The Real Ski Season Begins

First Trax

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January is now here, which traditionally is the REAL beginning of most ski seasons around the region. Yes, the make it or break it Holiday Period is the technical start, because without a successful Christmas/New Year ski period…resorts then HAVE to have great MLK and President’s Day weekends to put up the skier numbers needed to make for a financially successful season. Some would argue that snowy weekends throughout the season would be enough and there is some truth in that argument.  However, if you talk with any resort manager (sometimes you’ll have to get them loosened up a bit!) they will confide that they are ALL breathing a LOT easier today even with the rain that is falling because the conditions made it such that the crowds were out in near record – if not record numbers.

We were talking with an insider to Wisp Resort in Maryland and he told us that they actually broke their previous single day ski totals on a Tuesday last week!  A Tuesday!  Tell me that the Holidays are not important!

So while most of our messageboard enthusiasts (some of the most diehard, ski every-chance-they-can skiers and riders) were complaining of the crowds…they all know that many of our ski resorts wouldn’t be here for us without the financial success that the Holiday period brings to resorts.

Someone wrote us a week or so ago that skiing as we know it is soon to be gone forever because of the driving influence that real estate brings to the mix. Skiing in and of itself doesn’t generate the kind of revenue that sales and rentals can get you.  I can hear the sigh emanating from messageboard board regular, TeleDave (Dave McConnell).  He has often written about the “negative” influence that the all-mighty dollar is bringing upon skiing in general. Dave and many others loved the days when you’d travel to a ski resort, make tons of turns and crash in an almost orgy-like pile on mats and sleeping bags…wherever you could find an empty spot on the floor of the lodge, slopeside…for free!

Yes, those days are gone.  I doubt you could convince any of the resorts to allow you to camp out in their base lodge overnight.  Not going to happen anymore. 

That’s okay though, because the economy is good, people are making more money than ever, and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU!  Resorts are all creating a wealth of Après Ski amenities to attract even the most skeptical of old-schoolers and hey…let’s call this a “Justification for Higher Education!”  Resorts are creating the incentive for young adults to do well enough to be able to enjoy the wonderful lifestyles that they have created for us…if even for a few days or a week.

Like it or not…there’s a lot more money in real estate than there is in lift passes. The object of this article is not to point fingers at individual resorts, but if you look around, the resorts that are thriving and expanding are those that are focused MORE on family amenities, nice lodging, restaurants and shops…and less on the slopes. I can hear the flood of emails headed my way…but it is a fact.  There are a few resorts that have LONG been paid for that can make it on skier numbers alone…but even in those cases, if someone came along and bought the land that they were located on and shut down the resort and sold the land for scenic homes, rentals, etc…there would be more money in it for the investors and owners.  That is how nuts that real estate has gotten in these gorgeous getaway areas. 

So we can be thankful for the Appalachian’s, Cataloochee’s, Ski Beech’s, Sugar’s, Ober Gatlinburg’s and such …that are somewhat land-locked and thrive on skier’s and not real estate, per se. If there was a lot of land available around those resorts…they would all be going the way of the larger, real estate driven resort…because it just makes sense monetarily.  While ALL ski resorts SAY that they are there for the skier…they are not. Something happens with all of the development and growth.  Things transform into a “we’re here for the home-owner” mentality and YES, they still have to provide a good slope product or things will end up going haywire.  However the DRIVING force at those resorts becomes real estate.  Some would argue that that kind of revenue can MAKE for a better on snow product, but a careful balance has to be found.

We’re working on an article that will elaborate on this subject so let’s move on. I started writing this article about the fact that we’re now into to the REAL SEASON.  January, February and much of March are usually very good weather-wise and if the forecasts hold, we should have plenty of cold and snow to make for a phenomenal ski season. Weekdays will provide nearly empty slopes (especially Tuesday-Thursday) and weekends will be busy, but not the “cramp in your back from standing in long lift lines” kind of busy.

If you can take some time off during the middle of the week, you can enjoy some great savings on rental rates and ski-to-the-lift slopes.  Plus there is nothing like a snow getaway to re-generate the body.  Regular readers know that we had some major server issues and huge stress-related problems that came up just before my Christmas break.  I sent the entire staff on a paid week off for the Holidays, and I and 15 family members and friends took off to Snowshoe for seven straight days of fun in the snow.  The first day I was still out of it body-wise, wondering if one trek side-stepping up a hill would do me in.  After numerous runs and a great night’s sleep (you DO sleep so well after a full day on the slopes!) I was raring to go.  By the last day, I had completely re-generated.  I could run a marathon, okay maybe SKI ONE, but the point is I am ready to attack 2006!  You owe it to yourself to get away and enjoy the snow!

Many have emailed asking about our trip. The worst day of skiing was great…and that was on Sunday before heading home yesterday evening.  We received snow three out of the last five days, cold temps that kept the snow firm and great conditions every day.  Sunday, things got mild enough that skier traffic transformed the morning’s groomed conditions into a plethora of ice to snow to great conditions to a thick, heavy granular condition.  As I said…it was still great…even though I’d say that Sunday’s conditions were the "worst".

Snowshoe has lots of natural snow everywhere, which adds to the enjoyment.  There’s nothing like chilling with a beer at Yodelers Pub (slopeside) and looking out at snow-covered mountains everywhere.  The conditions were near perfect all week, with maybe one or two thin coverage areas on the 57 trails during the mildest of days (Sunday) when temps hit into the mid-40s. Seven straight days of skiing near-perfect conditions will do wonders for a guy’s soul. Thanks to Brian Britton and Jim Shannon of Extreme Snowboard and Skis in Banner Elk for providing some equipment for my kids.  Also thanks to Snowshoe (You know who you are!) for the three beautiful condos at The Highland House in the Village of Snowshoe.  Thanks too to Ryan Dobbins of the Mountain Adventure Center at Snowshoe for giving me a hand when the bindings on my new Atomic SX-11’s broke.  I skied the Race 8’s the rest of the week and although they were not as responsive as my SX 11’s they were certainly great – particularly on new snow or groomed conditions.

Thanks again for you guys…who visit this website everyday. With more than 57000 visitors, and 200,000 page views per day…we’d be nothing without your appreciation of what we do here.  Thanks for a GREAT 2005, a great start to the 2005-2006 season and we look forward to a super 2006.

Until Next Time!

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