I was over near the foot of Beech Mountain and Banner Elk this afternoon and I have to tell you that you could FEEL the cold chill in the air that promises snowmaking temperatures north to south at all of the ski areas of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic. Cold is ON THE WAY!
I commented earlier about the lack of emails as most seem to be awaiting colder temps and more terrain. I received several emails from people talking about snow already being made at some resorts, while others questioned WHEN the rest would be making snow.
I will use Trish McIntosh’s question as a segway into the "meat" of this update; she wrote, "I’ve noticed that you guys have talked a lot about snowmaking so far this season and wondered what kind of advancements are ahead for ski areas?"
Over the last few years the biggest part of monetary investments to the infrastructure of ski areas across the region have come in the form of snowmaking improvements. Snowmaking is crucial to the success of every ski resort in the region. Simply put – without snowmaking, we’d ski and ride a few days each season. When I say a "few days" I mean perhaps a handful or two (5-10 days) per season…more or less depending on how far north or south you go.
The previous two milder-than-normal seasons as far as natural snow and temperatures have brought the importance of snowmaking to the forefront of every snow lover’s thoughts.
However, ski area owners and management have long sought out the biggest and best means of making and sustaining snow to somewhat guarantee profitable seasons. In summary, as long as there is snow to ride, people will come. The more snow the better. The prettier the snow…better still. Say what you want, MOST people are desiring pristine looking conditions and if the resorts can manufacture it – all the better.
Every resort in the region has purchased more machines, more towers, and more guns over the last couple of off-seasons. Others have replaced older piping with new; some of added new piping along trails that previously depended on natural snow…and some resorts have done both.
Without question some resorts have more AND better equipment than others. As an outsider with some insight and communication with the ski areas, I can tell you that all include "new and improved snowmaking" as a part of their marketing and advertising in much the same way that every washing detergent cleans clothes "whiter and brighter." Knowledgeable people might ask, "Does Tide REALLY clean clothes whiter?" Visitors to their favorite ski hill might ask a related question pertaining to snowmaking.
Some casual observation over the last couple of years would certainly seem to state that resorts like Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, Wintergreen Resort with their automated system in Virginia, Cataloochee in Maggie Valley, Appalachian and Sugar Mountain in Blowing Rock and Banner Elk, North Carolina would rank at or near the top in snowmaking prowess. While we have not visited personally with every resort’s snowmakers, we’d have to say that the best of the best in terms of snowmaking mechanisms HAS to be the system at Wisp Resort in McHenry, Maryland.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a million – and I have two that we can show you that provide the evidence to support our statement.
The first video was shot last February by Joe Stevens and Dan Shreve of The Media Center and highlights Wisp’s snowmaking system. The second video goes into a bit about the history of Wisp Resort, but then goes into their ongoing and future expansion (which includes another segment that provides more about the snowmaking setup)…and the last part is kind of cool if you guys want to take a second and have a glimpse of Wisp’s new "mountain coaster". Upon viewing these videos, you will see what I witnessed first hand on one visit two seasons ago. After seeing their control center which included twin 40" flat panel monitors and some dozen or so smaller displays I could only think, "This must be what the set of Star Wars looked like."
Both are worth a click to view!
In summary, it’s a safe bet that if you are enjoying a day on your favorite slope, then there’s hours of dedicated effort on the part of the snowmaking crew at that resort that makes it possible. …and of course there’s probably a substantial investment that was spent to put it all into motion! There’s no question that resorts will continue to invest time and money into improving and expanding their snowmaking mechanism. It is doubtful that every resort will spend the revenue necessary to go to a "Wisp, Wintergreen or Snowshoe-like" system, but all will find their own way to create the best product for the visitors that they can.
I was speaking with Horst Locher at Bryce Resort last week and he told me that they were too small to worry with a fully automated system, but he shared that they had automated a couple of beginner trails and tubing hill such that they could start and control snowmaking on them to get up and running sooner. He told me that they would be working towards adding that functionality on more trails within the next year or two.
So even though not all resorts are "created equal" in terms of being able to (or needing to) put a "Star Wars" snowmaking system in place – ALL resorts recognize the need to be able to make more snow, quicker and with less power usage.
So in light of all of the cold air funneling into the region…THANKS TO THE SNOWMAKING CREWS OF THE SOUTHEAST AND MID ATLANTIC!
Until Next time…
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