Ski Resort of the Year; Best Ski Resort in the Southeast; Best Snow in the Southeast – They All Mean Different Things

FeaturedFirst Trax

This is my final post of the season and it is a long one. Enjoy…

Liberty’s Snowflex is OPEN!

If you want to ski or ride in the Southeast or mid-Atlantic after today – you’ll have to head to over to Liberty Snowflex Centre at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Those guys have got a really nice place to play when you still have the Joneses for some “on snow fun”.

The drive is easy enough from pretty much any location around the Southeast and mid-Atlantic.


Spreading Some Love…

Kudos to David McCue…

david mccue of skisoutheastThis part of my BLOG is both to setup the next portion of my last story of the season and to sincerely congratulate David McCue for kicking our collective butts over the last two seasons in terms of contributing columnists for SkiSoutheast. David is kind of doing what I have always wanted to do and that is to travel around and write about this particular passion of mine – skiing. Kenny Griffin, Joe Stevens, Brad Panovich and myself are tasked with the daily grind of simply reporting what is the news of the day. David, has brought a true bit of journalism to the SkiSoutheast presence and I thank him for that.

I don’t want to be mean-spirited so I won’t name names but some time back we had an award-winning writer about all things skiing in the Southeast and in my opinion that writer couldn’t carry David’s “pen” or keyboard.

Check out David McCue’s last story of the season as he paid a visit to the SIA Snow Show in Denver back in January.


On Saturday I kind of did my own thing with naming a couple of superlatives before Joe Stevens does his annual “Snowies” (a series of kudos that Joe came up with years ago).

By the way, Joe got up at 7:30 am, wrote his Snowies column and then went to the doctor and positive for Strep and Flu B. Get well, brother! Check out his Snowies by clicking here.

Anyway – I obviously hit a nerve with a few readers who evidently don’t like it when one ski area is singled out for any award. Evidently, other readers didn’t like me reporting that Beech Mountain Resort kicked Sugar Mountain Resort’s butt this season. I guess those same people probably think giving a participation award to every kid in school is a good thing.

Earlier in this column I shared the fact that columnist, David McCue kicked my butt this season with his unique flair of writing about his visits to various ski areas of the region. Do I LIKE it that he did? Heck to the no…but it is what it is.

On Saturday, as I always tend to do, I was rambling through my morning post by first reporting the conditions of the day and then addressing some of my recent conversations with area mountain ops and fans of the resorts within our coverage area. I wasn’t actually even considering REALLY “awarding” any resort with any kind of “Best of” superlatives.

To be honest, I typically loathe those kind of awards that tend to find ANY categorical titling that they can make up so that they can award every client with SOME kind of notable achievement award. As a web dev company we work with hundreds of B&Bs (Bed & Breakfast inns) and every so often we get an email from various inns that want us to place an award button on their website for some award that was sent to them by various B&B vendors. The award button or badge LOOKS good but when you look closer they are sometimes related to something like, “Top Bed & Breakfast Inn with green shutters in Valle Crucis, North Carolina.”

For those of you who don’t get that last sentence – there are only THREE B&Bs in Valle Crucis and only ONE has green shutters.

However, as I was posting my Saturday morning update, I was communicating some references to three different people who shared their opinions of how well Beech Mountain Resort performed this season. All three were fans of Sugar Mountain and ONE of those individuals works at Sugar. When I thought about how tough this winter was and how challenging it was – especially for any ski area in the Southeast located in any state other than West Virginia this season – I couldn’t help but single out Beech Mountain Resort and Cataloochee Ski Area for their extraordinary efforts.

I actually titled my Saturday, FirsTrax BLOG with “Ski Resort of the Year” as a teaser, but then didn’t really award any resort with that “marketing win”. In the last paragraph of Saturday’s story I called Beech Mountain Resort the “Player of the Year” reference both the NCAA Basketball playoffs and boxing matches.

I couldn’t believe how MANY emails hit my SkiMail INBOX in the last 24 hours. Wow, you guys ARE still reading this column…even this late in the season! (Thank you by the way!)

So, Heck – Let’s Make the Award Official (Unofficially)

Before I get into some additional “KUDOS”, I want to share that I actually was one of the first people (nearly thirty years ago) who started the “Best of” trend. I was publishing a monthly magazine in Columbia, South Carolina called “Key Magazine”. We came up with a nice decal to present to winners of the “Best of” hamburgers, heating and air conditioning services, steak, prime rib, carpet cleaners – you name it. Coincidentally enough the winners were ALL advertisers. Seemingly every advertiser won “Best of” for something.

The next thing I knew, we were seeing those kind of things in every newspaper and magazine in every city we visited. NO, I don’t think I created the “Best of” idea. I probably stole it from somewhere. Over the last 30 years I probably reinvented how I created it – just like how I hit twelve homeruns in a row in back-to-back softball games 25 years ago (when it was actually seven).

For all I know we were the inspiration for every school in the United States giving every kid some kind of participation award. (No, I really don’t believe that either.) However, my marketing brain made me find a way to give every advertiser some kind of award.

I now see the errors of my youth.

Too Many Trophies Are Bad

There has been a seismic shift in American culture in an effort to make every child feel special. Truthfully every child IS special – but not equal. The mentality of “everyone gets a trophy” has created an atmosphere that sets the bar very low, according to experts. Trophies make kids feel like finishing in last place may be good enough.

Ashley Merryman, the author of Losing Is Good for You, recently reported that “none of it works.” She said that the self-esteem movement failed to teach kids how to succeed, and giving kids a participation trophy stunts their competitive edge.

You know who probably created this idea of giving everyone a trophy? TROPHY COMPANIES!!!

I looked it up and the economic impact of a trophy-for-everybody has been very good for business for trophy companies. The sheer number of awards produced today have created a $2 billion industry!

Let’s Get to it…Here Are Some Awards that I am PERSONALLY awarding based in input that I have received this season alone.

Best Ski Resort in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic:

This award is based solely on what each resort has to offer in terms of on and off snow ambience.

#1) Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe is the powder capital of the South. It’s tree runs can be EPIC at times. Their snowmaking and grooming are second-to-none and they boast the most vertical in the region with a reported 1,500 ft drop to the base of Cupp Run. They are also the resort with the most slopes (57) and the best Village and mountain atmosphere in the region.

#2) Wisp Resort
Wisp Resort first opened up in the winter of 1955-1956. These guys are the northernmost ski resort within our coverage area and worth the extra drive. They offer 34 trails and they also are the only ski area in the region with an actual bowl – Bobcat Bowl, which opens with natural snowfall. They are the only ski area with an artificial whitewater center ON TOP of the mountain. They have arguably the best snowmaking plant in the region, the best snow tubing hill and their off-slopes fun is pretty sick (great). Their Mountain Coaster is awesome and Deep Creek Lake and the entire Garrett County area is an adventure wonderland.

Summer activities include: 3 canopy tour zip lines, kayak and paddleboard rentals, mountain biking, segway tours, archery and orienteering…and then there’s “all things Deep Creek Lake”.

#3) Wintergreen Resort
If you want long-range, Blue Ridge mountain views, sumptuous luxury, and thrilling recreation to go with your skiing and snowboarding then Wintergreen Resort has it all. They boast 24 trails and an award-winning snowmaking system. The resort is located in the heart of Central Virginia adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway, just 90 minutes from Richmond, Va. and approximately three hours from Washington, D.C. and North Carolina.

#4) Beech Mountain Resort
Beech Mountain Resort is the highest ski area east of the Rockies and it feels like it when you crest that last hill on Beech Mountain Parkway. Just ten minutes drive from Banner Elk – yet it feels like a different world up there. Their BASE elevation is 4,675′ and their peak is at 5,506′ (home to the 5506′ skybar).

Their village has been renovated and includes restaurants, shops, a brewery, firepit and more. They have ice skating, snow tubing and more. During the summer Beech offers “Biking on Beech” with bike rentals, scenic lift rides, disc golf and more.

Player of the Year Award
This award is based solely on which resort performed the best with the least to work with in terms of weather patterns and snow.

#1) Beech Mountain Resort
They could also be a nominee for “comeback player of the decade” after rising out of the ashes of where the resort seemed to be headed back in 2007. In need of more than a little TLC, Beech also was chastised by fans for closing too early each season; not making snow as often as Sugar; not having the quality of snow (grooming) as Sugar and surrounding resorts and not opening as much terrain when it appeared they had the same weather patterns and resources to work with as neighboring ski areas like Sugar, Appalachian and even Hawksnest at the time.

Beech simply focused on keeping their core trails in great condition all season long. They made snow early and often. Grooming was the best in years.

#2) Cataloochee Ski Area
I was there for opening day. I saw how great things looked on day one. However, as I was driving back home on that first day of the season (for ANY resort in the region) I was hit with smoke from area wildfires thick enough to choke a horse. I also saw interstate signage declaring drought conditions. As the season progressed, those drought conditions prevented Cat from making snow and the lack of snowmaking prevented them from opening up all of the terrain that they would normally get open during a typical season. They never got all of their trails open and they did suffer from some of the mid-season thaws. They heard the loud complaints from uninformed “fair-weather” fans. More often than not, they were only open to their mid-station and they fought Ma Nature’s terrible weather patterns this season and opened to the top on every chance that they could. There were some days and nights that they COULD have made snow when colder temps hit – but drought conditions prevented them from doing so. Other times they had the water to make snow and the temps were not there.

However, they continued to fight and they remained open for 108 days.

#3) Wolf Ridge Resort
If these guys didn’t have bad luck over the last seven or eight years, they would have NO luck. I won’t go into all of the financial issues post the 2008 crash, the expansion of nearly double the trail system and the closure of those trails, the creating of the beautiful timber lodge building and the burning down of it, the terrible weather patterns they had the last few years and then even lessor so this season. (Okay, I guess I just did.)

Wolf Ridge catches a lot of grief from their biggest fans, but to be honest, they did a lot just to keep 8-10 slopes open nearly all season long. They have a different snow-making style and strategy than any other ski area in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic, but they did an outstanding job of keeping the slopes covered this season.

#4) Massanutten Resort
I really felt for these guys this season. They had somewhat more favorable temperatures (at times) than the far-western North Carolina ski communities did, but far less cooperative weather and temperature patterns that their Virginia counterparts of Omni Homestead and Wintergreen Resort. They only saw 10.5″ of natural snow this season and even without decent snows and temps, they were able to provide a quality product on limited terrain all season.

Best Snowmaking and Grooming

#1) Snowshoe Mountain
If anyone wants to argue that point, all I have to say is COME ON! They’re corduroy is second to none. All of the resorts in the region do a great job, but if you don’t recognize Snowshoe as the best at it, then you and I need to hop in a vehicle on any day of your choosing next season and visit your preference and then Snowshoe and then I will let YOU make the choice.

#2) Wisp Resort
I have to tell you that nothing has ever impressed me more at a ski area than the few times that I have been at Wisp Resort and looked out of my slope-facing room window and witnessed a convoy of groomers (in unison) positioned across and working down the entire Squirrel Cage slope. Wisp does a phenomenal job of snow-quality maintenance. Additionally, there is NO more impressive snowmaking plant than the one at Wisp Resort. You’d have to see it to believe it.

#3) Appalachian Ski Mountain
Pound for pound Appalachian might be the best ran, maintained and operated ski resort in the region. The only thing they are missing is a village atmosphere. However, everything from their lodge, cafe, lifts and slopes is first class. They only have 12 slopes, but they are perfectly groomed every single day. Their size and positioning of their snowmaking fan guns can allow App to create a snow blizzard on any given day when temps allow.

#4) Sugar Mountain Resort
Gunther and Kim Jochl are skiers. They want to ski on nothing but the best and that is what they deliver for their fans. Some will argue that Sugar should close slopes earlier than what they do. During bad thaw periods Sugar might have a ribbon of snow three feet wide connecting portions of their trail system. However, when the temps and weather patterns are cooperative, Sugar makes snow even when other resorts might not and they do an amazing job of grooming it.

How Did We End Up In Terms of Natural Snow this Season?

We have been reporting all season long about how this season’s patterns simply favored the West Virginia and Maryland resorts…every single time. The list below shows that even though they averaged from 58%-70% of normal snowfall, they still dominated the natural snow totals this season – even from a PERCENTAGE standpoint. West Virginia always gets MORE snow than the resorts in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, but the percentage of snowfall to normal tells an accurate story of how this winter went down.

North Carolina resorts received from 40%-60% of normal. Tennessee and Virginia resorts received about 30-35% of normal.

Seven resorts received their least amount of snowfall since the 2004-2005 season. Wisp Resort and Omni matched their worst ever snowfall totals. Winterplace Resort’s 31.5″ this season was FAR under their worst snow season since 2004. Their least snowy season prior to this season was in 2011 when they saw 53.5″ of snow. They average 100″.

While this was a sub-par natural snow season for most resorts, these resorts actually saw even less snow in the seasons listed.

Bryce had a winter with less snow (back in 2011 with 5″)
Cataloochee had 12.7″ of snow in 2011
Appalachian had 17″ back in 2007
Timberline had 104.8″ LAST YEAR
Canaan Valley had 113″ back in 2004.
Wintergreen had 7.6″ back in 2007

Sugar had TWO seasons with less snow than this season with 35″ back in 2007 and 39″ back in 2006.

Sapphire Valley had 2.5″ back in 2011 and 4″ in 2007.

Here is a quick glance list of snow for this season:

Season    Resort            Normal Winter    % of Normal
125.5″    Canaan Valley Resort    180″        70%
125.5″    Timberline Resort         180″        70%
100″       Snowshoe Mountain     180″        56%
77″         Wisp Resort               133″        58%
47.8″      Beech Mountain Resort  80″        60%
41.3″      Sugar Mountain Resort   78″        53%
31.5″      Winterplace Resort      100″        32%
19″         Appalachian Ski Mtn    50″        38%
17″         Cataloochee Ski Area   40″        43%
15″         Wolf Ridge Resort        65″        23%
14″         Bryce Resort              30″        47%
12″         Wintergreen Resort      34″        35%
11″         Ober Gatlinburg           35″        31%
10.5″       Massanutten Resort    35″        31%
6.5″        Sapphire Valley           30″        22%
6″          Omni Homestead          50″        12%

Final bows and thank yous….

I want to thank all of our sponsors this season. Special THANKS go to the West Virginia Department of Tourism and our top sponsor Snowshoe Mountain. You guys rock. I should also pay special thanks to ALL of the West Virginia and Virginia ski areas as we could not do this website without the support that each of you guys offer us.

Thanks also to all of our individual advertisers. Your support is very much appreciated. We hope to continue to grow our relationships with you guys as we ramp up our annual services to the communities that make up our coverage area.

Brad Panovich with a fan!

Thanks tons to all of our weather partners, but especially Meteorologist Brad Panovich. His fan base syncs up to our fan base in a huge way.

Another great thanks goes out to my snow-loving, brother, Joe Stevens for his weekly posts via Snow News is Good News. Joe is the most passionate advocate for all ski areas in the region – even though his primary (and understandable) allegiances are towards his West Virginia ski resort brothers. Thanks for those frequent phone calls and emails all season long Joseph.

Here’s another shout out and thank you to David McCue who came on board last season and who instantly added a bit of spice and flavor to this website. Reporting websites like ours can get a little “routine” at times and David is anything BUT routine. Thanks for your added “ingredients” to SkiSoutheast, David.

Thanks to all of the resort’s mountain ops who kept in contact with me personally this season. Special mention should go to Steve Drumheller of Canaan Valley Resort, Brad Moretz of Appalachian, Tammy Brown of Cataloochee, Sean Cassell of Snowshoe and even my brothers-from-another-mother Frank DeBerry and David Dekema of Snowshoe’s management team. It was nice hearing from Lori Zaloga of Wisp Resort from time to time this season.

The rest of you guys and gals need to stay in touch more often. Information IN is information OUT with us. The more we talk, the more we can share.

A HUGE THANK YOU to our readers! Many of you email me throughout the season to offer your support, rebuttal, and input. You are appreciated! I have met some great friends through this website and really appreciate each of our readers for taking the time to make us a frequent visit on the internet. We hope that you’ll stay with us in the coming years!

My last THANK YOU has to go to Kenny Griffin. I probably wouldn’t still be doing this website if it were not for TheKenDog. Some will tell you that until a few years ago I would really get tired and sometimes fed up with having to do the snow reporting and FirsTrax news once the calendar flipped over to March. Kenny came to my office a few years back just wanting to introduce himself and offer his volunteer services “just wanting to BE a part of SkiNC and SkiSoutheast”.

kenny griffin of skisoutheastI instantly liked Kenny and offered him a job with our firm. He’s been with us ever since – wearing more hats than you could imagine. In addition to handling the FirsTrax writing and snow reports Monday-Friday throughout the season, Kenny is also kind of the face of SkiSoutheast these days. However he’s also our ResortCams designer and IT guy; server admin for all of our physical, video and cloud servers; he’s a full time designer for our team and on top of all that he is a snow-crazed, snowboard loving awesome dude and weatherman.

So – Kenny – thank you for being my right hand man for all things SkiSoutheast and ResortCams.

That, my friends, will do it for me this season. Kenny will probably post his own closing notes and I know that my buddy, Joe Stevens is tabulating HIS single vote system for his own SNOWIES this season and we will get those posted.

If you have anything to share, do so at [email protected]

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