunther Jochl of Sugar Mountain Resort kind of pioneered the idea of making snow early and opening early. Back in the day, none of our ski areas gave any thought to opening prior to December 15th.

(You can read that full story by clicking here: Something to Be Thankful For)

The reason that I bring that up is that we MAY be looking at a mid-to-late December re-opening of Appalachian, Beech Mountain, Cataloochee and Sugar Mountain. None of the rest have opened just yet and it appears that they too may be looking at a mid-to-late December debuting of the 2015-2016 ski and snowboarding season.

We will see what meteorologist Brad Panovich has to share about weather pattern changes and when he thinks that we may see any significant change that will usher in any kind of semi-consistent cold and some snowfall.

We’re still holding tightly onto the winter-long forecast of lots of snow for this winter. Brad previously predicted that we could see a challenging winter in terms of keeping consistent snow on the slopes and STILL see a very snowy winter. He said that the volatility of this winter could be one that creates a handful of BIG SNOW STORMS that run the snowfall totals way up and yet still makes for a winter where ski areas really have to work hard to make and maintain slope conditions.

It’s a good thing that we HAVE the best, most talented snow-making and snow maintenance teams in the entire United States. That’s no overstatement.

Until next time…


Enjoy your day and THINK SNOW! THINK COLD!

Also visit all of our Ski Resort WebCams.

Be sure to email us your thoughts about “SkiSoutheastTV“. Should we do it? If you don’t know what we’re talking about, READ THIS STORY and comment.

2015-nov-18-newsletterAlso be sure to sign up for our newsletters. It’s FREE and easy. Click in the signup to the right.

Email me anytime and about anything at: [email protected]

With today's snowmaking systems covering slopes in hours, and opening resorts around the region for Thanksgiving turns, it's important to remember pioneers like Sepp Kober. Here he is, way back in the day, making some early snow at The Homestead, the South's first real resort to add "ski" to its title. Today's aggressive snowmakers have big footprints to fill. Photo courtesy the Sepp Kober Collection.

Everything evolves, and this Thanksgiving ski weekend at a handful of the region’s ski areas is a great example of how far skiing in the South has come.

Story by Randy Johnson

Today, the target date for many Southern ski areas to open is Thanksgiving, and has been for some years. But not so long ago, even the biggest ski areas almost always declared December 15 as their target opening date, and if they were open and  operating by Christmas it was a home-run. The snow guns cranked up, the snow piled up, and then over time, someone dropped the rope and skiing was underway.

That’s changed, for the better. Granted, it looks like rain will be rolling in for some of this coming week, and who knows, if winter really doesn’t arrive until December 15th, ultimately, skiing in the Southeast could have to wait on Old Man Winter.

Despite all the controversy over global warming, it’s not the weather that’s the story here—it’s the ski industry’s response to it. Increasingly of late, the exploding fire power of Southeastern snowmaking systems has made it “the norm” for the most aggressive ski areas to launch the season whether it’s likely to last or not.

Take Sugar Mountain for instance. Gunther Jochl has led that trend. Last ski season I sat down with Jochl and he recalled the post-bankruptcy “bad old days” of the 1980s.

“It used  to be unheard to start skiing before the 15th of December,” he told me. “You just were not even thinking about it. And that applied from way farther north than Virginia all the way down here.” Jochl had been at Sugar since the late-70s, but something suddenly dawned on him. “I said to myself, it’s gonna get cold. What else do we have to do? Let’s make snow! I think we opened the 15th of November. Everybody thought we were nuts.” By the time many other slope operators started scratching their heads, “we had Big Birch open, with fantastic  skiing, and made some money.  We also got some great publicity. Nobody had ever done it.”

Jochl noticed something else. Formerly depressed local ski folks were smiling and getting excited. “Open early” became Jochl’s playbook, and it has been ever since. Good snow years came along, but, “I think our aggressive approach to doing things helped.” The wire service news bureaus—remember those dinosaurs of the pre-Internet age?—sent out photos to newspapers and suddenly skiing was on a lot of front pages in November. I ought to know—I took some of those pictures.

Today, it’s a different but similar story. Our own Mike Doble showed up at Appalachian Ski Mountain last week and SkiSoutheast TV broadcasted live from a snow-covered ski area. And TV weather broadcasts all over the South have been running footage from ski resort webcams. There’s no longer any need to send the mobile TV van up the mountain!

Jochl helped usher in today’s normal by using aggressive snowmaking to open early. Then he targeted great slope grooming, but that’s a different story. Between snowmaking and grooming, Jochl “doubled our skiing numbers. I like to ski and I like to ski nice conditions—and people don’t want anything different than I want.”

And that surely goes for opening early. Who doesn’t want that? Next week may bring rain—but a drier than expected Thanksgiving has brought days of holiday skiing and boarding to the North Carolina High Country—at all three ski areas of Appalachian, Beech and Sugar (and Cataloochee farther South). The open resorts have excited locals and attracted early season skiers (and their dollars), many of whom are heading home with a Christmas tree on top of the car.

The result? Check out Mike’s TV spot from Appalachian Ski Mountain to hear Brad Moretz talk about how his resort debuted with two-thirds of the slopes open after 36 hours of snowmaking! Jochl sees Appalachian at the crest of that curve. “That’s one thing Appalachian does,” Jochl says. “Let’s be honest. They hit the button, every snow gun comes on, and they cover the whole mountain.” Kim Jochl leaned into the conversation. “They pulverize it,” she said, “and that’s awesome.”

Jochl’s attitude is priceless. For such a conservative business manager, the man knows you gotta get out there if you’re going to make things happen. “We have smaller windows for snowmaking down here,” he says. “If I have a week to make snow and I can really cover this mountain with a good base, but we use all our water, fine—I used it all. Why should we make snow for one week and still have water left? Now it’s up there on the mountain. If it melts we’ll use the water again.”

All of the above came to mind as I read a press release from Mount Cranmore, New Hampshire last week, announcing that the North Conway resort in the Mount Washington Valley would be open three days over the Thanksgiving weekend thanks to their great snowmaking system.

Imagine, those slopes are 1,002 miles north of where I live in Banner Elk, just a sixteen hour and fourteen minute drive. How thankful we should be that there are passionate skiers, who are also ski area operators, providing snow sports a lot closer than that! Thanksgiving skiing is only a few hours from people all over the South, right now, today. And from me, I am thankful to say, it’s just 16 minutes away.

cataloochee ski area, friday November 27, 2105
Warm weather translates to rather empty slopes in the region on Friday. Photo by David McCue at Cataloochee.

Last night I was reading David McCue’s Trip Report from his day at Cataloochee on Friday. (Read it here.)

In summary – while David really praised the conditions and snow coverage that he found at Cataloochee on Friday – his huge surprise was the fact that VERY FEW people were enjoying the benefits of Cat’s snowmaking and grooming efforts.

I can ditto his appraisal by telling you that we drove by Sugar Mountain on Friday and the crowds…weren’t. I had an opportunity to look at the webcams for Beech and ditto. There was a steady flow of light traffic, but there certainly were not the kind of crowds that you’d normally find on a Thanksgiving weekend ski trip to the mountains.

That got me to researching our Google Analytics and although we have not always used Google to track visitors – I can tell you that in all of our twenty years of covering the resorts of the Southeast – I have never seen a DROP in traffic to the site from October to November. Traditionally traffic trends way up once we hit mid-November but not so for THIS particular pre-season.

(Editor’s Note: We’ve actually been around longer than Google and back in the initial years of the “www” we’d use visitor counters. Then we progressed to iStats, WebTrends and other tracking programs. Like most everyone these days, we rely on Google Analytics for data.)

Just a month ago I was bragging about our traffic being UP 35% despite the fact that there was no snow, and no skiing happening. Fast forward to the LAST 30 days of data and I can tell you that we’re now experiencing a 47% DROP in traffic when comparing October 28th to November 27th of the 14-15 season and 15-16 (this season).


We’re receiving as many comments and emails and a lot of you are commenting about the huge uptick in content thanks to David McCue, Randy Johnson, Kenny Griffin, Joe Stevens, Brad Panovich and myself. I will admit to being re-energized this season – which is VERY strange considering the late-summer-like temps that we’ve experience for much of this “first month” of ski season.

(On Friday, I was out hunting for the perfect Christmas tree in 64° temperatures!)

Over the years, I have always commented about how SNOW trumps everything when it comes to traffic. Nothing excites the masses like some snowy weather. Every time that it snows the news media across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic reports it and the next thing you know – people are headed to the mountain and tens of thousands will visit our website. We’ve seen 150K or more visitors in a single snowy day. Without snow…and so far absent of any colder temperatures…we’re seeing an unprecedented dip in traffic.

I’ve already reported this fact – but by this time last November 27th we had already seen 17.5″ of snow at Sugar and Beech and 29.6″ of snow around Snowshoe, Canaan and Timberline in West Virginia.

To date? 0.1″ of a TRACE at Beech and Sugar. The normally snowy climbs of West Virginia? 0.5″ of snow has fallen.

On top of that it has just not been that cold. When you add that it is 10-15° warmer OFF the mountain where most skier visits come from- that simply spells little to no interest in skiing and snowboarding.

I did see some brisk traffic on the roads and downtown Boone had people swarming the sidewalks, shops and restaurants but that could be attributed to Black Friday and Christmas tree business.

As a quick “sidebar” – we’ve been reporting a the economic impact of the ski industry, etc. The North Carolina Christmas tree farms bring and estimated $120 million dollars of economic benefit to the mountains of N.C.

Back to our traffic…

By this time last season (14-15) we had already experienced over ONE MILLION visitors to our network promoting the ski resorts, live webcams and weather content. Obviously being “off” 47% – you can do the math. The numbers are staggering.

However visits to the website are “virtual”. I can only imagine how far “off” skier visits to the mountain are right now. Bear in mind that thousands of people would have already hit up Snowshoe had they had gotten opened up this past week when they planned to. More would have enjoyed Winterplace by now. Tens of thousands of combined skiers and snowboarders would have already visited Appalachian, Beech, Cataloochee, Sugar and Wolf Ridge.

Massanutten and Wintergreen resorts in Virginia would have already opened some terrain and Wisp Resort in Maryland would have opened a week or more ago and all eight of those resorts would have seen tens of thousands of skiers and snowboarders by this time.

Remember that so far this season only Appalachian, Beech, Cat and Sugar have had skiers on their slopes. It’s reasonable to estimate that skier visits to the combined resorts that would have normally already been in operation to this point on the calendar HAS to be off more than 70-80% if not more.


Hopefully This Will End Up Just a Blip on the Radar…

If you’re a snow loving, ski-area-frequent-skier-or-snowboarder, don’t lose heart because this is kind of the “bonus season” before the real ski and snowboarding season begins. Traditionally the time period from early October through mid-December only makes up perhaps 5-10% of skier visits over an entire season. Also a lot of ski areas such as Canaan, Timberline, Bryce, Homestead, Sapphire Valley and even Wolf Ridge…OFTEN don’t even try to get open until around December 10th or so. So we are STILL in that period on the calendar that really doesn’t matter a whole lot to the financial bottom lines of ski areas across the region.

So if we can get some cold air and some snow falling by December 10th, this “bad start” will be forgotten. A couple of prolonged cold snaps and a big bombing of snowfall across the region and it will be a case of “Snow and the people will come”.


So, my snow-loving fans, let’s pray for some cold and snow.

Check the snow report for opening and delays…


Enjoy your day and THINK SNOW! THINK COLD!

Also visit all of our Ski Resort WebCams.

Be sure to email us your thoughts about “SkiSoutheastTV“. Should we do it? If you don’t know what we’re talking about, READ THIS STORY and comment.

2015-nov-18-newsletterAlso be sure to sign up for our newsletters. It’s FREE and easy. Click in the signup to the right.

Email me anytime and about anything at: [email protected]