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by Joe Stevens

Hello Everyone –

You know sometimes you just have to face the facts and understand that as much as you want to be open and provide some fun on the slopes for skiers and snowboarders, there comes a time that reality sets in and the season is over.

That time has come as a couple of resorts have pulled the plug on the 2023 -2024 season and a group more are pulling the ropes across the slopes after today (Sunday, March 10).

With that said, I do know that there are plans for other resorts to hang in there and try and make it to the end of this month.  All I can say is more power to their operations teams.  There are some forecasts out there showing some colder nights and that will allow, maybe not for snowmaking but a chance to groom and push around some snow, without losing much of the white stuff.

I want to take a quick moment to send best wishes to our industry colleagues out west.  You see I am on a Zoom call every two weeks with my association counterparts from around the country and the California representative was telling us that again this season there is just too much snow and the chance of lives being lost is much more important than skiing or snowboarding during the recent blizzard.

In fact, the group was told that some of the top resorts out in the affected areas went ahead and closed during much of the blizzard.  Man, that’s rough. We were told that after they could get back out on the hill, thinking it was going to be an epic powder day, the snow was so heavy, they were only skiing on the top six inches.

I have said, at least in these parts, that you can never have too much snow.

Now for the other end of the spectrum, my association counterpart in Minnesota reported that due to the extreme lack of cold temperatures and natural snow, the ski areas in the state have taken a severe economic hit this season.  So drastic of a hit that the governor of Minnesota has declared a state of emergency and is offering small businesses loans of up to two million dollars just for the resorts to pay their bills.

Now that my friend is definitely two sides of the coin, way too much snow and can’t open and not enough snow and can’t open.  Can you say this is just one fickle industry? I value the days when weather was a bit easier to forecast.  Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Now let’s switch gears a little bit and hear about a chat I had with one of my “Ear To The Ground” industry connections, Morgan Long, Manager of the Ski Barn located in Ghent, West Virginia, the site of Winterplace Ski Resort.

As I have said many times, if you want to find out the inside story and what’s really going on in the industry, go outside of the resort surrounding, as things are said outside of those boundaries that are not communicated on the interior, so to speak.

What I found out from Morgan is that, even though closing probably a week sooner than desired, she feels that traffic to Winterplace this season was pretty good judging from the number of visitors to her store. She told me she was surprised and pleased with the number of returning folks that came through her doors this season.

That is something that makes everyone in the industry smile and that’s returning customers.  You see, the majority of the money spent by resorts to attract visitors is spent on those first time guests.  When those same visitors begin to return over and over, then the resorts start to see their marketing efforts pay off.

One thing that Morgan told me was that since Winterplace is getting back into providing events on a regular basis at the resort, she believes it really helped this year.  She feels it gave folks a reason to make the trip to Ghent.  Also having conditions that were as good as anywhere else, didn’t hurt either.

The shop manager explained to me that events helped bring back the local crowd on a more regular basis.  I was curious what she considered the local community included?  Basically, she told me that includes skiers and snowboarders within a 90 minute drive.  For Winterplace that stretches from Princeton, West Virginia to the south, Blacksburg, Virginia to the east and Charleston, West Virginia to the north.

That area did surprise me a bit, as I thought of local being like having that corner watering hole right around the corner.  But I guess when the snow is good and the events are fun, they come.  It proves that the saying, “If you build it, they will come,” works with this thought process also.

Just like every ski shop out there, the Ski Barn offers a full range of retail items, but as is the case for any ski shop located in shouting distance from a ski resort, ski and snowboard rentals are the thing that drives the profit margins.

For the most part Morgan said rentals weren’t down, but really weren’t up that much either, basically an average year.

What was up though was the sale of new equipment, Morgan telling me that it just seemed that skiers and snowboarders were excited to own their own equipment.  May I say, I resemble that remark, hint, hint to my favorite editor.  Some inside the beltway humor there. (Note from the editor: he still wants that new snowboard.)

So as the days begin to wind down for the 2023 – 2024, we should be thankful for the resort operators that spent the money in snowmaking and provided a product for everyone to have fun on again this season.

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. Make sure to go and make some turns and let gravity be your friend.

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