First Trax

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Story by Mike Doble – [email protected]

UPDATE: 08/05: Fogs in August
Aug 1: Moderate to heavy fog covered Hound Ears and Valle Crucis
Aug 2: Moderate Fog in Foscoe, Banner Elk and Blowing Rock
Aug 3: No fog
Aug 4: No fog
Aug 5: Moderate fog across most of High Country

Here we go again. I'm back at the steering wheel and I will be your driver for the 2014-2015 ski and snowboarding season. I want to personally thank Tim Bahlke for handling the daily ski report and FirsTrax news all last season. He and Kenny Griffin did a fabulous job – allowing me to stop in and post on rare occasions. I'll spare you the details, but suffice to say that I am back and reenergized to be your "host" for the sharing of news and what's happening across the landscape THAT IS Southeast and mid-Atlantic skiing and snowboarding. I hope that longtime readers will stop by daily and that you'll tell others about our little "piece of real estate" on the internet.


Allow me  welcome you to SEASON NINETEEN for SkiNorthCarolina (or SkiNC) as many of you guys and gals know it. It's also season SEVENTEEN for as we expanded our coverage to all of the ski areas of the southeast and mid-Atlantic back in 1998. I can thank our buddy Joe Stevens for providing the impetus for that real expansion a couple of years later.

Time does fly. It is really hard for me to grasp that it has been nearly two decades ago that I had an idea to begin reporting on all things skiing and snowboarding in the region. That was in August of 1996. By September I had already made contact with most of the ski resorts in North Carolina about the ideas that I had. There were eight ski areas in North Carolina back then including Ski Beech (formerly Beech Mountain Resort and NOW Beech Mountain Resort again), Sugar Mountain, Appalachian Ski Mountain, Hawksnest, Wolf Ridge Resort (formerly Wolf Laurel Ski Resort, then Ski the Wolf, Ski the Ridges, and God knows what else), Cataloochee, Sapphire Valley, and Scaly Mountain (they were still skiing back then).

I made a few calls to see what kind of interest there would be from the ski area managers and the only "takers" I had that first season was from then Ski Beech Marketing Director, Sheila Fletcher and from Leonard Cottom of Hawksnest. We built a couple of websites for those two resorts and launched SkiNC at the web address of (no I'm not kidding).

Back in those early days of the "world wide web" as we knew it back then, I remember being excited when those old-fashioned counters that we had to track "visitors" tallied (100) visitors a day. (In reality that meant we MIGHT have actually had 30 visitors a day!) I began "blogging" every day before I knew it was blogging and remember being amazed that people would email me in response to some of my comments. The next thing I knew, people began asking me questions and advice on where to go, and which resort had the best conditions, etc.

A couple of years later I came to know that not only were more and more visitors finding us every day, but I began to realize that the ski resort managers and owners were "dropping by" each morning for a quick read. MOST of the first bits of feedback that I received from those management types were in the form of "atta boys" but there were also some "finger shakings" and negative comments aimed our way for simply "telling things like they were".

It's funny the way things worked out, because my initial INTENTIONS were to get the ski resort people on board working together WITH ME to get "the message out" about truly how cool our resorts were and how MOST OFTEN things were awesome as far as snow on the slopes were, etc. However, after not getting much "support" from the ski areas in those first few seasons, I kind of fell into a pattern that I was REALLY doing the website because I PERSONALLY loved the snow and I wanted to inform potential visitors of the conditions. Period. It became "a calling" to be a "NO BULL REPORTING" service.


Twenty years ago, if you wanted to learn about ski resorts, and particularly what the slope conditions were like, there weren’t too many options. You could call local resorts to find out what conditions were like and those calls were often a toll call. Oddly enough, when and if you made that call inquiring about the conditions they were – suspiciously — always “excellent.”

Information (and especially accurate information) wasn't easy to come by.
What I found out in those first few seasons was that the vast majority of the ski area managers, marketing people and owners were already "NO BULL REPORTERS" themselves. They were kindred spirits in that the only thing they wanted to do was to tell the story of why to ski with them. Sure, there were a couple of "adversarials" here and there who were content (or maybe even intent) to misinform people for any number of reasons. However, you'll find that in any tourism-related business. Whereas 95% of business owners will shoot you straight, there are always one or two who are willing to stretch the truth to gain an edge. Those first few seasons were "interesting" to say the least, because I don't think I/we took in a DIME from ANY source in terms of advertising, support or anything. If memory serves me correctly I'm fairly certain that I did the website for the first five or six years for nothing. It wasn't until I went on a Media Weekend at Snowshoe – at the invitation of Joe Stevens that I caught a glimpse of how to monetize the website. I was introduced to  M. Scott Smith who owns Scott had started his website two years earlier (1994) and while in conversation Scott asked me how much I charged for banner ads. I never really answered but allowed him to keep on talking. Scott was and still is a computer scientist and researcher who is one of those guys whose "real job" is one that has him working underground clicking away at a keyboard for entities "unknown".

A-n-y-w-a-y, he informed me that he was aware that SkiNC and SkiSoutheast received more traffic than his website and he was wondering how we did it and (again) what I charged our advertisers to run ads. I must have appeared reluctant to answer because he volunteered that he charged $2000-$3000 annually for ad space and sold only 10-20 ads a year and called that "sold out" before the seasons would begin.

Well HECK, I went home and started selling ad space! I remember doing some research back then and finding out that our little place on the internet was pulling about five times more traffic than any other ski presence within our region – including Scott's.
Fast forward to 2013-2014 and pulled a whopping SEVEN times more traffic than any other ski promotional website in our region. In MAY of this year we attracted more than 180,000 unique visitors! We even compare better per "coverage state" than national websites such as


The last few years we've seen trends in terms of YOU, our visitors who physically make it up to the ski resorts of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic. What used to be long weekends for many of you, turned into one night stays. What used to be week-long getaways, turned into weekends. We've heard that from not only the ski resorts but also from dozens of lodging clients.


This past Summer I have personally noticed a difference in our area's traffic. The roads of the High Country have been heavily trafficked all summer long. Simply trying to get out of our parking lot at the office on Fridays sometimes takes ten minutes because of the heavier flow of traffic. The Grandfather Mountain Highland Games saw record crowds in early July. Lodging is UP according to everyone that I have spoken with.
That leads me to believe that this coming ski and snowboarding season could be a record breaker if "Ma Nature" cooperates at all.


As I was driving in to work every morning in July I noticed how often it was foggy. My thoughts turned to "fogs in August" as that old farmer's key to how many snowfalls we'd have in the winter. Whether it is folklore or some kind of true indicator, the story goes that each winter the number of snowstorms that we have will almost perfectly match the number of foggy mornings in August. We've tracked it for most of the last (19) years and I can attest to the fact that it has been uncanny how often it is within one or two of being dead-on.

Today is AUGUST 1st and it was most definitely a foggy morning. Fog blanketed the valleys as I drove in and it was fairly heavy over Hound Ears this morning. My staff informed me that the same was true around Blowing Rock and Valle Crucis.
So DAY ONE…FOG. That's one snowstorm for this winter 😉

I can also tell you that for the first time in a couple of years, my yard is already FULL of acorns and the chipmunks and squirrels have been busy guests in my yard. I recently built a new waterfall feature and they seem to really like the new "accommodations" that I've provided.  I don't think it's my imagination that "critter traffic" seems to be on the increase already…and it is QUITE early for them to be scrambling for nuts.


I have already heard from Talia up at Beech Mountain Resort and from Lenora Testerman of Canaan Valley Resort about marketing plans for this season. Ditto that from Joe Stevens and the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.

That's gotten my juices flowing.

AppNet budding designer, IT guy, Webcam guru, SEO consultant AND meteorologist, Kenny Griffin informed me that he is launching a new, improved That damn website has taken a life of its own over the last year. We now have more cameras than I can keep up with. Obviously I love the ski resort cams but this time of year it is cool to look at some of the newer webcams like up at The Natural Bridge in Virginia or over at Bryson City or Fontana Lake in North Carolina.

WJHL Television in Johnson City just purchased FIVE new cameras from us and those will be going up in numerous locations around Kingsport, Johnson City and Bristol. has pulled 4,951,115 visitors since we debuted the new site in September of 2013. Almost 25,000,000 camera pages have been displayed. Heck since April 1st (after the ski season ended) and through yesterday (July 31st, 2014) we've been visited by 890,911 of you guys! I mean we are AVERAGING around 8,000 visitors a day right now and the fall color season and the busy snow season is still around twelve weeks away!

Kenny is the "chief cook and bottle washer" for these days. He's done such a nice job on the site that I gave him free-rein on the thing. He informed me to expect a brand new website this weekend. From what I've been told by several people around the office – it will be "kick-ass".


It's time for a makeover. I hope to provide you guys with something new to look at between now and the official start of the 2014-2015 season. My team tells me that we can provide all of the goodies that we've done in the past along with some new bells and whistles. We'll also carry over the messageboard forum to a new format that will be pretty cool.

I'll try to provide more information soon. If YOU have any suggestions or things that you'd like to see for the new website, drop me an email at [email protected] and I'll consider it and pass it along.

WE'RE HERE FOR YOU…and our Sponsors.

We remain steadfastly independent in our reporting and thanks to all of our ski resort partners – they like us that way. We KNOW that we have had an influence on how individual ski areas report snowfall, base conditions and related content. Webcams have really helped to take the guesswork out of how things are on the mountain.

We promise to always keep our readers informed as to the best of the best of what's happening across the region. Everyone is now looking for deals and we're committed to making our websites even more informative regarding lodging, dining, real estate, ski and play packages and more.

The BULK of the ski resorts now spend a substantial portion of their annual budgets in support of what we do here and we're VERY appreciative of that fact. We hope that our readers will pay notice to those resorts and give them your business.
Ditto that for all of our advertisers.


In the past we have ran multiple ads in each ad zone on our website. Over the last several years most of our advertisers simply renew and to reward them and our new advertisers this season we will only be running ONE to TWO ads per zone. That means that your advertisements will be seen most often by up to 100% of our visitors. The trends online for banner ads have made it such that impressions and click throughs are getting more and more expensive for less and less in terms of return on investment.
We are dedicated to make and THE MOST cost-effective outreach for our partners.

With that in mind, if you own a business and are interested in advertising, call our office at 828.963.7286 and we'll show what space we have available.

Last winter was a weird one for me. I only skied for five days last season at only ONE ski resort. That was a first. It wasn't because I didn't want to. Life (and work) simply got in the way. I'm going to make it my goal this winter to visit every ski resort and ski it at least once.

You guys are great and I appreciate each and every visitor to our website and hope that you'll now start checking back daily as we'll not only update you on the "Fogs in August", but what the Old Farmer's Almanac is saying about this winter. We'll be updating all of the ski resort news or "What's New" and more. Please pass the word to all of your snow-loving friends to make it a habit to stop by each morning and pay us a visit.

…thanks in advance.

Your's truly…

[email protected]

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