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by Joe Stevens

Hello Everyone –

Before we get to the main topic of discussion this week, I just had to let you know that I finally got out there on the slopes for some “product evaluation.”

I am fortunate to be one of the chaperones for the Nitro High School Ski Club. The high school group heads to Winterplace Ski Resort, four straight Thursdays in January and February. Well, I said if I am going to Winterplace, I may as well put the snowboard on top of the Outback and get some turns in, with my downhill bud, Tom Wagner, who is now a ski patroller at the resort.

Prior to the trip I made the mistake of checking my weather app on my phone for Ghent, West Virginia, Winterplace’s location. I can hear some of you now, I thought you said weather apps were basically worthless in an earlier column. Well, yes, I did and by checking the app I was under the belief that it was raining and going to be raining in the Winterplace.

Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to my first day on the slopes being a wet one and that was on my mind for the duration of my 90-minute drive to the resort. So, what did I find at Winterplace? Well, the complete opposite of what was indicated on the weather app.

While I was happy with the outcome, I was also disappointed in myself for putting that much faith in a historical data driven information source that I knew was iffy to start with. Lesson learned…again.

Now for the first day on the slopes, while the temperatures were a bit mild, the snow was fantastic. As most of you know, sometimes those first turns of the season can be a little sketchy, the snow was carveable and it easily reminded me why I enjoy this sport. Having someone you have known in the sport for over 30 years make tracks with you, that’s just another case of life being good.

The winter sports industry in the southeast is blessed to have the ski resorts that it has and the variety that is available to every skier, snowboarder and snowtuber. However, making sure that the daily operations of the resort spins like the bullwheel on a lift, is up to each and every General Manager out there.

This past week I reached out to three of those GMs to describe for me, a normal Saturday for them at their resort during the season. I spoke with Kenny Hess of Massanutten in Virginia, Josh Faber at Winterplace in West Virginia and Chris Bates at Cataloochee in North Carolina.

I am not going to give any ages of the trio, but if you put all of their years in the industry together you would come up with almost a century of experience.

Kenny Hess of Massanutten

I have known Hess since first learning to ski at Massanutten in 1985; Bates since our many years of being members of the Southeast Ski Areas Association and Faber since he took over Winterplace a couple of seasons ago.

On any given Saturday at their respective resort, it is fair to say they come in contact with a good percentage of the visitors and easily the majority of the visitors wouldn’t know them other than they probably had something visible on indicating they were an employee.

Chris Bates of Cataloochee

Every Saturday starts early for all three, getting to the resort somewhere between 5:00 and 5:30 am. For Bates and Faber, it’s a chance to climb into a groomer and get out on the hill to groom and check the slopes conditions for the incoming skiers, snowboarders or snowtubers. Meanwhile, Hess heads to the operations center to make sure everything is in place.

From there, it’s contacting all the departments to double check staffing (a big challenge these days) and make any necessary adjustments to schedules. Then it’s a quick pass through ski patrol for any updates there and before you know it, it’s time for the ropes to drop and activity on the slopes to begin.

Oh by the way, that person you see picking up trash on the walkways, in the cafeteria or in the lift lines, could very well be the resort’s head honcho.

Josh Faber of Winterplace

When I asked all three the question of how much trash they pick in a season, all three just laughed and said bags upon bags full. It’s the little things like this that make visiting ski resorts in the southeast such a pleasure.

Another common trait of the trio is that they are willing to and do work with the resorts’ employees. If there are questions or if there is a need to plug a hole so to speak, all three say it is important for them to be able to go that extra step for their staff. All three agree it’s important to lead by example and not sit on the sidelines or in an office somewhere.

One area of concern that all three talked about, over which they have zero control, is weather and the frustration of knowing they can’t do anything about the matter. All agree it’s important to be straight up with guests on conditions, knowing that in snow reporting, being straight forward, is the best policy.

They all agree that the sport of skiing and snowboarding is not cheap, and they understand that every visitor wants to see value for what they spend and the resorts do their best to provide that product each and every day.

Finally, the end of the day for the trio comes anywhere between 6 and 8 pm and then it begins all over the next day.
That’s it for this week. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Your favorite slope is now open, so go make some turns and let gravity be your friend.

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