Hello skiers and riders of the southeast!
We hope that all of you have taken advantage of the cold and snowy conditions recently. Many people are saying that it has been the best they have seen in several years. Let’s call it a “winner-winner” for all of us, because there have been abundant and prolonged cold temperatures for snowmaking, plus several inches of natural snow for most of our member resorts.
Not just any snow either, but the drier and lighter weight kind that is not suitable for making snowballs. The phrase champagne powder is often used for it, and it is a far more common occurrence elsewhere in the Rockies during January. To have it here, and at this volume, can make you feel like a high roller at the table.
If our territory were to be playing the metaphorical Winter Weather Slot Machine, we would have been pulling the lever countless times for many years before the reels lined up precisely like this. All of those screams of joy that you hear by fellow powder hounds as they charge through boot deep pow-pow mimic the sounds of euphoria that the southeast region made when the alarms rang for hitting the jackpot.
This past week was the time to cash in, and for those of you that bundled up while the mercury plummeted, congratulations. You most likely experienced something like this:
Quick Side Notes…
I got to give props to Kenny Griffin though. He uses far superior technology and was able to capture some incredible video from Sugar Mountain on Saturday. I was trying to do a handheld clip with an ancient iPhone, so I apologize if that segment made you dizzy.
I am also very fortunate to have been wearing glove liners plus an activated hand warmer that was carefully placed on top of my knuckles, because I could not press the record button without fully removing my mitten. I would have crapped out for the day if I had been barehanded for that moment. Be sure to always have glove liners and hand warmers in your stockpile of equipment.
Also, major thanks to the hard-working Department of Transportation crews in both Virginia and West Virginia for making sure I-77 was dry and safe. I thought this trek would be a roll of the dice where slushy snow and ice were prevalent, and I expected between thirty to sixty minutes of additional drive time to my three hour journey. I was very surprised by how well they treated and plowed the highway with a salt brine mixture, and I actually arrived ahead of schedule. The local car washes thank you for the boost in business as well.
Winterplace in West By God Virginia…
We are very fortunate to have West Virginia within our boundaries of coverage. That state is situated in the sweet spot for bad weather, which is good for all of us that enjoy winter activities. Winterplace is the southernmost downhill ski area of the four they provide, and it is day-trip obtainable for a lot of us based somewhere along the Blue Ridge mountains.
I had nice conversations with folks that came from cities such as Raleigh and Charlotte, plus others that simply said they were visiting from Tennessee or Kentucky. Even the two ladies that were locals living nearby, I think they said Bluefield near the state line with Virginia, in which one of them was skiing Winterplace for the first time ever. You certainly chose a fantastic day to play the hand that was dealt.
All of this luck and skill was accompanied by another winning ticket in the form of Winterplace’s General Manager, Josh Faber. Last season I wrote about how he was very involved with the daily operations, but this guy continues to go above and beyond normal expectations for a GM. I never imagined that the person guiding the arrivals to park their vehicles, especially when it is around 6°F or so outside, would be the GM of the entire resort.
He is constantly doing things such as shoveling, removing trash, and making sure tables and chairs are appropriately placed. His employees love these traits as well, because he is a very personable, passionate, and productive leader.
So How Great is Skiing on 10″ of Natural Snow, Honestly?…
Well, if you enjoy the feeling of floating, this is your thing. Winterplace, much like the rest of our areas, did a terrific job of packing down the existing snow while blasting more on it for days upon days. This was the setup for El Niño to pile on the top layer of the aforementioned dry variety, and thus provided the welcoming white carpet.
Deep snow was everywhere. In the trees, the sides of trails not covered by man-made machinery, and on every rooftop. You could not look or step in any direction without finding it.
Personal favorites during this were the Snowbowl and Dropoff trails. Many moguls were forming with every passerby, and the people riding the chair lifts were paying attention to those that dropped in. These runs are meant for fun, and the dealer was paying out to those that played.
I was not alone in doing our best to partake. Several people that I shared the lift with agreed that it was worth the bitter cold and sore leg muscles to go after it. Rolling the dice in the southeast does not always payout like this, but when it does, the rewards are plentiful.
What is to Come…
It looks like the upcoming forecast does not bode well for powder seekers. Rain and high temperatures are in the shuffle, and in all likelihood most of the natural snow that is providing this beautiful setting will wash away.
Do not worry though, because our ski areas are well prepared. The runoff will refill the retaining ponds so more snowmaking can occur when it gets cold again. We have several more weeks to refresh the runs.
On top of that, most of them should have deep enough base depths to survive the next storms, and perhaps some bonus snowmaking whales for additional coverage afterwards. These guys had laid out a base on the Turkey Chute trail, plus a few large mounds on the Plunge that have since opened up. Trail making all about pushing the chips around the table.
Running a ski area in general is always a gamble too, but they are experts in sustaining a season. We are also in the middle of a weather pattern where the jet stream can favor us very well. So please be patient while we fold next week’s hand. We will ante up for another draw shortly thereafter.