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Ski Slopes Adapt And Innovate Heading Into The 2020-21 Ski Season

Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 1:22 PM EST
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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - The West Virginia ski season officially kicks off on Friday, December 3rd, with the rope-dropping at Snowshoe Mountain. At more than 4800 feet above sea-level, it is often the sight of our first ski runs annually. But even at that that high elevation this December opening date still represents a delay in what usually is intended to begin around Thanksgiving. Though not all years are the same, there has been a recent trend in which the natural snows have not been coming in their traditional bonanzas. Adding to it the reality of climate change bringing incrementally increasing temperatures to Appalachia, the cause for concern is clear. West Virginia’s tourism industry has been raking in just north of four billion dollars of revenue per year, and the state’s ski resorts contribute a heavy portion of that of the winter months.

Annual snowfall in proverbial “ski country” averages about 180″ per year. Stack that up to the I-64 corridor, which usually ranges between just two and three feet per year (24″- 36″)... But the average of the last several years has been closer to 100″, still a hefty amount were it the lowlands, but the mountains require a decent amount of ‘packed’ powder in order to sustain the all-day shushing of thousands of skiers. This has affected the local ski clubs that have usually benefited from the close proximity to these resorts. Andy Bird is the sponsor of the ski team at Hurricane High School, and he says that while it’s great to have a place to go that’s just two hours away, “the changing conditions often forces us to be flexible with our schedules, we might have to cancel some dates, quickly plan some others.”

Andy is talking about Winterplace, a ski resort near Beckley, West Virginia, that plans to open next week, but the problem is common to all. Tom Wagner is the Executive Vice President of Winterplace, and he acknowledges these growing hurdles by also explaining that the local resorts aren’t taking the situation lying down. Through the investment of millions of dollars, “Winterplace has some of the best snow-making technology for a resort our size in the nation”. Snow-making. Yes, the idea of making snow has been relatively well-known in this current generation, but the science of snow has made leaps and bounds (much like everything else) in the last decade or so. Now each one of our West Virginia ski resorts are able to pump out enough snow to drape several football fields worth of terrain with as much as a foot of snow each hour. Now, the best temperatures for this to occur are usually in the chilly teens, but the technology continues to improve... becoming even more efficient at water/power usage, and presently even produce snow at temperatures above the freezing mark!

In addition to the investments in snow-making technology, many local resorts have started diversifying their offerings to be able to provide options for recreation at all months of the year. Mountain biking, water-fun, and even golfing has become growing staples and additional revenue generators to draw folks in from all around the Southeast. But their bread and butter has always been the slopes. Despite incrementally warming temperatures, there’s always going to be enough cold air during those core winter months to make some snow if nature won’t cooperate. As Tom says you can always, “check it out for yourself before you leave”, noting that all our resorts now sport cameras that you can view online in real time.

Friday starts with some chilly showers for the lowlands, but Snowshoe (and the other ski resorts like Winterplace, Canaan Valley, and Timberline) have been cranking out the snow-guns with all this cold air we’ve been having. By the time we get to the actual weekend, we’ll be talking natural snow coming down once more, making this a great way to kick off the slopes!

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