2019/2020 A Tale of Two Ski Resort Season Prospects

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SWOOP
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Sat Jan 04, 2020 9:27 am

Ok, yes, the Christmas and New Year holidays were mostly rough if not brutal for most resorts weather wise-but we did squeak by-at least at Snowshoe we did. And as Mike recently reported, most resorts had pretty good skier visits. (@SS, even though it was nail-biting, our highest paying guests of the year both reported good experiences despite the warm up (each guest had a couple good days).

Well, while the purpose of this post is not to weigh in on optimism or pessimism for the season (see Enjoying summer 2020 already), it is rather to paint a pretty stark contrast of reality (IMO) of those resorts that will thrive or at least "make it" this season and those that will not (or struggle tremendously)
Anyway I personally remain optimistic, (heck I can't ski now anyway-I have about 6 weeks of recovery from open-heart surgery remaining-btw, that is why I selfishly predict a cold and snowy second half of the season :)), there is plenty to be concerned about. Ober and Sapphire have just closed and several resorts are on the bubble. In Virginia, Wintergreen and Massanutten are barely open and WTG tubing hill is mud.

My point is that I see two groups of resorts for the remainder of the 2019/2020 season for the SE - "Thrivers" and "Diers". The thrivers will be those that 1) are gifted geographically by colder climate and 2) those that have the snow making beef AND used the dang equipment aggressively.

I see the breakdown like this:

"THRIVERS/SURVIVORS"
Snowshoe (further north, west slope mountain location, and relatively aggressive snow making)
Cat (southern, but aggressive snow making, management)
App (small and aggressive snow making)
Wisp (most geographically north more aggressive snow making this year)
Bryce (small and aggressive snow making despite east slope location)

"DIERS/TRIERS"
Ober (most southern location hurting them)
Wintergreen (east slope location, late on snow making)
Wolf
Homestead (small but late on snow making)
Canaan Valley
Beech (showed some aggressive snow making, but likely will not achieve 100% open this season)
Sugar (showed some aggressive snow making, but likely will not achieve 100% open this season)
Winterplace (late to start making snow)

I'm sure folks will take issue with my list, but IMO the Thrivers are distinguished yes by location, but mostly by snow making and aggressive management. "A resort in the SOUTHEAST HAS TO MAKE SNOW WHEN THE OPPORTUNITY EXISTS, REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT IS EFFICIENT SNOW OR SEEMS FINANCIALLY PRUDENT OR NOT".

Take the case-in-point at Snowshoe this year. Following large snow making investment, management made opening Shay's including Lower Shay's a pre-Christmas priority along with Cupp and achieved 100% Western Territory open for the high-revenue Christmas season.

As has been suggested previously, skiing in the SE requires a Skier/Rider strategy or perhaps attitude adjustment as well! Just as the expectation has to be that resorts MAKE SNOW WHEN THEY CAN, Skiers/Riders must ENJOY SNOW WHEN THEY CAN. Taking the attitude that resorts should deliver a good product each and every day regardless of the weather, is just not reality for SE. Maybe in Colorado, but not here. It has often been said, make hay when it is time to make hay, and I believe Skiers/Riders will be happier if they take the mindset that hey, if I want 20 + days in the SE, I have to be flexible and GO WHEN IT IS GOOD, because there will be plenty of days when it is NOT GOOD.

Getting back to the THRIVERS, I believe these are the resorts that have the best chance of being 100% open for some duration this season. I don't see that happening for the vast majority of resorts (hopefully I will be VERY WRONG and eating crow soon!)

Further the 10-15 day weather forecast is a similar dichotomy. The geographically "cold" resorts look to have the most snow making and natural snow opportunities, while the geographically "warm" resorts may not be getting enough snow making opportunities (SMO's) in the next 15 days to even stay open!

Let's hope I'm wrong and 100% of the resorts end up being Thrivers due to a cold snap back half of the winter and aggressive mountain ops teams!
Cheers!
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Sat Jan 04, 2020 6:31 pm

SWOOP wrote:
Sat Jan 04, 2020 9:27 am
Take the case-in-point at Snowshoe this year. Following large snow making investment, management made opening Shay's including Lower Shay's a pre-Christmas priority along with Cupp and achieved 100% Western Territory open for the high-revenue Christmas season.
Why was this? Seems like there were a number of trails not open in the basin (Upper Ballhooter, Skip Jack, Choker, Moonshine) that had no snow or guns even out on them. Western is fun but with holiday crowds I would think you'd want more beginner/intermediate runs open. I thought it was odd.

As for the rest of your post, I agree with it outside of the management part. All resorts would love to make snow as much as possible but this year hasn't really seen an extended window to do so. It's pretty much been 3 or 4 days of cold (less in some spots) then mild and/or rain. They've had to focus on select trails and build the bases up on those only to see it dwindle away. Must suck for managers to deal with that cycle.
WOOOOOO!

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SWOOP
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Sun Jan 05, 2020 7:57 am

Oops, forgot Massanutten, must be my meds.

Ok, after some consternation, I'm going to put MNUT in the Thriver/Survivor column for a few reasons.
1) Further north than WTG, and a few degrees cooler even though lower elevation
2) Smaller acreage to cover
3) Have to hand it to MNUT management that went all out on the snow making early and opened in November!!! Now that is what we are talking about!

As far as the Shoe trail opening priorities, yes there is definitely a shift in strategy from new mgmt.
Not only was BOTH Cupp and Shay's a priority, but Bearclaw at SC was made a priority, assuming to spread the crowds (and also support the jr racers in lieu of not having Widowmaker open) they made snow where they made the investment in new guns (Shays, Camp, etc)

You have a good point on your comment for holiday traffic flow. They did good to spread the crowd by getting Camp and J-Hook open early as well as Bearclaw and Fox Chase at SC, but missed the boat on Moonshine and Ballhooter. Super surprised about Moonshine as it is a traffic flow run from the easy part of the mountain (North) to Ballhooter-maybe that was on purpose. Also, by not having BH run open, the only way to go left off BH lift is the easy trail and back to BH. The problem is that BH run (and Knot Bumper) do not have much for snow guns and investment here is badly needed. Skippy is a well traveled run and I enjoy it. Choker is not a high traffic run, but I am encouraging an improvement on Choker when the new lift goes in. Open the area to skier's left at the top of the lift by installing a bridge and tunnel for Choker and Heisler. This will extend to steep part of Choker and spread the bottle neck from always getting off the lift and going left with the bottleneck. This is a small investment for a big gain. Further SS could put a nice moniker on the tunnel for some advertising benefit to pay for the tunnel (I got it, just ask me :)

Well, temps dipped lower than expected last night on the east slope resorts and VA resorts are making snow so good deal-this could save them from the impending thaw coming up-cross your fingers.
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Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:22 pm

Probably worth considering the 'off-season' revenue these resorts bring in when evaluating thriving/dying - mountain biking, golf, spa, even musicals in the case of Wintergreen. I assume skiing revenue is the largest, but that's not based on any data, just my personal observation. I bet condo leases at Sugar, Beech, and Wintergreen are lucrative. Mountain biking is basically free money for Sugar, Beech, and Snowshoe.

I think as long as there is money to be made, someone will figure out how to do it. And I am grateful to be able to day-trip 8 hours on the slope for < $100, without making my wife mad :)
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Sun Jan 05, 2020 3:16 pm

brigand wrote:
Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:22 pm
I bet condo leases at Sugar, Beech, and Wintergreen are lucrative. Mountain biking is basically free money for Sugar, Beech, and Snowshoe.
Lol not even close to accurate. If we don't build trails that are safe and enjoyable then people won't pay to ride them... A flow/jump trail with 450ft of vert is roughly $30k to construct. There is also the cost of operations, infrastructure, marketing, events/concerts, payroll... Contrary to popular belief ski resorts don't print money on a daily basis.
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Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:02 pm

I am not sure I would be too quick to assume any of these resorts don't aggressively make snow. There are 100's of years of snow management experience running the operations at the southeast resorts - and the way they go about making snow is strategic. With the exception of App, the resorts are limited by their infrastructure and water reservies. No one can simply blast every slope at the same time. You have to build up some core slopes or you won't make it through warm spells and rain. Beech seems to be particularly constrained from an overall water/air/pumping standpoint. Not picking on Beech, I root hard for them like I do all the resorts and I applaud all of the great improvements they have made over the last 10 years. But they seem to really rely on persistent cold weather more than anyone else (except Wolf?) So my question is why have they not invested in capital projects related to snow making capacity?

Another point I would make on weather is an obervation that the timing of the warm spells or amount of cold matter. We really need cold weather in late December and in January when we are suppose to have the coldest temps of the season. This is a critical period to open terrain and sets the stage for the rest of the season. Warm weather, rain, and a lacknof cold at this time will really harm the chances for open terrain. We have been having long warm spurts in this critical window, but then have not gotten lucky with a colder than average late Jan or Feb.
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Sun Jan 05, 2020 7:15 pm

killglobalwarmingnow wrote:
Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:02 pm
I am not sure I would be too quick to assume any of these resorts don't aggressively make snow. There are 100's of years of snow management experience running the operations at the southeast resorts - and the way they go about making snow is strategic. With the exception of App, the resorts are limited by their infrastructure and water reservies. No one can simply blast every slope at the same time. You have to build up some core slopes or you won't make it through warm spells and rain. Beech seems to be particularly constrained from an overall water/air/pumping standpoint. Not picking on Beech, I root hard for them like I do all the resorts and I applaud all of the great improvements they have made over the last 10 years. But they seem to really rely on persistent cold weather more than anyone else (except Wolf?) So my question is why have they not invested in capital projects related to snow making capacity?

You know Beech spent millions of dollars on a brand new state of the art pump house, brand new pumps, and ldh supply lines this summer right? If it wasn't for the drastically improved capacity of 3000+gpm the coverage wouldn't be as good as it is now. They are adding another pump this summer that will increase output to just under 5000gpm.

https://www.beechmountainresort.com/201 ... rovements/
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Mon Jan 06, 2020 7:11 am

Well there you go, that's awesome! Makes sense, good for them and good for us. Looking forward to see how the added capacity is used for the remainder of the year. But will be excited to see next year when they are fully deployed with the upgrades. Thanks for the info.
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Mon Jan 13, 2020 5:10 pm

brigand wrote:
Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:22 pm
Probably worth considering the 'off-season' revenue these resorts bring in when evaluating thriving/dying - mountain biking, golf, spa, even musicals in the case of Wintergreen. I assume skiing revenue is the largest, but that's not based on any data, just my personal observation. I bet condo leases at Sugar, Beech, and Wintergreen are lucrative. Mountain biking is basically free money for Sugar, Beech, and Snowshoe.

I think as long as there is money to be made, someone will figure out how to do it. And I am grateful to be able to day-trip 8 hours on the slope for < $100, without making my wife mad :)
This is a big thing for Ober. Factor in the insane amounts of money they make for tubing in the winter along with all of their summer operations and as a resort I dont think theyre going anywhere. Now as a "ski area" thats an entirely different story.
Live slow, die whenever.....

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Mon Jan 13, 2020 6:51 pm

SWOOP wrote:
Sun Jan 05, 2020 7:57 am
Oops, forgot Massanutten, must be my meds.

Ok, after some consternation, I'm going to put MNUT in the Thriver/Survivor column for a few reasons.
1) Further north than WTG, and a few degrees cooler even though lower elevation
2) Smaller acreage to cover
3) Have to hand it to MNUT management that went all out on the snow making early and opened in November!!! Now that is what we are talking about!
Massanutten is one of the largest 4-season timeshare resorts in the country. Definitely doing fine from a business standpoint. The place is packed all summer. Even when the ski slopes aren't that busy due to limited terrain or sub-optimal snow conditions, the tubing sessions sell out most weekends.

Snowmaking enhancements continue. With the pipeline, Mnut pretty much won't ever run out of water or power even if it stays cold enough for daytime snowmaking for 4-5 days in a row. They knew that without building a base in Nov, the likelihood of making it thru an early warm spell was slim.

I skied every day last week. The depth on the core trails and in the teaching area was quite impressive given the heat wave of during the holiday weeks.

Mnut is working with Snow Operating. Customer satisfaction for newbies is going to be much higher. No more confusion about where to go when starting the rental process. I took a look and was impressed with the new set up and signage. Cataloochee started working with Snow Operating early on, as did Snowshoe.
2019-20: Bryce, Cataloochee, Massanutten, Taos, SLC using Ikon, Steamboat; Alta in April cancelled due to COVID-19
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