Ski slopes aim for Friday opening
by Kellen Moore
Appalachian Ski Mountain and Beech Mountain Resort plan to open to skiers and snowboarders Friday, a welcome start several days earlier than last winter.
The two will join Sugar Mountain Resort, which got a record-breaking start Oct. 31, to officially declare the start of the High Country ski season on a base of manmade snow.
App began making snow around 4 a.m. Saturday as temperatures dropped into the low 20s and recorded about 28 straight hours of snowmaking, said Brad Moretz, general manager of Appalachian Ski Mountain.
“We’re still sort of tiptoeing into winter. It hasn’t fully arrived yet,” he said.
Aside from temperatures, Moretz said humidity, wind and other factors all play in to how much snow the machines can produce.
“Under ideal circumstances, it could be a couple feet, and under circumstances that are not as good, it could be a heavy frost,” Moretz said. “We were somewhere a little below the middle of that spectrum, I’d say.”
Appalachian Ski Mountain had hoped to open Nov. 16, but a Nov. 30 opening would still put it earlier than the last three seasons. The 2011 season opening on Dec. 10 was the resort’s latest opening since 2001.
“I don’t think any of the ski areas really count on being open Thanksgiving as an integral part of their season, but it’s a nice thing if we can get it,” Moretz said.
Appalachian Ski Mountain will offer free tickets to the first 100 patrons at the ticket window Friday. It also will offer a special $5 lift ticket price Saturday and Sunday to celebrate its 50th anniversary weekend.
Beech Mountain Resort followed a similar schedule this year, beginning its latest round of snowmaking the night of Nov. 23, according to the resort Facebook page. It plans to open Friday for its 45th year.
“The weather the last couple of weeks has been unpredictable,” marketing director Talia Freeman said. “The temperature dropped considerably on Thanksgiving, so we were able to produce snow throughout the weekend.”
During the summer, the resort purchased six more SMI Super PoleCat automated snow guns, taking the total to 30. The addition, along with more than 100 smaller guns, provides the best snowmaking capacity in the resort’s history, according to General Manager Ryan Costin.
Meanwhile, Sugar Mountain Resort celebrated its earliest opening in history on Oct. 31.
Although it had to shut down for two days when temperatures rose, the slopes have already recorded 27 days in operation as of today, marketing director Kim Jochl said.
An extremely dry November meant Sugar was able to make snow even at 35 and 36 degrees, she said. The result is five slopes and two chairlifts open this week with a base ranging from 10 to 37 inches.
“Anytime you get that kind of opening, that’s huge,” said Mike Doble, founder of SkiSoutheast.com, which promotes the ski resorts in Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina. “There’s no way to pay for that kind of marketing.”
After Hurricane Sandy combined with a cold front to produce the “Octoblizzard,” SkiSoutheast.com got so much Web traffic that it had to shut down briefly, Doble said. In addition to hosting a forum for skiers and snowboarders, SkiSoutheast’s sister site, resortcams.com, offers a live view of resort and town conditions for those planning a trip.
Doble said he has seen time and again that a good snow can trump the poor economy in drawing visitors to the slopes. With forecasts calling for a slightly colder and snowier season, that could be promising for the volume of skiers and snowboarders.
“There’s such a pent-up desire because last year
was the pits,” he said