Monday, December 7th News, Weather and other Notables

First Trax

Today’s post could be subtitled:

The Natives are Restless (and bitching)
Will it Ever Snow?
Mother Nature Teases with Temperatures Frustratingly Just Above Freezing
Opening Soon now means “Opening When We Can”
Two Ski Areas Open With Conditions (Right Now) that are Better Than You Think

With all of those subtitles in mind, let me jump right into discussing each of them – beginning with “TIMING IS EVERYTHING”.

Today’s post will be THE LONGEST POST of this season, despite the fact that we have less news to report than usual. However, we aim to keep our readers informed, so here goes.

In terms of TIMING IS EVERYTHING – as I was posting this lengthy story, addressing why some ski areas are not open yet – SNOWSHOE JUST ANNOUNCED THAT THEY WILL OPEN ON FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11TH. Kenny Griffin is sharing that press release right now, so be sure to check out that post as well as this “novel”.

Two Ski Areas Open With Conditions (Right Now) that are Better Than You Think

I met up with a good friend at 10am on Sunday morning at Sugar Mountain and the conditions were unbelievablely NOT GOOD – but GREAT! No, I am not exaggerating. The snow was awesome. Sugar was open to the top and that made for a mile and a half of slope that was about as good as it gets. Sugar’s always done a nice job of maintaining snow and to be honest I was really impressed at the condition of the snow when you consider that they’ve had very little to work with in terms of snow-making temps, nor any natural snowfall.

I’ll give a shout out to “Grizzly Enton” and “Yardsale” from the messageboard. They were both there and enjoying the conditions. Grizzly looked like he had face planted as he was covered in snow, but he said that came from just spraying the base for the fun of it.

For those unaware of the messageboard – visit it a few times by clicking here:

forumCLICKThere is a REGISTER LINK right at the TOP LEFT of the screen. Register – it’s FREE. POST once or twice. Don’t be shy.  The long time members will reach out and say “hi” and if you have any questions about anything to do with any of the ski areas, those people are a great resource for answers. Visit often as a lot of those people have become great friends and often ski or ride together as nothing beats skiing or riding, like skiing or riding with friends.

Back to my visit to Sugar Mountain on Sunday.

My buddy, Ron Kent is Sugar pass holder and he and I met up early and ran into long-time friend and SKI/SNOWBOARD SCHOOL DIRECTOR, Len Bauer. Len is a great friend of mine as we coach youth soccer together and I’ve come to know Len as an unapologetic fan of Sugar. According to Len, all of the ski areas are great but nobody does anything better than Sugar. Before I jumped on the new, six-pack, Summit Express lift Len told me, “Mike you’re going to love the conditions today. You’re not going to believe how good it is out there.”

In this instance, Len was actually pretty damned reserved in his praise. I had expected things to “good considering how bad the weather’s been” – but not r-e-a-l-l-y good, period.

But they were “good period”.

Since this is a slow news day and only Sugar Mountain and Cataloochee are open today, I’m going to spend a few words more – talking about Sugar’s new Summit Express Lift. I use the TRACE SNOW app and I’ve recommended it to friends for the last couple of years. It tracks everything from how many times you’re able to ski down, to your speed, max speed, average speed, vertical feet and even how many calories you burn.

It also tracks how much time you spend on the snow as compared to time riding on the lift. Over the last couple of years, the ride from the bottom to the top of Sugar took from 18-23 minutes. If you push it, you can ski or ride down Sugar’s one-and-a-half mile top-to-bottom, Upper Flying Mile, Switchback, and Lower Flying Mile run in about three to five minutes. So in the past the ratio of time on the lift to time on the snow was about 4 or 5 to 1 (lift to snow).

Now it only takes five minutes on the lift and Ron and I purposely sped down to see how long “one lap” would take. He and I did three or four runs in under nine-to-ten minutes each. So the time spent on the snow, compared to time spent riding a lift has flip-flopped.

We timed our day and we spent 83 minutes at Sugar on Sunday morning. We both had other things to do later in the day so we made it a quick trip. Of that 83 minutes, we spent 50 minutes on the lift – doing 10 trips down the mountain. We were skiing 33 of those minutes! So literally 40% of your time can now be spent playing on the hill which is pretty amazing.

Over the years – THAT has been the only real gripe that we’ve heard from people who visited Sugar on a busy weekend. By the time you waited in a lift line, then ride for 20 minutes to get to the top…you could only get in 1-2 runs per hour. NOW, you can do laps to the bottom, back up and down again in 10-12 minutes laps.

Kim and Gunther Jochl of Sugar Mountain
Kim and Gunther Jochl of Sugar Mountain pose during pre-season construction of the new lift

Kudos to Gunther and Kim Jochl for making the investment. The Jochls have only owned Sugar outright for three seasons now and look at how much they’ve done with the place. The new lift was added last season; they’ve added the new Summit Express lift this season; they’ve repurposed the old lift to serve Gunter’s Way and so much more.

Again, kudos to Sugar and thanks for an amazing Sunday on the snow.

I’m going to make a suggestion to all of our readers –

This could be a VERY challenging winter ahead. Forecasters are still predicting more natural snow than normal but they’re also predicting that we may not see consistently cold conditions. The snowfall that we get should be plentiful but they are forecasting that we might see a few BIG storms and not consistently cold and snowy conditions that afford the ski areas with consistent snow-making.

The rest of December is predicted to provide record warmth for the Southeast and mid-Atlantic ski areas. My recommendation to our readers is to make a daily stop. Read our daily FirsTrax posts and watch the snow reports. If you see that a ski area has been able to make snow for 24-30 hours or so – “time your trip” such that you can get up the mountain and on the slopes right afterwards. You won’t believe how much the conditions can change in a matter of a couple of days.


Only Cataloochee and Sugar are open on Monday and we think that both resorts have enough snow to make it a few more days without additional snow-making. Get it while you can.

None of the ski areas made snow since Friday night/Saturday morning…and here’s the observations as of early Monday morning.

40° Cataloochee Ski Area is open for day sessions Monday-Friday with 6 slopes serviced by 2 lifts and a conveyor. Tubing reopens this weekend.

36° Sugar Mountain Resort – Open for Day and Night Sessions with 4 slopes to the top and serviced by the Summit Express lift. Ice Skating Open as well.

35° Beech Mountain Resort was open this past weekend but now has suspended operations until Friday. They posted, “Due to unseasonable weather, Beech Mountain Resort will suspend operations until Friday, December 11th.  On Friday, the resort will begin night skiing, operating from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Mother Nature Teases with Temperatures Frustratingly Just Above Freezing

As you can see from the temperatures below – just give us 3-5° colder temps and we’d be seeing a lot of snow-making. Unfortunately it has simply been just a degree or two too warm on many nights recently.

36° Wisp Resort
39° Winterplace Resort – Moved their target opening day to December 19th
31° Massanutten Resort –
40° Wintergreen Resort –
41° Ober Gatlinburg –
40° Wolf Ridge Resort –
36° Canaan Valley Resort –
36° Timberline Resort –
33° Snowshoe Resort –
32° Appalachian Ski Mountain –
35° Bryce Resort –

Opening Soon now means “Opening When We Can”

Several ski resorts don’t usually open until about now and some don’t open until December 10-15th during normal seasons. So we’re still in that “early season mode” when some resorts usually choose to make snow and time their openings around mid-December in time to crank out enough snow to open as much terrain as possible for the all-important Christmas-to-New Years travel week.

Several ski areas had already posted “Opening Dates” of December 11th or December 18th. Winterplace is one of those who had planned for an 11th opening and they’ve already seen enough out of the weather forecast to push that back to a HOPEFUL, December 19th opening day.

Right now we’re hearing from all of the ski areas, that they are “keeping an eye on the weather and opening as soon as possible”.

That’s where we are right now. Simply playing the waiting game.


We’ll hear from meteorologist Brad Panovich again soon and we’re most anxious to see what he has to say about WHEN we might see a pattern change because right now the western ski areas are measuring snowfall in FEET and they’ve see single digit temps often. We’re stuck in this “Groundhod Day nightmare” scenario with temps hovering just above freezing overnight and 50s and 60s during the day.

My “layman’s look” at the forecast for even one of the coldest and snowiest spots within our coverage area (Snowshoe, West Virginia) is showing that we may not see another snow-making night until December 14th (a week from now). This week will be another mild one and temperatures may reach the MID FREAKING SIXTIES on Saturday at Snowshoe!

So, my snow-loving friends, we’ll have to wait at least another week before we see any kind of sign of improvement.


Again – I’ll leave it to Brad Panovich to confirm, but from what we are seeing, we COULD be seeing a pattern change that will at least provide several nights of snow-making in a row – beginning December 14th and running each night through December 21st. There is even a mention of SNOW in the forecast for 2-3 of those nights.

So keep the faith; say your cold-weather and snow prayers and let’s be patient as it looks like we may get some cold air in place for snow-making in about a week.

The Natives are Restless (and bitching)

I’ve been doing this website for twenty years now and I don’t remember a December where I’ve received as many emails griping about why the resorts are not open. MOST of them seem to be moaning and groaning about “HOW CAN CATALOOCHEE, SUGAR or BEECH and APP be open, but not Snowshoe with all of the snow that they’re seeing on the webcams.”

I received MULTIPLE emails on Saturday complaining about, “Why in the world isn’t Appalachian Ski Mountain open when Sugar is?”

Several emailers posted messages like this one:

“I cannot believe that Wolf Ridge isn’t open and I was planning on heading over to App but see that they are closed. WTH!?! They are only 10-20 minutes from Sugar so why in the world weren’t they making snow everytime that Sugar was?”

Another example was this one:

“I am sick of seeing all of the snow on Snowshoe and they are not opening. We spend all of this money buying their expensive real estate and then they only open when the numbers work for them. Really disappointed in that place! Sorry to vent to you guys but don’t know who else to write.”

We’ve heard gripes about “Why hasn’t Winterplace made more snow and gotten open.”

Most of the emails seem to relate to comparing how in the world that Sugar and Cataloochee have been able to make enough snow and open – when “CERTAINLY” other resorts are colder or as cold.

A couple of emailers hinted that I/we wouldn’t probably approach answering these complaints out of some fear of upsetting this or that ski resort because we “SIMPLY HAVE TO WRITE NICE STUFF OR WE’LL BE FIRED” kind of comments.

Here’s the answers to all of those people and any of the rest of you who may have some of the same questions or opinions.

First, is an INDEPENDENT entity. We have NO affiliation with any ski area or any ski association. We have always provided “No Bull Reporting” and we always will. When we first started out twenty seasons ago – we DID upset a resort or two or three because back then some ski resorts kind of reported how and what they wanted to. It was not unusual to see snowfall totals and base depths exaggerated. However, over the years a lot of those old management crews have come and gone and those that have been in place for decades have embraced technology, social media and reporting services like ours.

To further illustrate how much they’ve embraced us – the Southeastern Ski Areas Association doesn’t even provide an online snow report anymore. They’ve basically embraced us as “the best reporting service” for all of the Southeast and mid-Atlantic ski resorts without ever making anything “official”. In fact, remarkably, is not even an affiliate member of the ski areas association and yet they all read this FirsTrax news and what’s more THE VAST MAJORITY of the ski resort marketing departments spend a substantial portion of the winter marketing dollars with us.

Nearly as remarkable is the fact that they WANT US to be truthful and provide accurate, independent assessments to our readers.  They know that we get the traffic from you guys who are looking for answers to where to ski, where to lodge, etc and they like the fact that we’re here for you guys on their behalf.

Hopefully that dispels the theory that we won’t report anything contrary to any ski area out of some fear of negative retaliation or reprisal. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact now provides the ACTUAL online snow report for several ski areas and departments of tourism websites.

That said – let me answer your complaint emails in a summary.

For those who feel that Wolf Ridge, Appalachian or Winterplace should be able to make snow because they are very close to another resort that IS open and making snow. Please know that this simply isn’t the case at all. If you’ve ever driven up to Beech Mountain, the temperature at the bottom of Beech Mountain might be 40° and yet 28° at the top. Unfortunately the reverse of that is also true when temperature inversions hit.

Additionally it can be 29° at Sugar Mountain and yet 35° at Appalachian Ski Mountain. The weather and temps at Wolf Ridge are vastly different than those at Cataloochee Ski Area. The temperature can vary 5-10° from the base to the summit of a single ski resort. So resorts can often make snow on one portion of their mountain and not the other.

Thus far this has been a VERY STRANGE and VERY CHALLENGING November and early December for all of the ski areas. With an exception of perhaps two or three resorts that just never open until mid-December, ALL of the ski areas have made snow WHENEVER possible – and WHEN IT HAS MADE SENSE TO DO SO.

If snowmaking teams see one night of 28° weather in their forecast, to be followed by four days of rain or mild temps – they simply are not going to burn the money that it takes to crank out the snow.

Cataloochee Ski Area and Sugar Mountain have ALWAYS been aggressive about making snow during normal pre-seasons, but for this particular pre-season they have simply had better weather to play with. They’ve simply been blessed with a degree or two colder temps on their mountains than those further north, etc.

There is no question that Cataloochee and Sugar often make snow and open earlier than any other resort…however now that we’re into December – ALL ski areas want to make snow and get open.

In the case of Snowshoe – there are multiple things at play. One is the fact that they typically opt to open only once they reach an optimal number of slopes or terrain to insure the safety and pleasure of their visitors. Nothing against any of the smaller ski areas, but Snowshoe typically puts a lot of people on the mountain on their first, opening day. You have to insure that enough terrain is open to maximize the on-snow experience.

So when you see all of that snow at the top and wonder, “Why the hell are they not open?” – that is part of it. Another consideration is the fact that it has to make fiscal sense for ANY ski area to open. If you have fewer skiers and snowboarders on a mountain than the personnel to run it, you’re better off not opening. That’s just business.

Bear in mind that traditionally colder and snowier Vermont is also fighting the fight as nearly a DOZEN of their ski areas are not open yet and even Jay Peak only has 3 of 78 trails open.

So be patient my friends. We have another week of mild temps to endure and then HOPEFULLY, PRAYERFULLY, we’ll get some consistently cold, snowmaking temps and ski the 2015-2016 ski and snowboarding season going in earnest.


Until next time…

Enjoy your day and THINK SNOW! THINK COLD! …and Start a Prayer effort! Email me anytime and about anything at: [email protected]


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