Why the Guns HAVE to Run, and Dressing Like the Michelin Tire Man is a Good Thing!

Story by Mike Doble – [email protected]

I don’t NORMALLY do a post on Sunday evenings, and I’ve been leaving the weekday updates and news to Kenny Griffin. So after receiving an email today I just HAD to post. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve received and also seen a few emails from people who asked why the snowguns had to be operating during open sessions lately. I pretty much chalk those up to people who are simply (and understandably) not knowledgeable about these things.

This afternoon I received an email from "Mary S. from North Charleston, South Carolina." (I withheld her last name but I did let her know that I’d be answering her email within this space.)

My reason for addressing her question here is because it is one that is often asked every season. I had kind of figured as challenging as THIS season has been, perhaps we’d not get many of these.

While I was up atop Sugar on Saturday evening I overheard one twenty-something lady complaining about how it was impossible to enjoy her time on the slopes with all the blasting of snow that was ongoing.

Admittedly things were over the top on Saturday evening as 30-40mph winds were driving the natural AND manmade snow and even the strongest of hearts (and best dressed and equipped) were having it difficult at times. For those unprepared and inexperienced…it could definately be challenging.

I’ll go into more detail, but first – here is the email I received this afternoon:

FirstName: Mary
LastName: SXXX
City: North Charleston
State: SC

Comments: What’s up with the snow blowers man? My husband and I decided last minue to head to the mountains this weekend to take advantage of the upcoming snow event. We went to Sugar on saturday only to be blasted by the snow blowers. I understand trying to build the base….but good grief. High gusty winds and freezing temps along with snow blowers only equal frozen and foggy googles. Really??? Everyone was complaining not being able to see and I saw more people being hauled off by ski patrol than ever.

Let’s see if I can answer her two questions succinctly.

Gotta have them or you wouldn’t have been skiing Saturday anywhere in the Southeast.

Yes, really.

MORE DETAILS for those who feel the need to read:

I can definately understand the frustrations because we ALL want to ski on those wonderful days or nights when the snowguns are not needed. During the last few seasons many of our ski resorts have had the great benefit of dozens and dozens of consecutive days and nights of snowmaking; so much so that many turned the snowguns off during ski and snowboarding sessions – simply to give their guests the best of experiences while on their trip to the mountains.

HOWEVER – this has been such a challenging season to date that only ONE of the ski resorts in Virginia (Bryce) and NONE in West Virginia or Maryland have been able to get all their slopes opened.

In fact in North Carolina only Appalachian and Cataloochee ski areas have been able to do that thus far – this deep – into the season. So only THREE ski areas have been able to get 100% opened and even Appalachian with their limited terrain (12 slopes) has had a challenge keeping enough snow around to stay 100%. Today they were open with 8 of 12 and making snow on those not open so that they COULD get them reopened this week.

Even those in snow-proned West Virginia have only gotten 124 of 166 trails open this season. Today’s 124 open trails is 20 more than they’ve had all season long – prior to today.

Sugar Mountain, which just may be the most pro-active and aggressive ski area about making snow at every possible second, has only been able to get 17/18 trails (of 20) open at any point this season.

So like the old farmer’s adage says, "Make hay while the sun shines." In this case these farmers are planting and harvesting SNOW and they simply have had too many mild sunshiny days and rain. They simply have had to make snow w-h-e-n-e-v-e-r possible. Unfortunately sometimes that means right on top of your head!


For those times when the guns have to be blasting while the winds are driving the snow and when things are just colder than a well-diggers you know what…remember this tip. Invest in a GOOD pair of goggles and pickup some "Cat Crap" or some alternative and crap them up great.

Cheap goggles will ruin the best of trips to the slopes. Invest in a great pair. They’ll probably set you back $70-$100 bucks but they won’t fog up. Pick up some "Cat Crap" for about $5 and you won’t have ONE bit of problem with making down the slopes in the heaviest of manmade or natural snow.  (Goggles can go as high as $500.)

Yesterday I was out there with proper gear from head to toe and never felt the least bit bothered by the guns or driving snow. The only time I felt cold was when I took my gloves off to film some video. It was COLD!

Here’s what I was wearing:

1. Great Giro Helmet – It’s NOT just for protecting your head. Helmets hold the warmth of your head in.

2. Oakley Goggles – Cost me about $129. They are great in all lighting and never fog up. Keep a little Cat Crap around and you’ll never have iced over lens.

3. Neck warmer. That or a balaclava will seal up any of the little open spaces that are not covered by your jacket or traditional toboggan.

4. North face Summit Series shell with North Face Summit Series Zip Lining.

5. Two thin layers of Adidas or Under Armor shirts to peal off if things get too warm.

6. Pair of Nike Sweatpants (thin) under a pair of Columbia ski pants (waterproof shells).

7. One good pair of ski socks and a nice pair of waterproof hiking boots.

8. Gordini AquaBloc Ski Gloves. Although I never needed them yesterday I also keep a set of thinsulate gloves for those frigid nights when the gloves alone are not adequate.

While the above arsenal might SOUND like I was the "Michelin tire man" or the kid in The Christmas Story who couldn’t drop his arms to the side due to too much clothing – I can assure you that I was quite comfortable AND had great mobility…due to the thin nature of all of the materials.

Equipment MEANS EVERYTHING! Be prepared and you’ll never fuss too much about those days or nights when the guns are blasting.

In closing, Mary S, just know that to keep the next Southern Belle from belly aching NEXT WEEK about not having enough snow on the slopes, our ski resort snowmaking crews HAD to bomb as much snow as possible this weekend. The long range forecast, after a few days of cold and snow ahead, is for things to mild back up again. There will probably be some ski areas that might just think about closing around the end of this month or early in March because even after making all the snow they did this weekend – it may not be enough to weather the next few mild spells.

Just saying…

SkiMail me if you feel the need at [email protected]  or [email protected]

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.