RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — For ski resorts in the east, last year nearly turned into “no snowmaggedon.” The warm weather of November and December left many skiers looking at mud on the slopes instead of a giant slalom run.
This meant that during the Christmas holidays—one of the most important times in the ski industry—the sound heard was the drip drip drip of melting snow, instead of the cash register ringing.
Unlike last year, when El Nino gave us record warmth in December, it is a different weather pattern that may be setting up for the winter, and that could mean good news at the ski resorts.
“Optimism around here is really high. We are hearing from a lot of weather folks of a weak La Nina system this year. We are hoping that means an average at worst season this year, which around here means 180 inches of snow,” said Shawn Cassell with Snowshoe Mountain.
What may surprise you is that it really isn’t snow that the resorts are hoping for but just plain old cold weather so they can get the snow guns going.
“Ideally, early on, we are worried more about the temperatures than snowfall because with our snowmaking capabilities, we can get the slopes covered,” Cassell said.
Snowshoe Mountain is fortunate in that it has almost a self-perpetuating supply of water for snowmaking. The water supply at the base of the mountain is constantly replenished in the winter by the snow melting off the mountain and draining back into it. This lets them run the snow guns like crazy.
“In an Ideal night with ideal temperatures, we can cover a football field with 30 feet of snow,” Cassell said.
Natural snow is bonus for the mountains and even more so from a marketing standpoint and getting people to the mountain.
“Anytime it snows in Richmond, Charleston, or Washington, D.C., that really drives the point home and people get the itch to ski.”
You just don’t want to get too much snow. Last January’s blizzard dumped 36 inches of snow on Snowshoe. But all the heavy snow in Richmond and Washington made it nearly impossible for skiers to get from Richmond to the mountains to enjoy the experience of skiing and being in the mountains.
“One of the interesting things about Snowshoe is that Doc Brigham, who is the father of the Southern Ski Resorts in the United States, designed it to represent a replica of what you see in Europe.”
Butt (with cover) to this “You could describe Snowshoe as an upside down resort. Most ski resorts — you park, get on your skis, go up the lift, and come down the runs. You want to get on the lift here, you have to down the hill first. “
While this year has the potential to be a more favorable year for the ski industry here in the east, there is a very large looming issue that is of serious concern in the industry — and that is climate change.
The data that is coming in worldwide continues to show that each month we are setting records for being warm. This is forcing the ski industry to look at its mode of operation.
While skiing is still the big money maker and the central focus of many of these resorts, their survival in the future may also revolve around capitalizing on all the other sports the mountain can support.
Snowshoe’s location and elevation give it the advantage over Virginia resorts of being able to open at Thanksgiving and having a season that lasts well into March most seasons.
This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.