Compacting the Entire Off Season Into One Post
Hi guys and gals. It is November 18th within the most bizarre year ever experienced on the calendar – or so it would seem to those of us living within it. Oh trust me, there’s been a whole lot worse years. I’ve heard from a lot of people claiming how 2020 “has to be the worst ever”, but I’m fairly certain that those who were alive to experience the “Black Death” from 1347-1351 would beg to differ. (That one killed off more than 200 million souls from around the world.)
…and there are other years that would grade out to be much worse.
However, I might give you bizarre.
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If there’s been a more bizarre year ever on the calendar I would not want to have experienced it. This website is not the place to discuss politics or social injustice so I won’t. (Okay, I have been known to float a boat right up next to talking politics when it relates to weather, but that’s where I’ll leave it.)
I admittedly have VERY strong opinions about the injustices that have been perpetrated on all of us by our leaders – way more so than any virus has. But other than that statement, I’ll leave things right there.
We can all easily agree that those injustices have had far more of an impact on our lives than the idea of whether or not we’ll be able to play in the snow at ski resorts this winter. However, this IS a website that talks about all things “Snow” so let me kind of hit rewind and then fast-forward a little to bring us up to speed where we can talk about this coming ski and snowboarding season and what to expect.
A Bit of Rewind…
The “glow” had barely worn off the phenomenal time we enjoyed at Snowshoe Mountain for the SkiSoutheast Summit when talk of this strange virus was making the rounds.
We all were aware of covid-19 in the news, but few people even mentioned it during the weekend of the Summit and most were not concerned at all.
A week later, March 9th, 2020, I was enjoying an awesome weekend at Canaan Valley Resort, where the 2020 Governor’s Cup races were being held. That same weekend I was in attendance to see our own, Joe Stevens, honored with the Bob and Anita Barton Award for a lifetime dedicated to the snow sports industry in West Virginia.
Those few weeks were a blast and conditions had turned around enough to make, what was a challenging season (due to weather) a successful one.
The subject of covid-19 was spreading faster than any wildfire. Four days later, on March 13th, there were only 2200 confirmed cases nationwide of covid-19. However, stories were circulating of the horror stories of the deaths in the senior-living centers in Washington State. The very next day, March 14th, we posted the following story where resorts were already shuffling schedules. See: Resorts Shuffle Schedule
Wisp Resort closed abruptly March 13th and others quickly shared March 15th as closing dates. Some resorts were not certain at that time just what they’d be doing and hinted at remaining open or staying open through at least March 31st.
That lasted all of a couple of days as one-by-one (or actually in clusters) every ski resort was closed for the season by March 17th.
Fast-Forward a Little…
Resorts in our region that operate as four-season destinations began informing their potential guests, that things would not be the same for their summer activities and we all know all of the restrictions that have gone in since.
Skip Forward through Summer and Into Autumn
Resorts went to work with off-season improvements, none greater than those at Timberline Mountain (formerly Timberline Four Season Resort). All of the resorts invested time and money in new, improved equipment and putting a fresh coat of paint here and there.
Time passed…and we experienced what was an unusually beautiful fall-color season. Not only was it simply gorgeous for a month, no matter what mountaintop you ventured to, it was MASSIVELY CROWDED everywhere!
THAT WAS THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THIS OFFSEASON TO MANY
Sure, many people were so scared they barely left their homes, but I am here to report that tourism was at it’s HIGHEST at about every mountain community that you might call your favorite. All summer and autumn long, every day provided record numbers of travelers who were willing to work within some social distancing and get away from all the crap that was on display at nearly every flatlander locale.
I am not exaggerating at all to report that every single day of summer and autumn, our High Country roads were congested. I have spoken with so many hotel operators in every mountain community who have all reported being nearly 100% booked every day of the week since Labor Day. Even weekdays which is very unusual.
Lakeshore Marina over in East Tennessee reported that they had boat rentals booked every single day all summer and autumn long and they have a massive fleet of rentals.
It was one thing to see cabins and boat rentals booked for weekends, but they were booked solid for seven days a week all summer and fall. The Tipton family, who owns Watauga Lakeshore Marina and The Captain’s Table restaurant told me that they had set records for attendance that go way back into the 1960s.
The new Wilderness Run Alpine Coaster in Banner Elk (across from Sugar Mountain) was 100% booked every day during the summer until NC Governor Cooper locked things down. That was even WITH a bolt of lightning that hit the place! When Cooper reopened the state for attractions, Wilderness Run went right back to being 100% booked every day. The only way to get a ride there this summer or fall was to book it online and well in advance.
Our Autumn colors this year were great and people flocked to the mountains in record numbers. So while there were some who preferred to hunker down, those people are/were not in the majority.
Most people kind of made the decision to head to the mountains and enjoy the outdoors, clean air and all that goes with it. When governments (state and local) put restrictions on walking into stores and restaurants, people adjusted and did so.
HITTING “PAUSE” FOR A SECOND…In Mid October
I remember hearing about the decisions for not hosting many different Fall Festivals, and like most of you, I was greatly disappointed. This year would have set records for the Wooly Worm Festival and Oktoberfests, etc. (By the way, Sugar Mountain DID hold their annual Oktoberfest and it was well attended, despite the rain.)
However, there was NO “winning worm” to predict this season’s weather for us. However, as you can see on the image to the left, we and many of our friends held our own unofficial races. Thanks to Lindsay Robles for this shot!
Otherwise we would have to depend on the inaccurate human beings to do that for us. (Apologies to our own Meteorologist, Brad Panovich.)
I am here to report that just leaving my neighborhood of Sleepy Hollow was an adventure because traffic on Highway 105 was bumper to bumper – more often than not taking me up to ten minutes to be able to jump in.
FAST FOWARD TO THE PRESENT
…and Now Let’s Talk About the Present and What To Expect As it Relates to Covid-19
The news of the last couple of days has been all about two vaccines (by Pfizer and Moderna) and how by the summer of 2021, we will all be vaccinated. That bodes well for the 2021-2022 Ski & Snowboarding season, but what about THIS SEASON?
I am going to go on record, right now on November 18, 2020 to say that this season will set records in skier-visit numbers IF (and this is a big IF) the idiots in the governor’s offices of MD, WV, VA, NC and TN don’t lock things down.
If left to our own devices, I think this may very well be a record-breaking attendance season for all Southeast and mid-Atlantic ski areas. I will tell you that many of the industry insiders who I have spoken with agree with me. Why?
- More people are either out of work, WITH MONEY, and traveling to local destinations.
- More people are working remotely and able to travel and still handle work loads.
- Families with school-aged children have kids who are doing lessons online and they can travel and do those lessons from anywhere…and they are doing it in greater numbers than I have ever seen.
- Skiing and snowboarding (and all snow sports) are outdoors. We are already social distancing and we have been since the first ski area opened in the region 50+ years ago.
- We already wear gloves and masks anyway!
RESORTS ARE TAKING UNPRECENTED MEASURES TO PROTECT GUESTS
I began to compile a line-item list of every detail of what each resort in the region is doing to protect their guests for this upcoming season. As I got deeper and deeper into putting it together, it began to resemble a book the size of War & Peace. You guys would have been bored to tears!
I will say that EVERY resort in our region – and nationally – seem to be doing everything they can from a logical and situational standpoint to protect YOU, our visitors, this season. I will add that NONE are doing more than Brad Moretz of Appalachian Ski Mountain. Brad’s even going so far as to limit traffic on the slopes and you have to have a 5-minute time slot for when to show up and get your lift passes…all to cut down on lines and time in the lodge.
Check out App’s plan here – App Ski Mtn Covid-19 Plan
While everyone HAS a plan in place, Brad seems to be upping the game compared to most. Regardless, here is the long and short of it.
Ski Well, Be Well
The National Ski Areas Association started gameplanning and meeting with resort operators across North American at about the same time resorts began closing early last season. I spoke with Joe Stevens, who also servers as the official spokesperson for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association way back in late Spring and early Summer when he swore me to secrecy (at that time) as he shared that resort owners and ski associations from all over the country were meeting by Zoom almost weekly at times, to discuss how they were going to be able to best protect their most valuable commodity – YOU.
That investment of time resulted in a safety program that they called “Ski Well, Be Well”.
The gist of it is also comprised within each state’s ski association (if they have one), and of course, every ski area in our region has adopted some version of all or most of it.
Instead of compiling a “tears-generating” (and boring) list of all that they all say, I have simply provided a LINK to each at the end of this post.
To make it EVEN EASIER for our readers, we are adding that LINK for all resorts within a day or two. Soon, if you simply click on any ski resort link on SkiSoutheast, you will see a “Plan Your Trip” TAB. Simply navigate down to the Covid-19 Protocols link and click.
However, again, I have also provided those direct links at the end of this post.
PLANNING A TRIP TO YOUR FAVORITE MOUNTAIN?
YOU WANT MY WAY-TOO-LOGICAL SUMMARY OF HOW BEST TO ENJOY YOUR TRIP?
WANT SOME EARLY ADVICE?
If you’re still reading, I guess the answer is “yes”.
PLANNING A TRIP
This has been anything other than a normal year. Since the growth of the internet, people have notoriously waiting until days ahead of a trip to find lodging, equipment rentals, etc. Don’t make that mistake this season. Plan early – like NOW!
Some resorts are ONLY selling lift tickets online. Most are offering early guarantees to protect guests from issues if resorts are forced to close operations early. Most resorts are reporting RECORD season pass sales. Don’t wait until the last second. If you can take your trip mid-week, do so, but STILL PLAN AHEAD, because I really think we will see way more mid-week traffic than any season ever.
CONCERNED ABOUT SAFETY? DON’T BE.
Simply play by the rules. Wear a mask except when you are eating and drinking. Socially distance and keep your hands out of your mouth and eyes. Wash them often. Take hand sanitizer with you. Stick a small bottle in your pocket or backpack.
If you’re sick, stay home.
and Wear a Mask, Wear a Mask, Wear a Mask.
SOME EARLY ADVICE ABOUT BEING NICE
Be on your best behavior this season. There’s simply no room for smart-asses this season. If you happen to screw up and walk into a shop without a mask and someone asks you to put your mask on, just do it. Swallow your pride and just do it.
If you’re in a lift line that is too long this winter…be patient anyway. Lift ops are going to be a little different this season. Hopefully, we can just keep those masks up and over our mouths and noses and jump on a six-pack lift with no concerns of who we are riding with. However, there will be some people preferring to only riding with their own family, etc. Again, be patient.
When you show up to a busy mountain this season and you’re ready to head to your favorite mountain restaurant or bar. Don’t be surprised if they are only offering take-out.
Right now, every resort is scrambling to make the best of a crazy situation. It only takes one idiot to make for a bad experience for dozens. This season – DON’T BE THAT IDIOT!
That’s it for me. Until Next Time…
email me if you like at [email protected]