Ski resorts hope for strong finish
by Anna Oakes
"Overall a good solid year."
That's the conclusion of Appalachian Ski Mtn. General Manager Brad Moretz and the consensus among local ski experts: The 2012-13 season has shaped up to be a respectable one for the High Country ski industry, and area resorts are hoping for a strong finish through the month of March.
"It's been very good ... an amazing year, after a horrendously slow start," said Mike Doble, editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com.
The "superstorm" Sandy teased the High Country with several inches of snow around Halloween, but mild temperatures followed, preventing area resorts from opening their slopes as early as hoped.
Cold temperatures arrived just in time for the all-important Christmas holiday, however, and hung around for New Year's, too.
"I'd say it was very good Christmas season -- maybe a top seven or top eight," Doble said. The other two major ski weekends -- the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in January and President's Day in February -- were even stronger, he noted.
The area didn't see much rain on weekends, and resorts were able to maintain sufficient snow bases, he said.
"It has just been a perfectly timed winter," Doble said.
Kim Jochl, marketing director at Sugar Mountain Resort, agrees.
"Weather was favorable. (We had) good snow and seasonable temperatures for the Christmas holiday period as well as each of the holiday weekends," Jochl said. "Each of those periods can produce significant skier visit numbers and positive overall business for the High Country.
"At the end of March we'll know if it ranks as one of the top seasons," she added.
Beech Mountain Resort Marketing and Sales Director Talia Freeman said the resort has received more positive feedback about its slope grooming and snow this year than ever before.
"This has been an incredible season. It has proven to be a nice winter," she said.
Freeman said Beech has worked to target first-time skiers over the past couple of years and that the resort's "learn to ski" programs have been very successful.
Moretz, speaking about Appalachian Ski Mtn. in Blowing Rock, said, "We've had ups and downs, but overall (it was) a good year. Not a bad year, not a record-setting year."
Moretz is optimistic about the extended weather forecast for the region.
"We should definitely should be in good shape for snow through our March 24 scheduled closing date," he said.
Doble said SkiSoutheast.com's official meteorologist, Brad Panovich of WCNC in Charlotte, feels there is strong potential for a pattern of cold temperatures and snow in March.
"We hope to stay open throughout March," Freeman said about Beech. "There are variables that affect this decision. However, with the amount of snow we have, we should be able to remain with quality conditions open for some time."
If weather permits, Sugar Mountain Resort will remain open through late March, Jochl said. Hawksnest, a snow tubing resort in Seven Devils, will remain open until April, weather permitting, its website indicates.
Area resorts usually offer late-season discounts in March.
Beech Mountain, for example, will offer weekday pricing seven days a week beginning March 4, and Sugar Mountain Resort decreases rates on lift tickets and equipment rentals by 25 percent on the same day.
Late-season rates begin at Appalachian on March 11.