Perception, Education, Perception, Education – the Cycle Continues

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Some reporting services (including Sarah Davis via SkiSoutheast’s FirsTrax column) have recently reported things like, "Cold Temps Allow Rebuilding Following a MILD Holiday Week!!" type storylines over the last few days. Those kinds of column titles would seem to provide a perception that the Holiday week was mild. "Mild" is a word that automatically sends a message that snow melts, disappears, etc.

Let’s look at a sample of the Holiday week’s temps, etc.

This is from Davis, WV home to Canaan Valley and Timberline Resorts.

December 25th – Hi 18° Lo 13° – 1" of snow
December 26th – Hi 20° Lo 14° – .4" of snow
December 27th – Hi 16° Lo 8° – 9" of snow!
December 28th – Hi 15° Lo 7° – 4" of snow!
December 29th – Hi 23° Lo 12° – Trace of snow
December 30th – Hi 27° Lo 17° – Dry

Anyone ready to throw on their sandals and Hawaiian shirts?

December 31st wasn’t MILD either with highs of 43° and lows of 27°. That was closer to NORMAL for late December, but not mild.

January 1st and 2nd WERE MILD with highs in the 50° range and lows in the 30s and low 40s. However those TWO DAYS don’t make a week.

I had several of you guys email me directly talking about how the last week of warm weather had really done a lot of damage to the slopes and how poor the conditions were this past week and weekend. Those emails referenced four of our Southeast and Mid Atlantic ski areas. So that I don’t receive a lot of emails that I only included data from the colder West Virginia ski areas, lets first look at Beech’s weather for the past week.

December 25th – Hi 30° Lo 16°
December 26th – Hi 18° Lo 5°
December 27th – Hi 9° Lo 4°
December 28th – Hi 27° Lo 4°
December 29th – Hi 35° Lo 17°
December 30th – Hi 43° Lo 31°

January 1st and 2nd were mild with highs and lows in the low 40s. However, bear in mind that during the Holiday week Sugar and Beech picked up 17" of snowfall!

So it’s one of those, "how soon we forget" things. The Holiday WEEK was a cold and snowy one that ENDED with a couple of days of mild temps and some rain.

When reporters convey things like "The region suffered a mild week, but now things are turning cold" it sends an errant message. Perception is everything.


Let me first preface by saying that here at we enjoy input from as many sources as possible as those of us who love snow and all things related to it simply can’t get too much news from around the region. We enjoy input from our snow loving, meteorologist Brad Panovich. However as long as he’s been with us, he still occasionally spouts out news that isn’t ski area friendly. Not long ago he mentioned that the base depths were really dropping at some of our ski areas. To the uneducated about how things work at the resorts, you’d get the impression that the snows disappearing as if Chris Angel had appeared to make all the snow go away.  The reality is/was that base depths in the 30-80" range across the region – even after a couple of rainy/mild days and nights.

Recently we’ve enjoyed some input from our "Washington DC ‘Bureau’" in the form of Connie Lawn who has reported on the Mid Atlantic region’s ski areas for a few years via The Huffington Post, DCSki and other venues. Connie’s another snow loving gal and loves our region’s ski areas. If you’re a casual reader of this website and websites like it that promote and talk about things pertaining to the industry, you’d probably have the perception that simply because someone is a contributing writer within the industry that they were an expert of sorts on all things related to it. So when Connie posted her story the other day relating some news about the lift accident at Sugarloaf, she shared her own concerns about life safety and wrote the following:

"So much attention has been focused on lifts these past few days, because of the unfortunate lift accident in Sugarloaf, Maine. Thank God no one was killed. I want to emphasize, we felt completely safe on the Whitetail Lifts, despite some strong wind gusts. Even the lighter double chair seemed stable. There was adequate staff to help out with loading and unloading, and the lifts slowed up or stopped when the wind gusts were strong. As far as I know, all other lifts in the Mid-Atlantic region were safe, and I have heard of no incidents.

I have been on lifts in strong winds, and even saw some empty chairs flip over in New England. Lift malfunctions are terrifying, and most riders have concerns, whether they admit it or not. But, lifts are better than walking! Millions of us are not strong enough to climb the mountains, and the lifts have opened up the slopes and the glorious sports to the general public."

I know of several people who LOVE SKIING but who are also terrified of riding chair lifts. If my friend, Carolyn Walker, read Connie’s travel story the other day, she’d probably not get on another lift until she could undergo some therapy. The PERCEPTION that Connie portrayed was that we should be concerned about lift safety, especially in heavy winds, but that it beats walking so "let’s be willing to take the risk".

Joe Stevens, our southeast ski industry loving, West Virginia Ski Areas Association Spokesperson and SkiSoutheast columnist, buddy – emailed and called me and I could actually "hear" him shaking even within his email as he was incredulous over the comments shared in Connie’s story. To be honest, I had just returned from a long winter’s nap in Tremblant and had not seen Connie’s story, but when I read it – I too had to roll my eyes and think to myself, "Well I now have something else to go an do some edumacatin’ over."

I’ve ridden countless lifts, covered the industry, spoken to more than a few ski area manager peeps – so I figure I could be counted as a decent source of reliable input. However, admittedly even after 15 years of covering the industry – I learn new things all the time. I already KNEW that only detachable lifts are at risk of coming off during EXTREMELY HIGH WINDS. Those lifts are usually shut down during crazy wind events. Case in point would be Beech Mountain’s Quad lift. Most Beech fans can tell you that during any kind of heavy wind day, Beech shuts that lift down.

Each of our ski resort teams KNOW their equipment and they KNOW what they’re designed to handle and safety is always one of their top priorities. What I didn’t know to full extent, but what I learned yesterday from Joe is:

• Each resort has a dedicated lift maintenance staff that does daily, weekly, monthly and yearly inspections, which are performed by a qualified lift maintenance personnel.

• Third party engineering firms and aerial lift firms are sent in on an annual basis by insurance companies to confirm safety and working compliance

• Each item of the chairlift are inspected by the engineers separately i.e. chairs, cable, grips, motor, etc.

• Safety precautions are in place to watch for situations that may require the lift to be shut down i.e. high winds, etc.

• In the event of an incident every Ski Patrol member is trained in lift chair evacuation and trains annually for such an issue.

Most chair lift accidents are NOT the fault of the chair lift systems themselves but more often are "user error" such as opening a lift too soon or too late and scooting too far forward, slipping off, etc. Other more common instances are things like getting poles or loose straps, etc caught in lifts. Lifts may simply stop working on rare occasions, but there’s no real danger there other than from some cold toes. Lift ops are trained and ready to "jack" chairs around or any some cases "rope" people down from inoperable lifts, etc.

The point is that when columnists or weather reporters make comments like, "As far as I know, all other lifts in the Mid-Atlantic region were safe, and I have heard of no incidents." that gives a perception that perhaps incidents are kind of expected or "probable".

Not so. Ski resort management peeps actually expect NO ISSUES in high winds because any systems or chairs that might be at risk are simply not running. As often as WIND might pose issues, there are other contributors to lift operations such as heavy ice accumulation on cables, etc. You may not have seen it, but these peeps will run a lift with nobody on it, slowly knocking the ice of of the cables and chairs until the lift system is ready for skier use. If you pay close attention to some of the posts that we report from the ski areas, you’ll occasionally notice "late lift openings" etc. That’s what these are all about. There’s much more to running a ski area than meets the public eye and lift safety is as close to the top of their priority list as it gets.


Good grief Charlie Brown…

Without getting into numbers I can say that I received several emails and read messageboard trip reports about how tough, bad, icy, bare spots…the conditions were at numerous ski areas this past "Holiday week".

Again – p-e-r-c-e-p-t-i-o-n. I’m not certain how tough the conditions could have been December 26th through December 28th with more than 15-18" of snow that fell within that period. I can tell you that just prior to that period we had some rain and then frigid temps hit that turned even the best grooming jobs into refrigerator ice at resorts everywhere for a couple of days. Then obviously we got some rain December 31st and 1st and milder temps that caused things to loosen up. Heavy skier traffic like we’re always going to see post Christmas through New Years is going to scrape the good snow off the steeper terrain to the point that as the day goes along will cause some challenging conditions transitioning from slushy, heavy loose granular to icy hard pack. One reader wrote me that lift lines one day during the break at Sugar were so long the the two lines at the bottom of the hill met back-to-back. When you get THAT kind of traffic during a wet, drizzly day you’re GOING to see some challenging conditions as the day goes along.

However, I skied in those same conditions in Canada over the break and I can tell you that each day’s conditions were different and they were ALL great. On some days we had to hunt for the nicer spots to avoid ice. Other days we had to fight the heavy fog at the top of the mountain. When things "milded up" the last couple of days, the sking was actually about as good as it gets – minus powder days.

It’s all about what you make of it.

In closing, for the most part things have been pretty good thus far this season. If you ski enough times you WILL experience a rare bad day. If you only ski once or twice a year and you’re unlucky enough to hit that one or two tough days, then that is a bummer. However I can tell you that more often than not we have some pretty great riding in the mountains of the region, but into every life a little rain must fall and a little ice will develop 😉

See you on the slopes. Feel free to email me directly at [email protected]

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