Story and Photos by Joe Stevens
Hello everyone –
I went back and reviewed my first Snow News Is Good News column of the season to see if my weather experts thought a snow drought was going to occur this season.
The term “snow drought” wasn’t mentioned, but all agreed that the amount of natural snow would be down this season and snowmaking was going to have to carry the ball (I guess snowball is correct here) this season.
If you haven’t noticed, and I know most of you have, that’s exactly what is occurring this season. Across the board, natural snowfall totals are down, and it doesn’t matter if you are in any southeast ski state, mother nature has just plain forgot to turn the snowfall faucet on so far this season.
I just hope that crazy April blizzard doesn’t occur, after everything is shut down for the season. But the way things are going, I am not ruling it out, that’s for sure.
I know for yours truly, who lives in the lowlands in Scott Depot, West Virginia, my snow shovel has stayed parked all winter and I have yet to scrape my windows before leaving for the office.
While I am not the biggest fan of doing either, I know if I have to shovel snow where I live, mountain operation staffs at all of the southeast resorts are pushing a lot more snow and that’s always good for the industry.
So if you have to ask yourself, why despite not getting the normal amount of natural snow, how can the resorts in the region, still be operating? That is one of the easiest questions to answer in these parts and that’s due to the extensive snowmaking operations at all of the resorts.
This year’s slope coverage also comes with a strong price tag, as all of the resorts have for the last decade or so, concentrated lots of their capital improvements around their snowmaking operations. Millions upon millions of dollars have been spent on guns, new underground piping (that carries water and air), air compressors and grooming machines.
Believe me when I say that you would not want to foot the bill for the resorts to have the ability to provide the coverage that they have this season. I can not imagine what the electric bill for the resorts’ efforts this season to provide a product that everyone can enjoy while they are skiing, snowboarding or snowtubing.
This past Friday, I again helped take 40 Nitro High School Ski Club members to Winterplace Ski Resort in the southern part of West Virginia. We have a weekly meeting before we go and the biggest thing I reminded all of them, especially the newbies, was to make sure to pack their goggles and dress in layers.
After mentioning the goggles, one young skier said they don’t like wearing goggles while they were skiing and probably wouldn’t use them. At that time, I tried to give them some Snowmaking 101, seeing what the forecast was for Friday at Winterplace and knowing this was going to be the last really good snowmaking stretch for a while up and down the Allegheny Mountains. By they way, the young skier came up to me later and thanked me for the goggles tip. Good kid.
I informed the students that every possible snow gun that could be operating would be functioning while they were on the slopes. Hey, I will admit, I avoid wearing goggles whenever I can while snowboarding. I just can make out the slope definition a lot better, but I knew they would be on my eyes on Friday and fully understood, the snowmakers were going to have to make as much snow as possible and I was going to have to just deal with it while on my board.
And yes, the guns were on and at 19 degrees you can imagine the amount of water they were pushing through the pipes to produce “real” manmade snow. An uneducated guess would be millions of gallons of water left Winterplace’s snowmaking lake to get the slopes in shape for the final push of the season.
If you read (and if not, go back and do it) FirsTrax written by Skisoutheast.com Editor Mike Doble, you learned that the 2022 – 2023 season is already half over. That means we are now on the down side of the season and for the most part, despite the lack of natural snow, in pretty good shape.
But back to snowmaking, as I was in the lift line waiting my turn I overheard a couple of things that made me cringe.
The first item of discussion that made me remark to the visitors was, “I wish there was something out here other than all of the artificial snow.” If you know me, there was no way I was going to let that remark go without chiming in with, “There is no artificial snow out here, they use real water, real air to make real manmade snow.” I don’t know if I got my point across, but I gave it a darn good try, that’s for sure.
The second item of discussion was that some of the visitors couldn’t understand why all the guns were pointed towards the slopes. Folks, I can’t make this stuff up. I actually let that bit of wisdom slide as I ventured through the line.
Now back to the natural snow thing, hey like the snowmakers have proven time and time again, if the temperatures are right, they can produce enough snow to have fun going downhill. As I have also mentioned in this space before, where the lack of natural hurts the industry is in the flatlands, like where we live. If I didn’t know better, I would even be questioning if there was snow in the mountains. All I can say, thank goodness for real time webcams. But that is another story for another day.
That’s it for this week, so thanks for joining me for my weekly ramblings. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be. Be safe and “Let Gravity Be Your Friend.”