Could the National Health Care Bill SHORTEN OUR SKI SEASONS!?!? Yes, it could! See how…

First Trax

Joe – you did it again. "Joe" is Joe Stevens, who in addition to being a good friend to this website and me personally also writes a column for us, writes updates for the  website and serves as the spokesperson for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association. What Joe "did again" was call or email me with information about a subject that I had either just finished writing about (but not posted yet) or was in the midst of writing about. It’s uncanny…but I guess it could come under the "great minds think alike" thing.

However, I’m sitting here at 7:15am clicking away on my keyboard about a story that I had thought about the other day when our despot – I mean President pushed his way through the system and got his health care bill passed. That health care bill might have a detrimental effect on the ski resorts of our region in more than one way. 

I was just about to put the finishing touches on the story and post it and I received an email from Joe that included the Snow Industry Letter attached to it and guess what it was about?

Yep…this very subject. Way to go Joe.

My thoughts and concerns were quickly confirmed by other ski industry insiders. I have not had an opportunity to speak with the managers of our region’s resorts about it yet and my guess is if I did I would hear of lot of – "let’s just wait and see what happens" comments.

While many states and numerous legislators are positioning themselves to overturn the bill, and while many more are calling it unconstitutional…it is very possible that it will stick.  What happens next and how could it affect our ski resorts and utimately YOUR cost of skiing and riding the snow?
The new law includes a provision that takes effect in 2014 that will fine businesses that don’t offer medical insurance to employees who work more than 120 days per year.

Does that 120 day figure sound familiar to you? It should. It is the number of days that a lot of ski areas remain open each winter ski season. Most resorts operate that many days and most longer than that.

If you’re pretty quick on your feet you’re probably already seeing where this is going. Either one or two things could happen and neither one is that great. First, we could see scenarios where ski areas would immediately opt for not being open for those 120 days…making for a shorter season. This week we just wrote a story that suggested that with the advances in snowmaking mechanisms and with cooperating weather we could see a season that lasted from mid October to mid April. That could be a short-lived dream if ski areas opt to stay under the 120 day guidelines.
Of course, resorts like Snowshoe, Wisp, Wintergreen, The Homestead and others don’t actually "close down" as they are four season resorts that offer year-round activities. While they may employ far less people during non-winter seasons, they would be forced to either insure or pay fines per person that they employed.

That would force higher lift ticket prices for certain…and it would probably force ski areas to employ less people as well. I’m not going to name names this morning but if you’ve ever visited a ski area that is understaffed YOU KNOW the negative effects on customer service and visitor enjoyment.

Consider for a second the fact that a few of our region’s ski areas EACH employs approximately 300 people during the ski season. It would cost each resort $600,000 a year to pay the fines associated with the new legislation OR they could opt to only be open 119 days and not have to pay those fines. An alternative would be to raise ticket prices by $5.00 to $10.00 per skier visit to cover the cost but anyone who follows this website has seen messageboard posts already complaining about high lift ticket prices at Sugar, Snowshoe and other resorts.

Bear in mind that even "ski season only" resorts employ from 20-50 year-round employees and the cost of insuring or paying the fines are pretty close to equal according to some industry insiders so look for higher lift ticket prices in your future. Those higher prices could grow substantially higher if the adverse effect is diminished skier visits. In other words, if the higher prices keep people away then the $600,000 cost will be shared by fewer people.

Of course resorts like Snowshoe Mountain employ approximately 1400 people during the peak season and that would add nearly THREE MILLION DOLLARS to their operating costs. Based on Snowshoe’s normal season skier visit numbers – that could showup as a $10 per lift ticket increase.

This season alone I received hundreds of emails complaining about the high costs of skiing. It could get worse.


Give me a break. When will these blithering idiots (on BOTH sides of the aisle) in congress leave us alone to enjoy life?

Two states have already proposed mandantory helmet laws that would mandate the use of helmets for skiers and snowboarders at winter resorts in New York and California. (Look for others to follow…)

Guess who would pay the penalties for people found in violation? Resorts would face fines of $100 for a first violation and $200 for a second, with a provision that repeat violations could result in a three-day suspension of its license. The bill also requires resorts to post educational material about injury prevention.

Just FYI and for what it’s worth…all of the people who have presented these mandates for each of the states are democrats. Go figure….


The weather for this weekend is looking remarkable for the ski areas that remain open. Visit in droves for the next two weekends and you might see a surprise resort going yet one more weekend past the April 11th date that Appalachian and Cataloochee are all talking about staying open through.

Quick update on resort closures…

As you know – Appalachian Ski Mountain will operate until April 11th. Cataloochee has said that they will operate weekends only through April 11th. Wisp had been sharing that they too would operate weekends until April 11th, but have now backed off of that and they will now ski THIS WEEKEND and call it quits.

Wisp will ski, board, snow tube, ice skate and mountain coaster it this weekend April 3rd and 4th and close for the season on Sunday. They are offering a sunrise service at 6am Sunday and an Easter Egg Hunt and Easter Bunny Rail Jam at noon and 1pm Sunday.

Remember that this is Snowshoe’s last Hurrah weekend as well. So get up to the mountains and enjoy your last few days of opptunities for the season!

We’re on day 125 and there are 12 more days of opportunities to enjoy the snow for the 2009-2010 ski and snowboarding season!

Go enjoy the snow! Check out the Snow Report at  and please send us your favorite ski photos, ski videos, trip reports and comments to [email protected]  

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