Snow Quality – North Carolina Resorts are NUMBER ONE! Everybody else – Number Two!

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Five to Nineteen Days Left in the North Carolina Ski Season!

I was traveling to Asheville yesterday with an employee of one of the Western North Carolina ski areas and she was asking what we’d heard about closing dates from around the region. During our conversation she stated that she heard that this or that ski area would be open one week longer than the other, etc. I am withholding names and resorts simply because even though most ski areas ARE on the friendliest of terms, they ARE competitors and even though most ski area managers talk the talk of being supportive of one another – there is a level of competitiveness that spices up most conversations that I’ve had with many of the region’s management.

For the record – all of the brotherhood of ski areas of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic ARE supportive of each other and they recognize that for one to survive they – in some way – need the "draw" of the region as a whole to be truly productive in selling the region as a viable option for your ski and snowboarding dollars. However, trust me when I say – there are definate competitive juices flowing through the veins of each of the resort’s top brass, marketing departments, etc.  Make no mistake about that.

Back to the point of this post – when speaking with one resort staffer or another – all sorts of speculations are presented as to why this or that resort might stay open until May 15th. (Of course, that was an exagerration for those of you who will subsequently email me wondering where you might be able to ski in May – in the Southeast.) In the past, there have always been a handful of resorts that seem to want the honor of saying they were the last to close. Some want the honor of being able to say that they were the first to open AND the last to close. There’s some marketing value to selling your potential season ticket holders on the fact that your resort provides the longest season (most ski days) compared to some that open in mid December and close up at the first signs of Spring in mid March. Math plays a part when people are deciding where to spend their season pass monies, particularly in areas that are home to more than one ski area as is the High Country of Western North Carolina.

Regardless, Cataloochee scored the marketing coup of being the first ski area to open in the region this year when they opened on October 28th, 2008 at 1pm. As per conversations with Cat, it appears that they at least have a tentative closing date of March 29th in mind to cease ski and snowboarding ops for the season. That would make for a season that spanned 152 days. If memory serves me correctly I think there was a day or two in there that Cataloochee didn’t operate except on the first couple of weekends after the initial opening, but I could be wrong and I wasn’t able to confirm that with Chris Bates or Tammy Brown. Regardless…that fact is yet another example that the improvements in snowmaking technologies are allowing for longer ski seasons.

Ski Beech made snow earlier than ever this year – on October 27th, but that was for testing purposes only. They opened November 22nd for the season and have skied straight through with only a blip in the radar of sub par conditions early on. They’ve fought the fight much better than in previous years and if they can make it to their tentative date of March 22nd, they will have skied for 121 consecutive days. That is a huge increase from the 87 days that they did last season! (Season pass holders take note!) Ryan Costin of Ski Beech stated, "We’ve got our fan guns and some equipment spread around the mountain so that if we get a window of opportunity to make snow Thursday and Friday we will do so."

Beech HAS moved up a Big Air event that was previously planned for the March 21-22 weekend to THIS WEEKEND but he said that was more to do with being able to build bigger and better setups for the competitors. He added that they have large "whales" of snow to be able to move around when and if needed. They are planning on skiing and riding until March 22nd and they have some closing weekend activities and bands scheduled, so that is the plan – weather permitting. There is an outside chance that they could decide to close after Sunday’s (March 15th) sessions. The deciding factor? Pure and simply economics. They agressively went after skiers with a $20 lift ticket that is good for a full day, and $10 half day and night tickets. By the way, that price is good for this weekend as well! Costin stated, "We’re looking at the numbers and they’ve been okay this week, but we’re looking at when the Lees McRae and App students get back to see if the numbers improve a little and if so, we’ll ski until March 22nd."

So if you’re into riding the snow at Ski Beech – get on up there and make them stay open longer. Unquestionably they will look at those numbers, and have a hard glance at the weather forecast for the week ahead and make the call probably between now and Saturday evening about staying open for another week. So the plan is to go til March 22nd…but that could change.

Sugar Mountain began making snow on Saturday, November 15th at 3pm and then opened at 9am on November 17th. They never make an announcement as to a closing date this far out as Gunther and crew are first and foremost skiers themselves. They would love to provide a good product, attract enough visitors to make it financially viable and ski until May. However, it isn’t likely that there would be enough skier interest (no matter the quality of snow) to keep them open longer than March 29th. If they DO make it through March 29th, that would surpass their latest ski date by one day – matching the March 28th closing date during the 2004-2005, 2000-2001, 1998-1999 and 1997-1998 seasons. The most consecutive days that Sugar has ever skied in one season was 140 days and that was LAST season (although some would argue that they could’ve/should’ve been closed a day or two in the period). Regardless, Sugar knows how to manage and maintain snow base with the best of them.

As we reported on Monday, right this second, Sugar Mountain is pound for pound in the best shape as far as providing a quality snow product than ANY of the other 16 ski areas in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic. Appalachian certainly has more and better snow but when you compare Sugar’s 115 acres to App’s 25 acres….well – enough said.

Sugar (with 115 acres of terrain) has done an impressive job year in and year out for offering the Southeast and Mid Atlantic’s third largest ski area (behind Snowshoe’s 244 acres and Wisp Resort’s 132 acres). They also provide the second highest vertical at 1200′ compared to Snowshoe’s 1500′ and still they are able to keep some surface conditions that are right now comparable to Appalachian’s and perhaps no other ski area in the region (other than App and Cataloochee) has as much or better snow. There are some Sugar-haters out there that will think we’ve lost our mind, but facts are facts…and the facts right now support Gunther Jockl’s team as having the second best conditions across the board in the Southeast and Mid Atlantic region. The word we’re getting is that Sugar WILL NOT make anymore snow for the rest of this season. They are in fine shape to make it through March 22nd or March 29th – weather permitting.

Appalachian Ski Mountain easily wins the top honors as having the best snow in the region since Sugar does have a few thin areas despite their 25-75" reported base. However that base number just won’t stand up to App’s 71-100" reported base! A 71" MINIMUM base doesn’t allow room for a thin coverage area now does it? Therefore the nod for the best snow in the region would HAVE to certainly go to Appalachian. It is no coincidence that their longest season ever on record was also set last season during the 2007-2008 campaign when they skied for 130 consecutive days. If they are able to deliver on their goal of 142 days for the 2009-2010 season – that would be a whopper of a jump in ski days. Frankly App HAS the snow to make it that far THIS SEASON, however by promoting the longer season a year in advance, you can bet the message will have time to get out amongst App fans and it will make it a financially sound move for the Moretz family. There’s no question that Brad Moretz has made hard notes of the fact that their improvements within their snowmaking plant over the last two seasons have made it possible to ski as long as they can put skiers on the slopes. Hence the experiment for next year. App has made the announcement earlier that they will make snow right up til the last couple of days of this season to make for the best snow in the region until the very end. App has announced a closing date of March 29th and that will coincide with their annual Meltdown Games.

As mentioned, App has ALREADY announced back in January that they WILL SKI THROUGH APRIL 11th of 2010, making for a season that will last for 142 days for the 2009-2010 ski season! "We recognize that Easter is an important family holiday and want to accommodate vacationing families throughout the Southeast region, offered General Manager, Brad Moretz. “We believe this will be the longest scheduled ski and snowboard season in the 48 year history of North Carolina skiing.“

Wolf Ridge Resort has already announced that they are CLOSED this week due to the weather and they PLAN on reopening this Saturday and Sunday. However Sunday, March 15th will be the final day of the season. Wolf opened on Friday, December 12th this season and when they close Sunday that will make for a season that spanned 94 days – although not consecutively. Additionally, Wolf was not able to open much of their terrain this season due to some real estate issues over there. Wolf fans are hoping those get resolved and more terrain is able to open for next season.

So for North Carolina ski area fans, you have from 5-19 more days to ski and ride your favorite hill – depending on the ski area. So as we have stated for 13 seasons now – if you want your personal favorite to stay open – it’s simple – GO SKI IT. If there are enough of you to make the math work…they will stay open.

There are those that will question some bias on our part towards the North Carolina ski areas in reporting the fact that Appalachian, Sugar and Cataloochee would rank one, two and three amongst all of the 17 Southeast and Mid Atlantic ski areas in snow quality right now.  It would be unfortunate and unfair for some of you to think that way, because the ranking is deserved.  Pure and simply put – right now the best conditions in the region can be found at those three ski areas.  Believe it or not, Ski Beech would be 4th or 5th with only Massanutten giving them a run for their money.  We have routinely ranked the slope conditions at the WV and VA resorts better than those in NC, but for whatever the reasons…right now the NC ski areas have it going on!

We speculated earlier on another post, that perhaps the WV and Maryland ski resorts had more rainfall back during the last three weeks that might have made the difference.  The West Virginia and Maryland ski areas have plenty of snow and good, skiable terrain – however they all are also displaying some substantial thin coverage and bare spots which is not the case for the North Carolina ski resorts. After bombing the WV resorts with as much as 186" of natural snow and many more snowmaking cold days – the NC ski areas simply are in better shape.

To see the closing date information for the rest of the Mid Atlantic and Southeast Ski Resorts, check out  

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