Originally scheduled for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, opening day at Snowshoe Mountain this year had to be pushed back. We all know how terrible November ended up being in terms of colder weather, with only Cataloochee and Sugar Mountain opening for a few days on marginal snow conditions. I was lucky enough to ride at Sugar for opening day, and even before driving up that day I was already noticing that the longer range weather models were showing a more substantial cold pattern for the end of the month. As a weather geek, watching weather models is quite the emotional ride. Things can change (drastically) from run to run. But as the days wore on it became more apparent that this cold snap was going to happen and I began planning out a trip to Snowshoe for their opening weekend, which had been re-scheduled for December 4th.
Luckily, everything panned out perfectly. It got cold, it snowed, Snowshoe made a ton of snow, and I was able to make it up there for what turned out to be a great weekend. Here’s my recap!
Thursday, December 3rd
A huge shoutout to Shawn Cassell for letting me know that the Thursday before “Opening Day” was Employee/Season Passholders day. After being informed of this my wife and I decided to go up on Wednesday night and sneak a few runs in on Thursday. We both had to work but were able to get out for a few runs in the morning and on lunch break.
Thursday might have actually been the best weather of the entire weekend. Sunny skies and cold temperatures made for a good second day of my season. The snow was definitely hard pack but it was nothing I’m not used to here in the Southeast. If I remember correctly, there were something like 10 trails open. Gandy Dancer was open which was nice as it’s a fairly steep blue where you can get some speed.
As I said, we both had to work so not many runs were made on this day. Next year I will have to take off so I can ride all day as the place was basically empty. Snowshoe doesn’t really advertise this day but if you get a chance to do it, and have a season pass of some kind there, you should.
After work concluded the wife and I headed over to Silver Creek to the Old Spruce Brewery. I’m a huge fan of this place as the vibe is cool and the beer is good. They have plentiful outdoor seating (more on that aspect of things shortly). Also, they have a 9 hole disc golf course! I’ve become a disc golf feen this year and enjoy going over there to sling some discs. I highly recommend this place!
Friday, December 4th
The second day of my trip, and the official opening day, saw weather conditions deteriorate a bit. Friday featured textbook Snowshoe fog along with drizzle throughout the day. The rain wasn’t heavy by any means but it was there all day for the most part. The snow was much softer though compared to the previous day, which I enjoyed.
Due to the weather and COVID, the opening ceremony put on by Snowshoe was much smaller than they normally do. That’s to be expected though. But hey, it was not a virtual event at least!
I ended up being able to make 19 runs on this day thanks to minimal crowds. Snowshoe opened up a few more trails, including Spruce, Upper Hootenanny, Mid Flume, and Lower Ballhooter. That took them to 15 trails I do believe which was really impressive considering there had only been favorable weather for about a week, maybe less. It was plenty of terrain to keep us occupied and having fun all day.
I met up with messageboard member SWOOP (Steve) after lunch and we made some laps. We were at Sugar for opening day and had a good time so it was good to get up with him again as he can shred (for a skier) and he’s fun to ride with.
All in all, a wet but fun day!
Saturday, December 5th
The rain turned to snow overnight and a bit of natural snow blanketed the mountain for the first weekend day of the season. Snowshoe was reporting 3″ which might have been a little generous. Regardless, having the mountain covered in white always improves the ambiance.
Because of that rain the day before, the snow was once again on the harder side. Go just off the groomed portion of the trails and you’d get some dust on crust. Again though, nothing I’m not used to or seen here in the Southeast.
It being Saturday and the fact that it snowed definitely peaked the interest of many as there were far more people on the mountain than the previous two days. Lift line wait times were less than ideal and you had to dodge some people on the trails some, but I’ve seen it worse. Even before this trip I agreed with Mike that this year will see huge visitor turnouts at the ski areas in the region due to pent up demand and the ability to drive to resorts here instead of flying. After this weekend, I’m even more so thinking that.
The snow softened up some as the day went on and the afternoon was delightful, albeit cold and windy. I think I ended up with 18 runs on this day and my legs were pretty freaking tired that evening. No matter how much running or working out you do in the offseason, nothing prepares you completely for snowboarding.
Sunday, December 6th
The wife decided to stay in on Sunday morning as she was pretty tired and we had to check out by 11am. That meant I got to see how many laps I could get in on Ballhooter before heading out. It’s kind of a last day tradition whenever I go to Snowshoe. The final day always involves hitting rope drop and lapping for an hour or so.
I’m bummed we had to leave as the snow quality was the best of any day it had been during the trip. I think a bit more natural snow fell overnight and when combined with snowmaking it made for a nice little layer of fluff on top. It wasn’t a ton but it was there and allowed for some sprays to be made.
After five runs I decided to call it quits. My legs were cooked. I didn’t even make it an hour. In the video at the top you can actually hear me say “my legs are shot” when trying to play around on the side hits of Upper Hootenanny. I guess it was pretty ambitious to have a 3-4 day snowboard trip so early in the season.
By my final lift ride up the sun was beginning to peak through the clouds and I could tell it was going to be a nice day. I was pretty bummed to leave but it had been a really good few days.
Snowboarding in a COVID World
Admittedly, I feel a little odd about coming on here and writing an article about a 4 day snowboard trip right now. That said, I personally believe that you can still do certain things as long as you do them in a responsible way and obey certain protocols and regulations. Those of course would include social distancing when possible and wearing a face covering indoors or when you are in close proximity to others, among other things that we are all well aware of by now. Obviously the experience is different, but after this year any semblance of normal times is welcomed with open arms.
I mentioned in my last article about my trip to Sugar that things generally seemed alright but the mountain was pretty empty so it was hard to get a real gauge on things. With the favorable weather and it being Snowshoe, the most visited ski area in the region, I was very interested to see what things would look like and how comfortable my wife and I would feel. After spending several days up there I am pretty happy with what I saw at Snowshoe. Here are some of the main things I noticed:
Dining and Shops
Half the fun of going to Snowshoe is hanging out in the Village at the shops and dining establishments. At least it is for my wife and I. That wasn’t the case this time as we mainly were on the slopes or in our room. However, I was in a couple of establishments and all of them had spaced out tables with limited capacity. I actually saw a bartender go over to a table at Foxfire and tell them they had to split up as they had too many people together at a table. Starbucks consistently had a line out the door in the mornings as only a certain amount of people were allowed in. The same goes for one of the other shops right by the entrance of Rimfire (I forget the name). And of course, face coverings are required in any place you go.
Apparently Snowshoe has an app where you can order ahead at some of the restaurants and pick it up at Shaver’s Centre. Seems like a good idea, but my wife and I took all of our food and cooked every night so we didn’t get to test it out.
No matter where you go this winter, lift lines are going to be an issue during busy times. There’s no way to sugar coat it. The Ballhooter and Powder Monkey lines were definitely healthy as most chairs were not full since you can only ride with people you are with. It was incredibly weird to be riding by myself or with my wife on a busy Saturday there.
I will say that the webcam at the Boathouse made the lines look worse than they were. Whereas there are normally 6-8 lanes on each side, there are only 3-4 now as there is a large gap in between each lane now and they are definitely narrower. This obviously stretches the lines out. You also can’t see that gap from the angle on the camera.
Ski patrol and mountain guides were at the entrance to the lines and walking around telling people to put a mask on as well. Most people obliged but just like everyday life not everyone thought it applied to them. I did not appreciate the group of young mask-less 20-something looking kids behind me who kept hitting my wife and I’s boards because they were so close. That’s annoying as can be in normal times, and incredibly so now.
One random observation…I’ve never appreciated the chemical smell of cleaner more than I did in the elevator of Rimfire everyday. That may sound weird but it means it’s being sanitized properly.
It seems like all the proper precautions have been taken and are in line with what to expect in 2020. All in all, I think Snowshoe is doing what they need to do on their end to ensure the season happens. As for guests…well, there was a small percentage of people who didn’t abide by Snowshoe’s rules and didn’t use face coverings on in the lift line and while they were walking around Rimfire. It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out this season, not just at Snowshoe but at every ski area in the region. I’ve already heard of an arrest at a North Carolina ski resort because a guy didn’t comply. Regardless of your stance on things, just do it. We already saw last season end prematurely and we’ve seen things shut down throughout the year so it’s not like it can’t or won’t happen. Don’t ruin it for everyone else.
So opening weekend at Snowshoe was a success. The wife and I had a great time and for the most part the weather cooperated and we were treated to some stellar early season conditions. It feels good to already have 5 days under my belt by early December and I’m already itching to ride some more!