THE VIEW FROM BEHIND THE COUNTER

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Photos and Story by Joe Stevens

Hello Everyone –

Back before internet and social media, every small town had a place that towns people would gather and share the news of the day. Many times it was in a restaurant that featured some good old fashion home cooking and the best coffee around. Yes, I’m speaking of the days that people actually communicated face to face.

While technology has been extremely helpful in the ski industry with every resort now featuring on-slope cameras, which provide real-time video of current slope conditions, there is still somewhere where you can still get the news of the day, face to face – your local ski shop.

Talking to operators of ski shops has always been a way for yours truly to really get the true feeling of what is going on out there. You see most of their intel comes to them either face to face or over the phone. Keyboard warriors chime in with their thoughts, but for the most part, the information comes from seeing someone speak or hearing their voice. You know the old fashion and always effective way of gathering intelligence.

A snowy parking lot at the Ski Barn in Ghent, WV. Click to Enlarge.

I recently was able to chat with a couple of local ski shop operators before making my first turns of the season, Morgan Long at the Ski Barn in Ghent, West Virginia (the home of Winterplace Ski Resort) and Tony Newman at Ski Loft in Barboursville, West Virginia.

The Ski Loft

One thing for sure, the tons of snow that all of the resorts in the region were able to make starting in mid-November got everyone thinking that the season was going to get off to a good start.

Morgan Long told me, when the word got out there about the snowmaking, the inquiries started, “The first questions centered around the perspective conditions for the holidays, not only for Christmas but all the way through Martin Luther King weekend in January.

Everyone is trying to get their ducks in the row, which is a good thing to see, so we can plan ahead knowing the holidays are going to be busy.” Every resort in West Virginia features a local Ski Barn to accommodate skiers and snowboarders and there is also one as you approach Wintergreen Ski Resort in Virginia.

With some extra money in the pockets of skiers and snowboarders the last couple of years due to federal stimulus, equipment and clothing sales were excellent in 2020 and 2021. Long was forthcoming in the fact that those sales, though not as strong as the last two years, were still on the plus side, especially those wanting new items for Christmas.

That story is a little bit different for Tony Newman at Ski Loft, “COVID boosted everything in our industry, because it was the only thing you could do, you could go ski and folks knew we had what they needed to hit the slopes. So, we had a big uptick, but I think it is calming down a bit. Basically, we are back to normal around where we were before COVID.” It’s always great to catch up with Newman and his dad, Ron, as Ski Loft has been serving, first skiers and, then adding snowboarders into the mix, since 1979, so the conversations have been many with those coming through their front doors on Rt. 60 in Barboursville.

One thing that both ski shop operators agree on is that they can have a shop full of nice equipment and clothing, but if the ski resorts that they serve aren’t also stepping up to the plate, their efforts can go right back into the snowmaking lake.

Long feels fortunate that the officials at nearby Winterplace have been aggressive getting ready for the season that is now in full swing, “Those guys have not only made sure that the slopes were in great shape for opening, they have also done a good job making sure the community is excited to get back out and I think we have been seeing a lot more season passes and a lot more season rentals going out the door.”

“It just makes our door open more often and the phone rings a lot more when all of the resorts start making snow to get open for the season,” says Newman. “Opening on time around the Thanksgiving holiday is a key and if that happens like it did this year at Snowshoe, everything starts to pick around here and we see smiles on all of the faces of skiers and snowboarders coming into the store.”

A word being tossed around quite a bit these days is, normal, something we centered last week’s Snow News column on and for Long, normal is not a bad thing, “It just feels like you can breath again. It’s been refreshing to just be normal again and have people come in and not be afraid to try stuff on here at the store. Just what we are hearing, it looks like the weekends are going to be busier. It’s just super nice to walk in and everyone just be happy and ready to hit the slopes.”.

I was curious and asked Newman what is the most frequent question he gets from customers? Without hesitation he said, “What’s the weather going to be at such and such resort? Throughout the years, my dad and I have become basically weathermen, trying to give everyone the facts on what they will find at the West Virginia ski resorts. What is really funny is when they come into the shop in October and are wondering what the weather is going to be in late December. I just don’t think our crystal ball is that good, but we always encourage them just to keep up with their local weatherman.”

So there you go. Some face to face observations from a couple of folks in the industry, that see and learn a lot from behind the counter.

That’s it for this week, as season 39 has started for yours truly, so thanks for joining me for my weekly ramblings. Just remember whether it be cold or whether it be warm, we’ll weather the weather, whatever the weather will be.

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