Perception of Southern Skiing is a hard battle to win, but websites like this one continue to spread the word – Story by Christian Davies

Before the season even got going good radio and television stations were broadcasting the fact that ski season was “to begin shortly” – even though Cataloochee Ski Area in North Carolina was the first to open this season as they beat out Sugar  Mountain which is usually the first ski area to open each season.  Cataloochee ski area accomplished that task on November 10th. There’s a certain amount of bragging rights that goes along with opening your mountain first in the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic. Sugar Mountain has been "first to open" in years past, but this year Cataloochee beat the Banner Elk resort out.

However, I remember the content managers of this website writing about a radio talk show based out of Washington DC which featured Guest host, Sam Litzinger and the panel of spokespersons that included Connie Lawn, a Freelance Ski Reporter and White House Correspondent; Carol Sottili, a travel writer for the The Washington Post Travel Section and Joe Stevens, who was there as a Spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.  Joe writes a popular weekly column for SkiSoutheast.com as well and that too was mentioned during the introductions for the broadcast.

Stevens has been a huge proponent of the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic for many years during his stay with Snowshoe Mountain and since as a partner in The Media Center, a public relations firm based in West Virginia .

So the stage was set for the panel to discuss the subject of a “Winter Skiing Preview” for all of the region’s ski areas.  Not five minutes into the broadcast (which by the way you can listen to by clicking here) one of the panel mentioned that Cataloochee was the first to open and actually mentioned the North Carolina ski resorts (almost in passing) but added, “They were the first to open, but I’m not sure they are still open.”  THAT is what this story is about.  ONE SENTENCE can affect the entire perception of what conditions are like.  One comment made by someone who speaks without the real knowledge of what’s happening at the resorts can almost close the roads entering the different ski mountains. I discussed this very subject with SkiNC and SkiSoutheast owner and content manager, Mike Doble.

CD: Mike, I know that I have followed this website for a couple of years and that seems to be the “mission statement” of the site – to get the real word out as to what’s happening in North Carolina .  Is that a fair statement?

“That is definitely a big part of what we do Christian.  We have grown over the years and people continue to come to us for the facts. Sometimes the perception down off of the mountain is that things are not what they really are.  We field more emails from people wondering if there’s any snow left only a day after a good snowfall and snowmaking etc.”, Doble said.

CD: So you’d say that perception is a tough obstacle to compete against?

“It certainly is. Even this season we have had good conditions for all but maybe ten days of the current campaign and yet we have received thousands of emails from people wondering when we would get snow on the slopes – when there was plenty of good skiable terrain at that time,” he answered.

CD: Television and radio personalities are your friends, but you’re saying that often they too are part of the problem?

“Well I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are part of any problem, but yes, we have had many of the state’s meteorologists make comments about how bad the conditions are up here, when they haven’t been that bad when they made them.”

CD: Can you give me an example of what you mean?

“Well, I remember hearing a comment on the Weather Channel in January when one of the on-air personalities made the comment that the North Carolina Resorts were really struggling to stay open and were in bad need of some cold weather.  While it was true that the ski areas were in need of some prolonged cold weather like we’re in now, we’ve written several times already this season about how timely this season has been.  Just when things would get a little “iffy” we’d get a burst of snow or cold air that allowed the snowmakers to do their thing and other than Sapphire Valley , no other ski areas in the state have been closed since opening this season.  However The Weather Channel, which broadcasts to millions daily, sent the message that resorts were pending an immediate closure status.  That was not the case.”

CD: Any other examples?

“Well, Christian, its common knowledge around here that the weather that is being reported often is pretty different than what we’re actually experiencing.  The local television stations do a pretty good job of providing accurate weather conditions, but sometimes even they will make comments about the “treacherous road conditions” in the mountains and that sends the perception that the roads are impassable, etc.  The fact is that our DOT crews do a fabulous job of salting and clearing our roads even BEFORE the snows hit and only during really significant snows are the roads tough to travel.  I’ve been living here since 1990 and we’ve never seen the roads impassable.  Even during the blizzard of ’93 we got around within a day. Now THAT was some tough travel, but rarely do we see 40+ inches of snow in a couple of days.”

So perception is a battle that websites like this war against with most every story that is written.  I have read hundreds of times where Mike and others have commented about answering dozens of emails from people wondering of there was any snow left, or wondering if conditions were decent enough to make a trip.  Often those emails come on days when conditions are great.  Right now we are experiencing a great run of weather. There’s no problem with the perception during times like this (except for the aforementioned bad roads) but is there anything that can be done to keep the correct information in front of the masses?  Doble says yes.

“Here at SkiNC and SkiSoutheast we work to keep not only our visitors informed but we have a spreadsheet of all of our television contacts and thankfully many of these guys and gals are now looking to us for the low-down on what conditions are really like.  We have put up more than 27 live cameras around Western North Carolina that show people what the conditions are like and we feature photos of the day which are sent in by more than 100 On-Snow Reporters.  Beyond that there’s not much else we can do!”

Mike did tell me that they are working with Joe Stevens on a project that will greatly enhance their outreach but until all the details were completed he wanted to keep that under wraps.

While SkiNC and Southeast are arguably the best and most visited websites regarding a one-stop location to find all of the ski information you need, there are others.  DCSki, ran by Scott Smith offers another good website that understandably features ski areas within reach of “DC” but it does a nice job of providing updated conditions for all ski areas within the region.

Doble says that they are making headway in getting a more accurate perception of how good Southern Skiing actually is with websites such as SkiNC, SkiSoutheast and DCSki, but it’s a battle that they have to fight one day at a time with each new update.

Mike mentioned to me about emails that he gets from western ski area enthusiasts, “Yea we get a few each year teasing about the fact that we even HAVE skiing around here, but all that tells us is that we’re getting the word out!  Every year we have more and more emails from people admiring how beautiful our area is and they are always astonished at our elevations. I was at Wisp Resort in Maryland a few weeks ago and numerous people in attendance were amazed to hear that our elevations are the highest east of the Mississippi . While we’re not in the snowbelt like Snowshoe, Canaan, Timberline or Wisp might be – we DO have the elevations that allow for our areas to get to snowmaking earlier than most in the region.”

…and that is the perception that we have to keep building on!

Note:  Christian Davies is one of SkiNC and SkiSoutheast’s On-Snow Reporters and hopefully we’ll include more features from him and our other reporters as we continue to grow our network.