MLK Weekend Traffic a Little Less than Thought? Nothing Official, Just me Noticing Things!

Yesterday and this morning I referenced the fact that there seemed to be a mass of humanity at Cataloochee Ski Area, and a pretty sizeable bottleneck at Wolf Ridge, and darn nice traffic (rather heavy at App and Sugar). …and even though traffic looked brisk at Ski Beech, I had seen heavier traffic on some non-holiday weekends. That started me to questioning just how busy the resorts are on this traditionally hellaciously long weekend. Traffic is up on the websites and the www.HighCountryWebCams.com  page saw 57,219 unique visitors (the most ever in a single day) but that has me wondering if the season-to-date weather and ski conditions might have affected the skier visits that are hitting the mountains of the Southeast.

As I mentioned earlier this morning, I will attempt to make some phone calls to the management at several resorts and there is no question that I will have some success as several of my "go to" top brass will be straight up. However, I will also get the standard, "we don’t have the numbers yet, but I think things were great" answers. Some of the resorts are just downright "bashful" about sharing numbers. I can’t tell you how many times in my 11 previous seasons of publishing the ski websites that OTHER ski area management have asked ME, what kind of numbers that "so and so resort" get. Most of these guys and gals only share their numbers with their accountants.

I know that in huge seasons, the North Carolina Ski Areas have reported as many as 641,000 skier visits as a whole. The NCSAA still claims that as the all time record and that was set during the 1995-1996 season. The West Virginia Ski Areas Association reported about 800,000 skier visits during the 2006-2007 season and the largest resort in the state reported an increase of 3% in skier visits within it’s share of those numbers from the 2005-2006 season.  COO, Bill Rock was quoted at the end of last season saying, "…despite early-season challenges with warm weather, 2006-2007 “was overall a pretty good season and the resort met its financial goals.”

I remember posting a piece of data that I received from my fellow columnist, Joe Stevens back in March of 2005 that stated that West Virginia drew a record attendance that season of more than 850,000 skier visits.

I know that I’ll get asked so I’ll head the next question off at the pass and answer it before I am asked.

Here are the reported skier visits for NC Resorts per year through 2002-2003:

1989-1990: 390,000
1990-1991: 299,000
1991-1992: 399,000
1992-1993: 451,000
1993-1994: 524,000
1994-1995: 465,000
1995-1996: 641,000
1996-1997: No figures
1997-1998: No figures
1998-1999: 414,000
1999-2000: 465,000
2001-2002: 476,000
2002-2003: 544,000

A funny side note is that I went digging for content about skier visits from NC since 2003 and the majority of my internet searches resulted in links to THIS website. We KNOW that skier visits can directly coorelate with the amount of snowfall in a season and a quick glance at snowfall will tell you that:

2004-2005 was a good year
2005-2006 was pretty good but less
2006-2007 was very subpar

So it is a very safe bet that skier visits in the State of North Carolina fell in the 500,000 range during the 2004-2006 seasons and well off of those numbers last year.

Virginia and West Virginia resorts saw a dip in skier visits last season, know matter who is or isn’t sharing numbers. In a story that was published in the Roanoke Times in November 2007, Mark Taylor quoted Bryce Resort’s Horst Locher as saying, "It was not a very good season," said Horst Locher at Virginia’s Bryce Resort, where skier visits were down about 10 percent."

Frankly they were down more than that for a lot of resorts and the numbers that we shared above support that.  The official line was that most everybody paid their bills, but only a couple of resorts were UP, and most were down.

Ski season actually got off to a decent start last year, with most areas in the region open by early- to mid-December. Then came a long stretch of warm weather in late December and early January.

While in-season thaws are pretty normal, they often hit a little later in the winter when snow bases are solid and resorts can better withstand the warm weather.

But last year’s warm-up hit before bases had been built up.

The thaw hit at the tail end of the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season and stretched past the important Martin Luther King holiday weekend.

My buddy Joe Stevens, spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association, said Christmas holiday week skier visits were solid at that state’s resorts despite the marginal conditions. But the areas did suffer from a slow Martin Luther King weekend.

When skier visits are down during holiday periods, it’s a double whammy for the resorts, which charge the highest rates for lift tickets during holidays and weekends.

As is often the case, the thaw last season was followed by prolonged cold weather and even some good snowfalls, and conditions in February and March were excellent. Many skiers who put off trips in late December or early January headed to the mountains when things turned around.

"Many reservations weren’t necessarily lost," said Troy Cardwell, general manager at Canaan Valley Resort in Davis. "They were just moved forward."

Stevens said skier visits totalled about 800,000 in West Virginia last season, down from the previous year but still about 200,000 more than a decade earlier.

FAST FORWARD TO THIS SEASON…

While conditions are at their VERY BEST right now, very few of the ski areas are at 100% open this late into January and perhaps that is having an effect on skier visits thus far. We got off to another relatively quick start with a couple of ski areas making snow early and opening in early November. Then, the thaw hit before SOME resorts even began making any snow. The thaw lasted into mid December and nothing short of a perfectly timed cold spell prior to Christmas saved many resorts. They were able to open with pretty good conditions into West Virginia, down to marginal conditions across resorts further south, and some resorts like Ski Beech and Hawksnest looked pretty tough during the Christmas to New Years Holiday.

Traffic was off everywhere and even though conditions were better further north, traffic WAS off even at the region’s largest ski area – Snowshoe Mountain which saw quite a lot of cancellations during the Holidays. While New Year’s Snow came at a perfect time for those that DID make the trip…the slight damage was already done.

Then conditions went south again, with some ski areas staying open when maybe they shouldn’t have. Then a perfectly timed cold spell and consistent snows came in this past 8 days that has seen as much as 18" of snow in portions of West Virginia, down to 5-7" of snow into the North Carolina mountains with extraordinary cold temps that allowed all resorts to get to their best conditions WITH the most terrain available to date.

So here we are at the second holiday period – MLK weekend and we are seeing some signs that while traffic is brisk, it may not be the record setting numbers that some of us (including yours truly) were thinking we’d be seeing Friday through Monday.

I spent a fair amount of time working on Saturday and I "stopped by" the webcams quite a bit and there was some staggering crowds at Cataloochee and Wolf Ridge, and some big crowds at the base of Sugar and App…but the crowds were noticably less than some MLK’s that we’ve seen.

Fast forward to today…

It’s Sunday and conditions at the resorts today are nothing short of perfect. It may be a bt on the colder-than-you’d-like side, but skiing and riding today is the best that it has been all season.

Frankly, those of us who live within minutes of the ski areas of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic would not be caught within a tour bus length of any of the slopes today (unless you’re working on one) but we thought we take a webcam tour around, just to get a look at traffic.

…and for the second day in a row I find myself questioning what I am seeing.

<App captured today at 1pm.

Appalachian was p-r-e-t-t-y busy yesterday and certainly is today as well, but the lines don’t look too bad. 

Cataloochee for the second day in a row looks "OMG" busy>

with such a mass of people at the bottom that I can almost hear the "excuse me, excuse me, excuse me’s" from here! 

<No lift lines Sunday at 1pm

Hawksnest at 12:42pm on Sunday has NO lift lines whatsover. There are empty chairs heading up from both of the lifts at the bottom. I am tempted to go skiing here in a bit..despite my earlier claim.

A few people of the messageboard was noticing and commenting the same thing!

Anyone want to join me for some turns this evening?!?

We skipped over to Ski Beech…

<Just not that busy at 1:12pm Sunday

Ski Beech does not bad at all, and both cams show no mass of humanity that is usually associated with the MLK weekend crowds.

Not a ton here either>

The slopeside cam alongside of Beech’s Lower Shawneehaw trail shows only a few people at a time on that portion of the run. No traffic here.

That got me to exploring around and a zoom into the beginner lift at the bottom showed only a 5-10 lift line. Where are the people???

 
<This is a NO LIFT LINE at the Blue Lift at the bottom. Empty chairs at 1:15pm

So I rambled over to the beginner "bunny slope" thinking that everyone was over there or at the cafeteria and while traffic was brisk, it certainly was not a typical MLK Sunday.

<Business is not at a record-pace! Under the heading of – Oh My Goodness I can not believe what I am seeing – This is a shot of the blue lift on the right side of the base area at 1pm with NO lift line at all at Ski Beech and numerous empty chairs heading up the hill!

We hopped over to Sugar next…

 
<Not a filled parking lot.  Busy…but…

Sugar is definately busier than Ski Beech but truthfully we have seen this front parking area full all the way out to the highway. Not so today.

Not exactly the "mass of humanity" I was expecting to see on the main base area and the upper portion of the mountain is uncrowded. >

We zoomed into the mid station loading area expecting to see some lines, but not so. There was a few people waiting to get on an empty chair, and we’d share that photo captured at 1:08pm, but it was a bit blurry.

<The Big Red lift at Sugar actually had open chairs heading to the top at 1:17pm and the slope itself was very nice and uncrowded.

Next stop – Wolf Ridge Ski Area…

 
Sunday was busy…but we’ve seen busier>

Wolf Ridge was crowded at 1:21pm, but honestly I have seen it worse. There ARE a lot of people there though.

We thought we’d look at a couple further north…

<Wisp looks pretty…but not that crowded..
 
I figured I’d take a look at some of Wisp’s cams and while they have some brisk traffic, it’s certainly not a packed crowd and while Saturday was busier, it was not a whole lot busier.

Here’s a link to Wisp’s Ski Cameras!

Other cameras at Canaan Valley and others showed good traffic…but not great traffic.

We’re happy to see brisk numbers because that is what makes the world go around as far as the ski areas are concerned.  Maybe it’s the colder than wished for temps.  Who knows?  However, this goes out to my hard core skier buddies.

LET’S GO SKI AND RIDE…cause it ain’t that darn packed today. 

Maybe tomorrow will be a mad-house. We’ll keep our eyes out…and cameras aimed.

Enjoy your day…

Until Next time…

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