A NOVEL TODAY – of hope, despair, NO BULL – and more!

First Trax

Story by Mike Doble – [email protected]

We’re two days past when Punxsutawney Phil made his mid-Winter trek and got the crap scared out of him due to the thousands of onlookers who attended the Punxutawney, PA version of Groundhog Day. Last weekend I predicted – well before – that he’d see his shadow even if it were pouring rain and predict six more weeks of winter.

Of course you’d get an argument out of most of the nation as to whether there’s EVEN BEEN six weeks of winter. We are well below normal for natural snowfall and even MORE below average for days during the winter that delivers cold temperatures.

Thanks to Dr. Ray Russell’s www.AveryWeather.com website I was able to look into my suspicions as to just how challenging this winter has been for snowmaking crews around the region.

Using the TOP of Sugar Mountain’s weather data (it’s coldest up there for the North Carolina mountains)…there have only been 34 days or mornings where the temperatures were 30° or colder! That’s 34 of 66 days! There’s no wonder why things have been so challenging!

Days at 30° or colder at the top of Sugar Mountain:
16 of 31 days in December
18 of 31 days in January
0 for 4 days in February

So only about HALF the time have they even been able to make snow. Also bear in mind that during a normal winter season the ski areas are able to make snow around the clock and that hasn’t happened but 14 days this whole winter – thus far. Only four days in December, ten in January and none thus far in February.

As we’ve been telling you guys all winter, the temperatures have been consistently colder from South to North. Ober Gatlinburg is showing 50° this morning and it is 26° this morning at Timberline Resort in West Virginia. Traditionally the temps are fairly equal/consistent at the highest elevations of the North Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland mountains with only 2-4° colder at Snowshoe, Timberline and Canaan. The Virginia mountains are usually some 4-6° milder than those in the North Carolina mountains. Not so at all this season. You can literally expect that if it’s 45° at Ober, it will be 38° in the North Carolina mountains, 34° or so in the Virginia mountains and then at 30° or slightly below into West Virginia and Maryland.

That scenario has played out all season long thus far and it has certainly made it such that the conditions at the ski areas – in terms of coverage and snow quality is simply better the further north you look.


I’ve always taken a lot of pride in the fact that you can count on us to tell it like it is. I have been covering the ski resort scene around the Southeast and Mid Atlantic since 1995. The year before that was a year that cost me a ton of money and crashed me financially. I opened up a little restaurant on Beech Mountain in 1994. We had experienced the Blizzard of 1993 the year before when more than 40" of snow fell in a three day span across much of the area. I had been in the print media business from 1974 through that year and was talked into opening up a little pizza, wings and beer spot on Beech…right near the entrance of the ski resort. We opened Thanksgiving Weekend and by the end of my career as a restauranteur – which only spanned 3-4 months – I had lost what little money I had saved up and my pride.

What took me down was – the weather. That winter was HORRIBLE in terms of a lack of natural snow and cold temps. Additionally, over a three day span that covered the MLK Weekend of that year – it rained nearly 11" of rain. The roof literally fell in on the building we were in and that put an end to my restaurant ownership career and what my wife still calls to this day – "Mike’s mid-life crisis". She’s actually shared that she’d have rather that I had gone out and bought a convertible and had a fling than go through what we went through. She’s a pretty jealous type gal so that’s saying a lot.

I remember that Sheila Fletcher was the Ski Beech Marketing Director at that time and she had felt pity for us in that great little spot for a restaurant – without any customers and had arranged for the Atlanta Hooter’s girls to come and pay us a visit that MLK Saturday. Of course with 11" of rain, that was all cancelled and that effectively did us in.

The weather can do that to small businesses and especially those who start up on a shoestring and a prayer as we did. When you open up a business that is dependent on ski conditions and weather, you’re pretty much doomed unless you have deep pockets and a lot of luck…and a ton of expertise in the industry you choose to do business in. I didn’t have deep pockets and in fact I might not have even HAD pockets on most of the clothes I wore! I am PLENTY LUCKY – always have been…so I was good to go in that department. However I knew about as much about running a restaurant of any type than I do about performing brain surgery. NADA.

That winter was not the worst winter on record in terms of a lack of snow and cold. Actually WAYYYY back during the winter of 1956-1957 there was only 8.14" of natural snow. Of course there were NO SKI AREAS in North Carolina back then and I doubt old Doc Brigham had even began to envision his dream of a ski area in the Southeast back then.


Ski area management and owners around the Southeast and Mid Atlantic are VERY, VERY intelligent peeps. They know the business that they’re in and they are always at least semi-prepared for challenging seasons skier visit-wise. While business and skier visit traffic has been brisk from time to time – I can assure you that every single ski resort in the region has seen numbers that are way down from two seasons ago…and less than last season’s numbers which were down from the season before.

There will be no talk of "this is one of our top ten seasons" this year. The industry has consistently seen a slight increase in skier visits from new skiers and the huge rise in the number of snowboarders…each year. That has poised some ski area management people to state – year after year – "While this isn’t a record season, we’ve seen numbers that say that this is one of the top years in terms of numbers and revenue."

Again – not so this season. This has thus far been a real downer of a season. The timing of the cold temps – when they’ve been here – saved MLK Weekend in terms of brisk crowds…but the perception of conditions off the mountain (for those thinking of skiing and snowboarding) has been that there isn’t any snow on the slopes. People have opted to stay away from the ski resorts this season in huge numbers.

It’s 10am right now and I am looking at LIVE CAMS around the region and I can see maybe a dozen people coming down the slopes of various resorts. It’s wet and maybe there are a few dozen on the base area at Cat. Ditto that at Beech. As I look further north where it isn’t raining right now at Massanutten…the slopes are more crowded…though not bombed with people as a normal Saturday would look.

Area businesses that depend on the ski resort traffic are hurting in large part this season. I spoke with several ski area business people this past week and I can tell you that most all of them are WAY DOWN in terms of business. One Banner Elk vacation rental business that manages nearly 100 local cottages, cabins and more told me, "Mike, we were so far off last winter that I didn’t think we were going to make it and now this winter we are more than $30,000 off of last winter. I think we seriously may be closing up shop."

I can’t mention the business because of confidentiality however I can tell you that last season was going gangbusters from December 1st through Groundhog Day and then winter went away…and so did the travellers.

Another really popular restaurant located right across from Sugar Mountain was packing up and closing yesterday – Friday. These ladies make some mean sandwiches and desserts and they are closing down. There simply was not anyone coming…and they are right across the road in a great location. Another Sugar Mountain restaurant which opened this past Summer to rave reviews and a parking lot FULL of cars is barely making it. They’ll do fine once the season ends and the summer crowd returns.

You can repeat that story across the region as the dreams of some small business entreprenuers are being dashed upon the rocks that are showing through because there’s not enough cold weather and snow.

<This shot of Ober this morning shows how tough it;’s been this season at the Smoky Mountain ski area.

The ski areas themselves are semi-prepared…and the crazy thing is that even though there’s been so little in the way of cold temps…there IS plenty of snow to go ride. For the most part there is plenty of side-to-side coverage at all of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic ski areas. Things are sketch on some trails here and there, but it isn’t like they could do much about it. Appalachian looks pretty good. Massanutten and Bryce Resort in Virginia are in better shape and as mentioned TOO MANY TIMES this season…those resorts northward into West Virginia and Maryland are in better shape still. I actually feel very bad for Ober Gatlinburg. Whew!


So Dr. Phil (the rodent, not the bald guy on television) predicted six MORE weeks of winter the other day. Dr. Phil is a Computer Science professor at Punxsutawney State Girls College nearby – when he isn’t hiding in his hole in fake tree stump so I don’t put a lot of stock in anything that critter says. (Yep, he loves the ladies!)

In fact, just a short cruise as the crow flies into New York, "Staten Island Chuck" strongly disagreed with Dr. Phil’s assessment. He proclaimed it will be an early Spring. He was held high in the air by Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he made his early Spring proclamation.

The temperature Wednesday at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport hit a record for the day: 64 degrees. That’s more than 20° degrees above normal for this time of year.

Prior to this winter MANY forecasters were calling for a winter that might be challenging, but they also predicted snowfall at about normal and temps that would be a degree or so plus or minus normal. (They always hedge their bets.)

The Woolly Worm blew it – again.

Week one – Snow, Cold – nope
Week two – Cold, Snowy – nope
Week three – Cold, Snowy – nope
Week four – Cold, Snowy – nope
Week five – Lt Snow and Cold – nope
Week six – Normal cold and snow – nope

Week’s seven through eleven are meant to be "Normal and Cold" and the final two weeks of winter in March are forecasted to be "Cold and Snowy".

I’ll go ahead and say the multi-colored critter will be 1 or 2 for 13. Not so good.

Dr. Ray did his "Fearless Forecast" again this preseason and forecasted "Near Normal Snow" and "Slightly Colder than Normal Temperatures."


He forecasted 110" of snow for Beech Mountain and 90" for Sugar. At 29.6" on the season, we’d better see a Blizzard of 2012 if we’re going to get the other EIGHTY INCHES!!!

Just FYI, he’s not alone in his blowing the forecast for this winter. Accuweather’s talented team is so far off, they are probably scrambling to save face by editing the content posted back in November. (Not really – they’ve left it running for those of you who want to go read that nonsense.)

SO – ANSWER US…is there ANY hope!?!?!

If you believe in the Old Farmer’s Almanac – February is meant to turn cold and snowy.

Here’s what The Farmer’s Almanac’s Caleb Weatherbee said on January 30th, "As many of you have pointed out here on our website, and elsewhere, this winter has gotten off to a really slow start, which is precisely what we predicted. We called for mild temperatures in much of North America, and very few storms in December or January, even in those areas that we said would be very wet or white. That may lead some of you to believe that Old Man winter will pass by without making himself known, but that’s not what we saw when we compiled our long-range forecast more than two years ago. In fact, we think this winter will come on in full force over the next few weeks, with a few wide-reaching storms predicted through the month of February.

We’re calling for heavy snow, with accumulation of up to a foot, over the Midwest, Canadian prairies, Rocky Mountains, and Pacific Northwest next week, and an equally heavy snowfall for Eastern Canada, New England, and the Mid-Atlantic closer to the middle of the month. Elsewhere, we see plenty of light snow throughout the month.

Moving into March, we’re predicting a little more snow for New England, with heavy rain showers elsewhere. March will probably feel more like spring than winter in many areas, but a wet, chilly spring. Look for a few flurries in Ontario near the official start of spring, a parting gift from Old Man Winter as he packs it in for another year."

So according to them, February should be cold. Don’t know if you caught what he said, but THEY forecasted this slow start TWO YEARS AGO!

Dr. Ray reported this morning (via his daily post) that we MAY see a return to winter pattern late next week. That would put us into near mid month. Thus far it hasn’t been cold OR snowy, so I’m beginning to think we’re stuck with what we have and we might as well make the best of it.

Go play tennis or golf when it’s 60° and head to the mountains on the weekends (when it’s decent) and have some fun on the snow.



Some of the ski areas are displaying some "discolored" snow despite great base depths.

THE SHAMEFUL MEDAL GOES TO…Extreme Snowboard and Ski Shop in Banner Elk. Extreme is pointing the Sugar camera down to the grass to avoid allowing people to see Sugar Mountain’s full front view. Sugar ACTUALLY looks decent, so that is a shame, really.

Give old Gunther credit at Sugar…he was slow to come around to appreciating the use of web cams but he’s at least showing his consistently.

Lot’s of heavy fog. That has been an encore performance all season.

Six more weeks of winter…I predicted it before that varmint did. When will we get the first six weeks of winter? SEE ABOVE.

NO BULL REPORTING…that’s what we’re good at…I think.

Appalachian – 41° – 100% open

Beech Mountain – 38° – 11 of 15 trails – looking thin in areas. Bare spots too.

Cataloochee – 42° – 13 of 16 trails

Sugar Mtn – 39.6° – 16 of 20 trails – looking thin in areas. Bare spots too.

Wolf Ridge – 39° – 10 of 22 trails – looking thin in areas. Bare spots too.

Sapphire Valley – 41° and CLOSED. Starting to have some doubts as to whether or not they will get reopened for this season. Bear in mind they opened January 6th and only operated sporadically over that next two and a half weeks.

As the trend has been this season, it is a bit colder into EVEN Virginia this season. (Typically the NC resorts are simply colder than those in the state of Virginia but not so for much of this season.

Bryce Resort – 30° – 100% open – Looks pretty darn good here! Not quite as good as their snow report page is seeming to say, but nice nonetheless!

Massanutten – 33° – 10 of 14 trails – Snow looks good here.

The Homestead – 31.6° – 4 of 10 trails open. We are pleased to be getting great updates daily from Homestead’s Director of Recreation, Matt Fussell. We’ll be seeing a new STREAMING camera up there next week!

Wintergreen – 41° – 14 of 26 trails – snow looks good here!

It is a notch colder into West Virginia…

Canaan Valley – 28° – 13 of 39 trails

Snowshoe – 33° – 54 of 60 trails open. They continue to boast good conditions and 215 acres of open terrain. Coming up on Monday, February 6th, the legendary Cupp Run Challenge returns as one of Snowshoe’s oldest traditions. The Western Territory is calling!

Snowshoe is providing a GREAT deal for our SkiSoutheast Summit coming up March 2-3-4th. 25% off all lodging and we’ll be doing first tracks on Saturday AND Sunday! All you have to do is call Snowshoe and book using the PROMO CODE – SNOW! Be sure to let us know you’re joining us over on the messageboard. http://skinc.com/messageboard/showthread.php?t=14905

Timberline – 26° – 26 of 40 trails open and they are looking good AND pretty crowded at 8:30am! Check out the cam: http://www.highcountrywebcams.com/webcameras_timberline.htm

Telemark Workshop
Feb 5, 2012
Bored skiing or riding? Looking for a new challenge? Then telemark is for you. Besides being a great workout you can also experience the slopes all over again from a new perspective. Email Annie Snyder @ [email protected] for more information

<Winterplace looks pretty sweet this AM

Winterplace – 39° – 25 of 27 trails and these guys look GREAT via the live cam. Check it out at: http://www.highcountrywebcams.com/webcameras_winterplace.htm  

Travis and these guys have done a great job of offering a great product this season. Winterplace is an easy drive for most of our readers and right off I77. We’d say they are worth a visit right now!

Wisp Resort – 32° and the only ski area making snow that we received a report from. They are open with 25 of 32 trails. Looks pretty darn nice here as well! See: http://www.wispresort.com/wisp/info/w.webcam.aspx  

Ober Gatlinburg – 50° – 4 of 9 trails and thin coverage and bare spots. Ober is looking p-r-e-t-t-y rough. Not anything they can do about it…but things are pretty yuck up there.

Anyone thinking of maybe hitting Liberty Snowflex? They are 100% open with PERFECT conditions. Check them out at: http://www.liberty.edu/snowflex/  

That’s it for today. Enough don’t you think?!?! Write me at [email protected]  or [email protected] . Visit www.HighCountryWebCams.com  for a lot of new camera choices!

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