Sugar Mountain Resort and Snowshoe Mountain Resort were the lone ski areas still open on Sunday. They both stopped their lifts shortly after 4:30pm Sunday, signaling the official end to the 2020-2021 ski & snowboarding season.
…and brothers and sisters it was a Great One!
To start things off, Joe Stevens shares his final Snow News is Good News column of the season and it reflects his annual “Snowies” Awards. Check that out right here…
Thanks to Joe for his 24th post of the season. That was a record season for Joe’s contributions. Thank you sir. I think I speak for most everyone in the industry and out there within our readership in saying that we all appreciate your experienced view on things within the snow sports arena.
Joe’s Snowies are sort of a seasonal wrap up all their own as he reports on this season’s accolades.
The 2020-2021 ski & snowboarding season will go down as one of, if not THE MOST unusual seasons ever. A whole lot went right, that could have easily gone wrong. The weather was NOT as crazy-great as many perceived it to have been. It was ABOUT normal in terms of temperatures for the entire season, but natural snowfall was a real MIX in terms of how much snow fell (or didn’t) in many areas. However, enough snow fell and at JUST the perfect times, to create the perception that it was a snowy season.
We only had rainfall on 2-4 of the weekends over the entire season and ALL of the important, long weekends and Holidays such as Christmas-to-New-Year, President’s Day Weekend and MLK Weekend – were ALL about as great as they could have been in terms of providing great enough weather to keep the masses engaged and booked solid.
During a crazy, Covid-19 Pandemic – there were no massive outbreaks at the ski resorts. (We did receive reports of staff members at a couple of our ski areas getting the virus, but those were sporadic and well-handled.) There were no scary, Covid-19 spreads reported among visitors after visiting any ski area. (Those kinds of stories would have been a season-killer for sure.)
Not ONE ski resort or state agency had to pull the plug even for one day. There were MANY naysayers and “doubting Thomas’s” at the beginning of the season who boldly predicted that this season would never last and that we were all foolish, reckless and even selfish for trying to pull it off in the first place.
I am so happy to report that this season was one for the record books in so many ways.
Just HOW Great Was This Season From an Attendance Viewpoint?
Skier visit numbers are always hard to pull from the individual ski resorts. That has always been the case for as long as I can remember. This season’s numbers will likely be kept even closer to the vest – some due to the concerns over perception and some, simply because they tend to be secretive anyway.
Over the years, I have come to expect answers like this one that I received from one of our resort presidents after the 2009-2010 season when they had a record snowfall season. (In fact, it remains as the snowiest season in the last seventeen years.) When I asked him if this was the busiest skier-visit season he answered, “Mike, I’ll tell you that we don’t get so caught up in actual ticket sales numbers but I’d rate it in the top two or three seasons for sure.”
Interestingly, I asked him the same question after what I KNEW was a sub-par season and got the same answer! It always amazes me though, when resorts come out with their group, economic impact studies, skier-visit numbers are always shared – and they are ALWAYS big numbers!
It’s all about timing…
So while I can’t share specific numbers just yet, what I WILL share is that the 2020-2021 ski & snowboarding season saw more skier-visit numbers counted (combined) at ALL of the ski resorts within the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. More than ever. Mountain community tourism numbers were off the charts according to every town manager I have spoken with.
Every weekend was packed; every Holiday period was sold out and we saw more mid-week skiers and snowboarders than ever before.
In a rough polling of all of our sixteen ski areas – I received feedback from NINE of them that this season was indeed their most visited ever. Four of the six, North Carolina ski resorts set attendance records during this season. In the tarheel state, ONLY Appalachian Ski Mountain truly limited ticket sales daily, all season long, and even they were way busier-than-normal during weekdays. Wolf Ridge Resort unquestionably had a great season compared to the many seasons prior to this one. However, there have certainly been better years in their past. There is no doubt that this will turn out to be a single-season attendance record in the state of North Carolina.
Of the remaining TEN resorts in the region, FIVE shared with me that this season was a record season in many ways. I pinned down a couple resort managers and they shared, “Mike, I’ll just sum things up to say that it was nice to make money this season.”
(As I said, these guys and gals keep their cards close to the vest.)
Which Resorts Might NOT Have Set Records?
I heard from so many patrollers and marketing staffers that they had never seen anything like this season in terms of the sheer volume of visitors. When I took things into my own hands to kind of sum things up, I’d have to report that only the following ski resorts had something OTHER than a record attendance season.
Appalachian Ski Mountain – I usually have nice chats with President, Brad Moretz and I’m sure he’ll text me soon. However, I’d guess that since they had THE most detailed system setup to limit and schedule lift ticket sales this season – that THEY may not have set a skier-visit record. However, the sheer volume of mid-week skiers & snowboarders may have offset things that were scaled back on weekends and holidays. (Every Blowing Rock hotel and vacation rental firm I know of set records this season.)
Omni Homestead Resort – It is easy to report that The Homestead Resort didn’t set single-season records this season because they actually geared things back to only being open on the weekends this season for all but Holiday periods. Kind of hard to set records when you only opened three days a week. Nevertheless, according to Lynn Swann of Omni, they had a “remarkable and great season.”
Wolf Ridge Resort – I have already shared a snippet of the facts that would seem to indicate that Wolf has seen better seasons in their more “glory years”. No doubt they had a nice season. However, on only two or three days did they ever have more than 8 trails open. There is no question that just before the financial crash of 2007-2008, Wolf was kicking some butt. Since that time if they didn’t have bad luck, they would have had no luck. Subpar winters, fires and some purchase deals that have fallen through have made for some tougher times at the Mars Hill ski area. Nevertheless, they had a very nice season.
West Virginia Resort – None of them. – Okay, this is a hard one for me to accept as fact. However, I will take them at their word. According to all four of the WV resorts, they all did nicely, but n-o-b-o-d-y set records.
All I can tell you is that finding a room or equipment rental for nearly the entire season was nearly impossible. The word is that it was a great one for all resorts in the Wild & Wonderful state, but not a record. (I’ll admit that I had a hard time even typing those words. I had personal conversations with many in the WV ski industry and heard comments all season long about “not ever seeing anything like the tourism crowds”…even back into last Summer and Fall. Something doesn’t feel right about it, but I’ll leave it at that.)
…so MY personal perception about the WV skier-visit numbers might have been “off”…
The Mistaken Impression of How Snowy This Season Was
Here’s a good transition…
I have received countless emails and read even more comments on social media about “how great the weather was and about how much snow fell this season”. The crazy truth is that overall, this winter will probably go down as a SLIGHTLY milder than normal by a couple of tenths of a degree. In terms of natural snowfall, this was either EXACTLY NORMAL, slightly more than normal or WAY THE HECK BELOW NORMAL, depending on where you look.
What MADE this season such a great one is that we could not have had better timed cold snaps and lack of rain on weekends and Holidays. We also didn’t have a truly “blow torch, warm period” (as meteorologist, Brad Panovich calls them) at all this season.
In terms of natural snowfall, it was a crazy ride – especially for the North Carolina mountain resorts this season. Punxsutawney Phil came along on February 4th for his usual shindig – although handled virtually this year. He predicted six more weeks of winter. The North Carolina mountains already had 73″ of natural snow by that date and they picked up five more inches of the “white gold” on February 7th and then THAT WAS IT baby. We only had a couple of dustings after February 7th and NO measurable snow for the rest of winter. NADA.
The Virginia ski resorts saw SOME measurable snowfall after February 4th and they ended up CLOSE to normal.
The West Virginia mountains seemed snowy all February but as you’ll see in the chart below, they fell well short of average per winter.
Canaan Valley Weather’s David Lesher reported on March 20th that they had received NO measurable snowfall within the entire month of March for the time ever since he began reporting/tracking in 2001.
The craziest thing is that the North Carolina mountains actually hit RIGHT AT their average, annual snowfall without getting more than a dusting after February 7th!
Here are how things ended up:
|Location||Season Total||Normal Season||+/-|
|Canaan Valley Resort||111.7″||180″ *||– 68.3″|
|Timberline Mountain||111.7″||180″ *||– 68.3″|
|Wisp Resort||109″||133.5″||– 24.5″|
|Snowshoe Mountain||105.5″||180″ *||– 74.5″|
|Beech Mountain||78″||80″||Close enough|
|Sugar Mountain||72.5″||78″||– 5.5″|
|Wolf Ridge Resort||63″||65″||+ 2″|
|Winterplace Resort||43″||100″||– 57″|
|Cataloochee Ski||41″||40″||+ 1″|
|Bryce Resort||32″||30″||+ 2″|
|Omni Homestead||33″||50″||– 17″|
|Ober Gatlinburg||27.5″||35″||– 7.5″
|Wintergreen Resort||31.5″||34″||+ 2.5″|
|Appalachian Ski||26″||50″||– 24″
|Massanutten Resort||26.5″||35″||– 8.5″|
|Sapphire Valley||11″||30″||– 19″
* Snowshoe, Timberline and Canaan all have reported 180″ as their annual snowfall for several years although some have adjusted that to 150″ annually. Either way, this was a subpar snow season.
Only FIVE of the SIXTEEN ski resorts saw average or better snowfall and those were Beech Mountain Resort, Wolf Ridge Resort, Cataloochee Ski Area, Bryce Resort and Wintergreen Resort. Every one else was less than average and the West Virginia ski resorts were FIVE to SIX FEET below normal!
How is THAT for perceived winter weather!?!?!
But Let’s Finish Nicely…
Those who know me or who have followed this website for years know that I am a “glass half full” kind of guy. That said, man oh man could this season have gone off the rails. There were so many cards stacked against this season being a successful one. Every ski area and every state’s Governor’s office played the cards they were all dealt. The industry as a whole – nationally – developed and embraced the Ski Well, Be Well Program and resort ops managed to enforce the safety protocols and everything went off without any major glitch.
I’ve spoken with numerous resort managers and presidents, including Winterplace Resort, President, Terry Pfeiffer who shared, “Mike, we have learned so much during this past season that we ended up putting things in place probably five-to-ten years before we would have otherwise – that we will keep in place for seasons to come.”
What that meant was that doing ski lessons bookings in advance – AND even lift ticket purchases in advance might be here to stay for many ski resorts going forward – with or without the influence of any kind of covid-related impetus.
If you think about it, most often you can’t get on a golf course without a tee time. By knowing how many people are coming in advance, ski resorts can better manage rental equipment and even team resources to know in advance whether they need more people for ski school etc.
We’ll see how things go this summer and fall in terms of tourism. Every bit of intel that I am hearing says that this summer will be yet another record breaker for our mountain communities.
My Parting “Thank You’s”
My special thanks first has to go to YOU, our readers. Without YOU, there would be no “US”. We’ll share more numbers later, but we just experienced our best viewer/reader numbers ever and by a massive longshot. So THANK you for dropping by daily to grab your snow-fix here at SkiSoutheast. Thanks for sharing the message on Social media as well. Thank YOU readers!
My next thanks has to go to Matt Laws who carried the weekday “torch” to keep FirsTrax news flowing for 120 weekdays this season. It is not easy to post 120+ articles and keep it entertaining and informative. But thanks Matt for doing just that. I appreciate you more than you know.
Thanks to Kenny Griffin who stepped in for many FirsTrax posts as well as Instagram and Facebook LIVE shares. Kenny’s cutting edge and very polished videos are always a fan favorite and his enthusiasm for all things snow is second-to-none. It was hard to keep Kenny focused on “Appnet work” at times because this was such an awesome season. However, Kenny IS the IT behind SkiSoutheast and ResortCams and I have to thank you for always being ON CALL. We all know that “Murphy’s Law” dictates that things will almost always break down on weekends and Holidays and that was true to form this season. It was great riding with you this season on a number of occasions. We’ll have to shoot for even more opportunities next season.
Thanks to the ONLY, professional meteorologist on a ski website like ours – in Mr. Brad Panovich. Brad’s contributions are many both in front of the camera, on the air in Charlotte, North Carolina and behind the scenes promoting us on social media and otherwise. Brad posts 25-30, studio quality Skier’s Forecast videos annually and those forecasts are among the most accurate in the region. Having Brad as a part of our team is priceless. I’m just glad he loves weather so much, because we could not afford him otherwise! Brad, thank you on behalf of myself, our team and our readers. Trust me, the ski area mountain ops crew love you as well!
Thanks to reporter, Brian Dix who stepped up his game this season! Brian, it was good to see you this past week. Missed not hanging out at the Summit. Hopefully, we will get that opportunity again next season. We talked about connecting multiple times at various resorts this season and that didn’t happen (my fault), but thanks for being the passionate snow-lover that you are. It was great getting input at and from so many ski areas this season. Much much appreciated. I look forward to you contributing over the off-season and next season.
Thanks also to Rudy Ryback. Rudy was kind of behind-the-scenes reporter this season. I wouldn’t even know he was lurking out there at various mountains this season and then all of a sudden a story would appear! Thanks for your unique perspective on the sport, Rudy. Thanks for being a part of our team. I hate that we missed each other by less than an hour or so at Canaan Valley and Timberline earlier this month. We’ll have to make it happen next season.
I’d also like to mention and thank my administrative assistant, Lindsay Robles, Justin Partridge and other members of my team who were able to get out on the snow a couple of times this season. We’ll try to do that more this season. I appreciated YOUR contributions this season in making my job easier.
So again – thank YOU ALL for making me look good and for making this season on SkiSoutheast.com such an awesome one.
Last but certainly not least, I could not go without thanking your friend and mine, Joe Stevens for his many contributions this and every season. Joe is a weekly contributor via Snow News is Good News and to that end, he posted 24 such posts this season.
Joe is also vital to the West Virginia Ski Resorts as the official spokesperson for the WV Ski Areas Association.
However, he is a lot more than that. While I have published this website for these 26 seasons, JOE has been in the snow-sports industry for 36 years…working it 365 days a year. His contributions and footprint on the sport are untold. He IS a tireless worker for the sport that he is passionate about.
I hear from Joe a couple of times a week during the season and my staff at Appnet hears from him even more than that. He is always, always hustling to provide the latest news for the sport and trust me, he has his ear to the ground.
We were talking about this earlier this month, but he and I struck up an early friendship when he was at Snowshoe and I was in the early stages of developing SkiNC.com. That friendship grew and so has our network of influence within the region. We’ve seen each other’s kids grow up and while HE talks about getting old, I’m still fighting it!
The truth is Joe, I thank you and appreciate your suggestions, ideas and consistent input into all we do here at SkiSoutheast, ResortCams and our Social Media coverage. More than that, I appreciate your friendship.
Thanks again. You sir, are MUCH appreciated.
Well THAT will now do it for me at least for a little bit. We will continue to post some periodic updates over the next few weeks…and look forward to doing it all over again – NEXT YEAR! We will gear up fully again in October! (Gosh that is only seven months away!)
That will do it for me today. Email me anything you like at [email protected]