Wild Temps and Variable Conditions Across the Ski Resorts for MLK Saturday

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canaan valley ski resort

(The photo above was captured from Canaan Valley Resort’s LIVE CAM this morning, showing a great sense of humor on the huge Snow Whales made by snowmakers.)

There is no other way to start today’s FirsTrax Mountain Report than to share the wild weather that we are seeing across the region. In the north (Maryland’s Wisp Resort, and West Virginia’s Canaan, Timberline and Snowshoe) are seeing sleet and light, freezing rain with temps in the 20s around Wisp and 32° at Canaan, Snowshoe and Timberline. Beech and Sugar Mountain in North Carolina are seeing temps around 45-48° with fog and damp air (not really raining or anything) – and we are seeing 51° at Wolf Ridge, 58° at Ober Gatlinburg in the Smoky’s and a whopping 65.7° this morning at Sapphire Valley.

I am not sure that I have EVER seen it be 23° at one ski area in the region and 50s at others on the same morning. A range of 23° at Wisp, mid 40s in the High Country, 50s at Cat and Wolf and 60s at Sapphire Valley is unprecedented as far back as I can remember.

Fog and light drizzle blanket a lot of the region and some ice is falling further to the north. Interestingly even with those 20s and low 30s at some of the WV and MD resorts – none of the ski areas made snow. Probably something to do with the wet bulb temp…

The forecast across the region is not that bad really with spotty, light rain and fog. Admittedly that isn’t snowy, pristine conditions with light snow and no snowmaking and perhaps a bit of powder to carve. However, it is also NOT moderate to heavy rain that looked possible as early as yesterday.

The entire region is socked in with some moisture. Further north it is in the form of a light, freezing rain and sleet – and further south it is more of a bothersome bit of damp, moisture – but nothing that should keep you off the mountain if you made the trek to your favorite mountain for the long, MLK weekend.

Joe Stevens and I were speaking yesterday and we were discussing the volatile nature of the average traveler these days. Back on Wednesday and Thursday the forecast for this weekend was looking much wetter and there is no question that some people probably cancelled their reservations.  That’s a shame because things look pretty decent for those who made the trip up to the mountains. We’ll have to keep an eye on things to see just how busy the slopes look but it’s a good bet that a fair amount of cancellations took place over the last couple of days.

Last Saturday my family hiked in about 8″ of snow at one of the old ski trails at the now closed Mill Ridge Ski Areas. Click to Enlarge!

The wild weather ride of the last week will give way to pretty tame weather over the next 8-14 days. Last weekend we were taking hikes and playing in 8-10″ of natural snow and temperatures in the teens (for highs). Monday I was skiing at Beech where it was 22° at 3pm and the conditions were as good as I think I’ve ever skied at Beech outside of a powder day. Here we are a week later and we’re looking at the crazy weather setup I alluded to earlier.

Last weekend as I was handling the snow report, things looked like mid-season form at EVERY ski area in the region as all of them were bombing their trails with snowmaking on top of the natural snow that fell in the area. It was a winter-wonderland everywhere you looked. Snowmaking was in such full-force that I actually received some email complaints from a couple of people who thought that those ski areas were ignoring the safety of their guests by making so much snow that visibility was cut down.

Then in just a few days…we are now looking at a WIDE range of conditions across the region. On Wednesday things were so mild here in the High Country that my office crew turned the heat off and opened our doors and windows to let “Spring” in as temps soared into the mid 60s!

Some rain fell and combined with those mild temps – things look a lot less than “normal, mid-season” conditions across the entire area. Unfortunately, the BEST conditions of the next two weeks is RIGHT NOW as we are looking at an 8-14 day stretch of much above normal temps.

I was emailing back and forth with a couple of the heaviest complainers last weekend when resorts were blasting the slopes away – around-the-clock – and NOW you can see WHY they were doing so. Ski area ops obviously were paying attention to the long-range forecast and they were bombing the slopes with manmade snow and creating whales of snow that they could later push around to keep things open and operating over this January thaw that we are now experiencing.

canaan valley ski resort
Canaan Valley Resort showing some humor on one of the huge whales of snow made recently. Click to Enlarge!

Speaking of WHALES OF SNOW – I almost spit coffee on my laptop this morning as I saw the LIVE CAM at Canaan Valley Resort this morning. It made the Photo of the Day for us, but here it is LIVE.

That huge “show whale” will come in handy over the next few days – and THAT allows me to segue over to something else that Joe Stevens and I were discussing on Friday.

We are always singing the praises of our awesome snowmaking crews across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic – but right now THE REAL UNSUNG HEROES will be the snow GROOMING crews and those who will be artistically carving out the snow and pushing these huge whales around to cover up any blemishes and thin coverage areas that will, no-doubt, begin to surface over the next several days.

I’ve had a few people email me over the years asking “why do ski resorts create those huge piles of snow whales” (okay they don’t call them whales) but the reasons are basically two-fold. One is obvious. They can stockpile large mounds of snow in a few key areas and then groom them into the base when needed. The second reason is because DEEP SNOW tends to insulate itself. The lack of surface area on a huge whale of snow minimizes evaporation.

A Snow Groomer doing his thing carving out a great product for us to ski and ride. Click to Enlarge!

What a lot of people don’t know is that the middle of those huge whales of snow is wetter snow and when it is groomed – the quality of the snow isn’t as perfect as manmade snow across an open slope. Some ski areas do a MUCH better job of grooming whales than others. If not groomed properly those huge whales can create issues when the groomers don’t till them as well and then the dreaded “death cookies” are formed.

Thankfully most of our ski resorts do well with “whale grooming” and that my friends will be THE MOST CRUCIAL and needed task for the next two weeks as snow groomers become the VIPs of the region.

This is Omni Homestead this morning. Check out ALL of the LIVE CAMS!

We are ALREADY seeing some ski areas that are looking a bit worn. You can check the LIVE CAMS for yourself but it’s obvious that some of the resorts in the southern and most western portions of Tennessee and North Carolina are ALREADY looking a bit discolored and the sides are already creeping in. That is the tale-tale sign of degrading of snow.

Sugar this morning. The sides are creeping in some and it doesn’t look as busy as normally on MLK Saturday at 11am. Click to Enlarge!

I was by Sugar and Beech on Friday and they both look good right now. Wintergreen Resort in Virginia actually looks pretty sweet and the others in the “Commonwealth of Lovers” are looking a notch UNDER mid-season form (to say the least).

The West Virginia ski areas are certainly in the best shape right now as they’ve simply been blessed with better weather. (I received a few emails from people on Friday asking us why Snowshoe and Canaan seem to be able to make and keep snow quality better than the NC ski areas. The truth is it isn’t that one resort is NECESSARILY better than another. SOMETIMES it’s all about the weather. There is no question that some ski areas have more and better resources than others – but there is also no question that thus far this season – the WV ski resorts have had MUCH more cooperative weather patterns and temps.

Snowshoe is boasting 55 of 57 open trails right now and truthfully I’d like to be playing up there today. It IS what it IS…. Canaan and Timberline look awesome – as does Winterplace today. Wisp looks sweet as does Wintergreen.

The rest are looking as good as possible – some better than others and that’s just a simple matter of temperatures and weather patterns. Make no mistake about it though – every ski area in the region is offering really good, side-to-side coverage today and throughout this MLK weekend and we can thank the snow maintenance and grooming crews for that.

Brad Panovich Does an AWESOME Job of Talking About the January Thaw

While we are fighting the weather or lack of it right now – Brad is in Breckenridge where he’s seen 50+” of natural snow over the last few days. Brad explains the prolonged thaw we’ll be seeing until around the end of the month when the COLD should kick back in and PERHAPS we can get a great end to the month and a cold, snowy February and March. Man I hope so!


Check out these warmer than normal temps and then what is behind that as we should see a pattern change going into the end of the month and early February.


How Are People STILL Not Knowing There’s Snow on the Slopes???

The mild temps earlier in the week prompted hundreds of emails pouring into our skiMail INBOX from people questioning whether or not there would be any snow on the slopes this weekend. Truthfully there were too many emails to answer individually, but I saw where Kenny Griffin addressed those concerns rather well throughout the week.

I think the most surprising thing to me is how many people don’t connect SkiSoutheast.com to ResortCams.com and vice versa. We’ll have to try to tweak some design layouts between now and next season to better address that. We have links all over the place and both sites get bombed with traffic but we still get a ton of people asking about snow on the slopes, when a quick tour of the webcams at http://www.resortcams.com/ski-cams/ will show that ALL of the ski areas look pretty darn great as we are now well into the usually, heavily trafficked MLK weekend.

A Quick Tour of the Region…

As mentioned earlier, the upper tier of our coverage area is getting temps in the 20s and sleet and freezing rain most of the day while light rain is evident at places like Winterplace (which looks otherwise AWESOME).

There’s an early crowd showing up already Timberline which is a great sign.

That freezing rain is evident on the Wisp Resort webcam – see: http://www.resortcams.com/webcams/wisp/

Snowshoe Mountain – 35° and some sleet this morning. The Shoe is just showing off now as they are now open with 55 of 57 trails open and all 14 lifts. Snowtubing is open as well. That’s 230 acres of open terrain. Only the Sawmill Glades are closed (understandably).

Flying Eagle, yet another black diamond run, opens in Silver Creek today, and mixed precipitation is forecasted to accompany anyone who gets out to shred it. Some cooler temperatures will help the slopes to set up after grooming, so there should be a good surface to tear up all day!

Evolution park opens for business today! This fun new build features a Jersey Booter among the 19 features, of which 3 are jumps and 16 jibs. Timberjack, with 12 features including 3 jumps and 9 jibs, and Robertson’s Run, with 9 features including 3 jumps and 6 jibs, are open at Silver Creek. Progression Park is open in the Basin with 14 features, including 4 jumps and 10 jibs.

Widowmaker will be closed to the public from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.for ski team practice.

Canaan Valley – 34° – 25 of 47 trails open for day and night sessions. Tubing, terrain parks and ice skating are all open as well. Someone had an AWESOME sense of humor. If you guys want a nice chuckle, have a look at the LIVE webcam at Canaan and check out the huge whale of snow waiting to be pushed around.


Winterplace 44° – 26 of 27 trails open and only Turkey Chute is closed on their mountain. They look pretty nice this morning with tubing and terrain park features open as well.

Timberline – 34° – light rain. They are open with 18 of 40 trails for day and night skiing and snowboarding. http://www.resortcams.com/webcams/timberline/

Wintergreen Resort 26° – things are hopping early there as well and the conditions look pretty good although foggy up on the mountain. The tubing hill looks ready for fun. http://www.resortcams.com/webcams/wintergreen-slopeside/

They are open with an added trails to get to 19 of 24 trails for day and night sessions. They too were experiencing a bit of light, freezing rain this morning but it wasn’t hold the crowd back at all!

Omni Homestead Resort – 32° they are seeing light, freezing rain and open for day sessions only with 8 of 9 slopes and trails and tubing. The Homestead’s trails are narrowing a bit, but there is good, side-to-side coverage.

Massanutten Resort – 30° – 8 of 14 trails open as well as 10 lanes of snow tubing. Pacesetter is open with 10 features | Easy Street open with no features. Massanutten was getting some light, mixed precip this morning.

Bryce Resort – 30.6° – 7 of 8 trails are open for day and night sessions. Snow tubing is open as well.

23° Wisp – They are getting some freezing rain right now. However, they are open with 25 trails today and tonight with the most terrain of the season. Mountain coaster and ice skating are open as well as tubing.

Beech Mountain is 45° and open for day and night sessions with 10 of 17 trails open. When did they go to 17 trails?

Here is some additional Beech news…

Shred Trivia this Thursday, January 12th – 6:30pm
@ Beech Mountain Brewing Co.

Ski, snowboard, ski resort, Winter Olympic, and general snow trivia categories!

Live music Friday night Jan. 13th w/ Randy McQuay – 6:30pm
@ Beech Mountain Brewing Co. Randy is a guitar-playing, harmonica-wailing, blues vocalist from NC and it’s gonna be whiskey for your ears.

Live music Saturday night w/ The Buzz – 6:30
@ Beech Tree Bar & Grille

The Buzz is a energetic & fun 90’s party band – come dance the night away after a day of skiing or riding on Beech Mountain!

58° at Ober Gatlinburg with 7 of 10 trails open, tubing, ice skating, mountain coastering and more. There is less than a 50% chance of light rain through the morning, with that chance decreasing through the afternoon. Ober Gatlinburg Freestyle Terrain Park moved the terrain features over to it’s designated area on Lower Bear with a minimal setup.

51° at Wolf Ridge with 10 of 15 trails open and snow tubing as well.

48° at Sugar Mountain with 13 of 21 trails open and snow tubing and ice skating are open. Day and night sessions available.

65.7° at Sapphire Valley with both slopes open for day and night sessions as well as snow tubing.

51° at Cataloochee Ski Area with 6 of 18 trails open for day and night sessions and snow tubing. Cat’s looking a little worn. http://www.resortcams.com/webcams/cataloochee/

47° at Appalachian Ski Mountain but they are 100% open with all 12 trails and terrain parks as well. Ice skating is open as well.

That’s it for me today. Enjoy your day. Email me if have something to say – [email protected]


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