Before I get into my pick for Ski Resort of the Year this season, let me say that this winter has been one for the record books. It has also been one in which I have repeated the following sentence NUMEROUS times.
“It is CRAZY what a difference a few days make.”
Last Saturday I was writing about the first day of Spring and the fact that it didn’t look like it. After another wild temperature swing towards January-like cold temps and some significant snowfall that provided 17.3″ of natural snowfall in West Virginia from March 13th-19th had things looking like winter was finally here.
However, reality hit again. This past winter wasn’t very winter-like, so it wouldn’t make much sense for things to stay the way they were now that Spring actually hit on the calendar.
Kenny did a great job of detailing the resorts that called it quits early this week. There were no real surprises in the list of ski areas that decided to say “no mas” for the 2016-2017 ski and snowboarding season and simply begin preparing for what everyone hopes will be a much more normal season next year.
Those decisions left only Beech Mountain Resort, Appalachian Ski Mountain, and Cataloochee Ski Area open within the state of North Carolina.
Snowshoe Mountain is the only ski resort open in the Wild and Wonderful state of West Virginia. Bryce Resort is open in Virginia with a base that they report as “enough to ski on” and 4 trails. Wisp Resort in Maryland is open with 5 trails after pulling a surprise early “closing for the season” a couple of weeks back.
So that leaves only six ski areas as open for Saturday skiing and snowboarding.
Of those – SATURDAY will be the last day of the season for:
Bryce Resort – which will be open today from 9am-4pm with 3 trails.
Cataloochee Ski Area – day sessions with 3 slopes.
Appalachian Ski Mountain – day sessions with 9 slopes.
Beech Mountain Resort is open with 8 slopes and they are wrapping things up in style with a fun day of skiing and a cookout on the Lodge deck. The Beech Mountain Brewing Co. will be open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Wisp Resort is open with 5 slopes.
So SNOWSHOE MOUNTAIN will provide the curtain call and be the lone ski resort open tomorrow (Sunday) with 35 slopes and trails.
In THIS Corner…and the WINNER IS…
Joe Stevens will most certainly provide his annual “Snowies Awards” – handing out some superlatives, kudos and deserved “pats-on-the-backs” of ski resorts and mountain ops for this season. Joe doesn’t let me in on those results so I won’t be spoiling anything when I make a couple of congratulatory comments of my own.
I’ve always been a huge fan of March Madness and the NCAA Basketball Playoffs. Obviously I’m a lot MORE into them this season as my University of South Carolina Fighting Gamecocks have advanced to the Elite 8 after beating Duke last weekend and then truly whipping Baylor last night in Madison Square Garden. They are competing against the blue bloods of the sport like North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Kansas who routinely get the best players out of high school who play a one-and-done approach to college before heading off for the NBA.
It is easy to root for teams like Kentucky, Kansas and those at the top because all they do is win. You can’t help but have a greater appreciation for teams like Xavier and South Carolina who might have ONE player who is on the same skill level with teams full of monster players like Kansas does.
As I was sitting here on this early Spring Saturday morning I couldn’t help but think about how this past winter created similar scenarios for our ski resorts. While none of our area received normal snowfall totals, certainly all of the West Virginia ski areas received the most favorable and desired weather patterns. All of the resorts in Virginia and Tennessee played all season with much less in the way of snow and cold temps.
The North Carolina ski areas had to fight not only with Ma Nature’s fickle weather patterns that delivered far less snow than normal, but also far less consistent cold temps than normal. On top of that, drought conditions forced less snowmaking opportunities even when and if cold temps were in place.
All of our region’s ski resort mountain ops are awesome and ALL had the hardest fight of their existence this season. There is no doubt about that and the fact that they should ALL take a congratulatory bow as we collectively applaud their efforts that made for good conditions for us to ski and ride on.
However, I got to thinking of which resorts I would give the biggest “ATTA BOY” to. Within most seasons it might be hard to single out the best “fighter within their weight class”. After all, it is sometimes hard to compare Sapphire Valley Resort with Snowshoe Mountain. Okay – you CAN’T compare those resorts – ever…not in any season. However, for the most part, most of the ski resorts can be compared in terms of what kind of snow conditions they provide – given the temperatures and natural snow they are provided. For example, if Canaan Valley, Timberline and Snowshoe received about the same snow and cold temps, then you could compare how each performed. You could look at ALL of the Virginia ski areas and simply come to an agreement that they ALL did well with little in the way of awesome weather patterns this season. You would automatically give Ober Gatlinburg in Tennessee a pass for this entire season because the weather patterns SUCKED over there in Gatlinburg all season long. Ober is the only ski area that makes snow and stores it in refrigerated units slopeside…and they only do that for their tubing hill, but even that couldn’t be counted on for a good season with the horrible winter that the Smoky Mountain resort encountered.
So any and all of those resorts could be singled out as “great fighters”.
Wisp Resort in Maryland kind of “tired quickly” and even with more favorable weather than ANY of the North Carolina, Virginia or Tennessee resorts experienced – they took an early pass that resembled the 1980 fight between Roberto Durán II and Sugar Ray Leonard when Roberto raised his arms and declared “No Más” when he surprised the world and stopped the fight after not really appearing to have taken a beating. So as much as I LOVE Wisp and all of Garrett County, Wisp would not get my vote as an MVP this season. I HAVE to say that they did decide to get back in the fight and they are still playing today…but that surprise closing took all of their fans by surprise.
Snowshoe Mountain undoubtedly had the best season of all resorts in the region. Heck they are open today with more trails available than all of the other five open resorts combined. Ma Nature simply favored the Pocahontas County resort this season. Heck, Shavers Lake, at the bottom of the resort is STILL almost completely frozen over and the top of the mountain looks like they could operate for another week or two if they wanted to keep the ski area open for all of the “ghost skiers and snowboarders” that might want to hit the snow.
So as I thought about which resort(s) I would heap some praise on, I couldn’t help but think about which resort did the best with the least. As that applies to the current NCAA Basketball world, the Coach of the Year nationally HAS to be Frank Martin of South Carolina. He undoubtedly has done the most with the least.
As I considered which resort that would be in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic I came up with really only TWO top contenders.
In this corner – is Cataloochee Ski Area. I was there for opening day. I saw how great things looked on day one. However, as I was driving back home on that first day of the season (for ANY resort in the region) I was hit with smoke from area wildfires thick enough to choke a horse. I also saw interstate signage declaring drought conditions. As the season progressed, those drought conditions prevented Cat from making snow and the lack of snowmaking prevented them from opening up all of the terrain that they would normally get open during a typical season. They never got all of their trails open and they did suffer from some of the mid-season thaws. They heard the loud complaints from uninformed “fair-weather” fans. More often than not, they were only open to their mid-station and they fought Ma Nature’s terrible weather patterns this season and opened to the top on every chance that they could. There were some days and nights that they COULD have made snow when colder temps hit – but drought conditions prevented them from doing so. Other times they had the water to make snow and the temps were not there.
However, they continued to come out of their corner for every round of the fight and they remain one of the six resorts that are open today. Marketing Director, Tammy Brown wrote me, “We have decided to close at the end of the skiing and riding (and 108th) day of the season on Saturday, March 25 at 4:30pm. As always, many thanks to you, Kenny, et all. You’re the best. looooooooove! tammy”
For them to even get in 108 days of skiing and riding was a huge accomplishment.
…and in this corner is Beech Mountain Resort. They could also be a nominee for “comeback player of the decade” after rising out of the ashes of where the resort seemed to be headed back in 2007. In need of more than a little TLC, Beech also was chastised by fans for closing too early each season; not making snow as often as Sugar; not having the quality of snow (grooming) as Sugar and surrounding resorts and not opening as much terrain when it appeared they had the same weather patterns and resources to work with as neighboring ski areas like Sugar, Appalachian and even Hawksnest at the time.
Well fast forward to 2017 and even diehard Sugar fans have emailed me things like “Beech Mountain kicked Sugar’s arse this season”. (That was actually an email I received from a longtime reader and ultimate fan of Sugar Mountain.) Yesterday I was at a soccer match in Hickory – where the temperature was 70° – and sitting with a Sugar Mountain season pass holder and he stated, “I skied at Beech twice this week and their conditions were as good or better than I saw all season at Sugar.” He added, “Beech kicked Sugar’s you know what this season.”
His first comment was a bit of an exaggeration but his point was clear.
Some will no doubt email me asking “why are you picking on Sugar?” I’m not. However, fairly or unfairly, Beech has ALWAYS been compared to Sugar Mountain if for no other reason than that they are only 5-10 minutes apart and receive the same weather patterns every year. When Sugar opens for the season, the immediate response from Beech fans is, “Why isn’t Beech making snow and open?” When Beech closes and Sugar is still open (as most always happens) the complaint is, “Why doesn’t Beech stay open like Sugar?”
Well this season, when Sugar struggled with the same weather and conditions to keep more than 8-10 slopes open, Beech stayed in somewhat to significantly better shape with more terrain open. Beech obviously made it part of their strategy this season to forego opening White Lightning and the Oz Run and simply focus on the main portion of their mountain. While Sugar seemed to do the same thing never opening some of their more popular slopes – the results didn’t compare with Beech’s efforts. More often than not – all season long – Beech kicked Sugar’s butts.
Sugar closed on Monday to celebrate their burning of the snow, closing day ceremonies. They could’ve-should’ve closed a few days earlier. Beech on the other hand is still open, opting to close today with conditions that COULD keep them open for another few days or week.
So the fight will be over for all of the region’s ski resorts after Snowshoe Mountain closes ski and snowboarding ops on Sunday.
Snowshoe Mountain was simply the “Kentuckys, Kansases or Tarheels” of the ski communities this season. They received ALL of the best players. So the contenders for “Player of the season” are Cataloochee Ski Area and Beech Mountain Resort.
The WINNER??? You guys.
Okay, okay. If I am forced to pick ONE winner I’ll have to go with some kind of “tie-breaker”. Let’s have a look at their mountain ops’ attitudes.
A glance at Cataloochee will show you that no other ski area has a “Tammy Brown or Chris Bates”. Both will stare bad times in the face and smile. Tammy’s smile is infectious. Chris is a no-nonsense, face reality and punch back harder kind of guy. So Cat is hard to beat in that tiebreaker scenario.
A look at Beech’s Talia Freeman, Gil Adams, Ryan Costin and their most recent BLOG post says a lot about how they felt this season went. They wrote, “It’s been an incredible season! Our success can only be attributed to the continued support of our customers. In appreciation for your loyalty, we will have a cookout on Saturday, March 25th. Join us in the Lodge, after a long day of spring skiing. Grab a bite from the grill or a drink. The beer will be flowing and so will the fun! See you on the slopes!”
I’ll admit as one of Beech’s BIGGEST FANS, I have also given them some heck over the years. Whether deserved or not, Beech Mountain simply kept fighting. They did that again this season and while I’m thinking that Cat and Beech could share the “Player of the Year” award – I’ll have to pick one and Beech DID offer me a beer to wash down the horrible taste that the 2016-2017 season left in my mouth.
So the winner is Beech Mountain Brewery and their “Beech Blonde Ale”….
Okay, okay – Beech Mountain Resort gets my “player of the year” award for the product that they put on and off the slopes this season and for calling this season “an incredible season” when it was anything but.
Good on you Beech Mountain. Good on you.
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