Ready, set, snow! Sandy gives resorts a head start
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - When Superstorm Sandy dumped snow on the higher elevations of West Virginia last month, it raised hopes for a great ski season.
The White Grass Touring Center in Canaan Valley, one of two cross-country ski areas in the state, has been offering cross-country skiing and snowshoeing since shortly after the big storm hit.
The season moves into high gear on Wednesday with the opening of Snowshoe Mountain, the state's largest alpine ski resort. The start matches Snowshoe's earliest opening day in the last 15 years.
All of the state's alpine ski resorts - Snowshoe, Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center, Winterplace and Timberline Four Seasons Resort and Conference Center - have made improvements to their facilities.
But the biggest changes are at Canaan Valley Resort, which is undergoing a multi-million-dollar upgrade and expansion.
Canaan's renovated ski area and new Tubing Park are expected to open Dec. 21.
The Tubing Park will have a Magic Carpet-brand surface conveyor.
"Tubers will stand on the carpet with their tube to access the top as they ride the 800-foot-long conveyor," said Bradley Leslie, assistant chief of the state parks section of the state Division of Natural Resources.
"The tube slope will have space for up to 16 lanes and tubers will slide 1,200 feet down the slope."
The tube run will be the longest in the mid-Atlantic.
Superstorm Sandy caused delays in the construction of a Tubing Park lodge, although it will be in useable condition when the park opens, Leslie said. The lodge will contain rest rooms, a fireplace, a lounge and viewing area, and an outside plaza with a fire ring.
A new beginners ski area will have its own Magic Carpet surface conveyor to move skiers to the top of the ski school slope.
Numerous renovations have been made to the two original buildings at the base of the ski slopes. In one building the bar in the pub and the restrooms have been completely overhauled. In the other building the skiers' lounge has been renovated. Both buildings have new furnishings, new windows and doors, fresh paint and trim, Leslie said.
Renovations to the Main Park Lodge and new guest rooms aren't expected to be finished until next August, but the lodge and 150 guest rooms are available this winter.
At Snowshoe, President and Chief Operating Officer Frank DeBerry credited more than two feet of natural snow and excellent snowmaking conditions for the resort's early opening.
Snowshoe is monitoring temperature and weather patterns to determine when it will open all of its terrain.
Although the nearby Silver Creek ski areas typically don't open until mid-December, the mix of fresh snow and snowmaking capabilities may allow Silver Creek to open earlier than ever, DeBerry said.
Meanwhile, Snowshoe said its new winter zip line would open on Wednesday.
"To allow guests to come and 'ski it to believe it,' " Snowshoe said it is offering a new $99 "Early Unlimited Pass," on sale thorough Friday and valid any day through Christmas Day.
Snowshoe also is offering a "Third Night Free" lodging deal for the Thanksgiving holiday period. Guests who buy two nights of lodging get the third night free. The offer is good for arrivals starting today through Friday. The offer is subject to availability.
Winterplace in Raleigh County is expected to open on Dec. 14, said President Terry Pfeiffer.
The resort has added new rental skis and high-performance demonstration skis to its fleet of rental gear, Pfeiffer said.
Also new this year: "The Stage at Winterplace," which will host Christian rock bands from around the area; and cabins that will sleep up to 60 people.
Pfeiffer said the resort is offering a Monday-through-Thursday "Lean to Ski & Snowboard" package for $34.95. Also, free group lessons are included with Winterplace ski and snowboard rentals.
Timberline near Davis is planning to open on Dec. 13, said General Manager Tom Blanzy.
"We have upgraded our snowmaking system, spending roughly $200,000 on pumps, snow guns and related equipment," Blanzy said.
Timberline is offering special ski-and-stay packages that include lift tickets, equipment rentals and other services.
Joe Stevens, spokesman for West Virginia Ski Areas Association, said, "It's great to get the season off to a normal start and by 'normal' I mean in conjunction with the Thanksgiving holiday.
"Due to the lack of both cold temperatures for snowmaking and natural snow, last season didn't begin until Dec. 9 at Snowshoe and we were playing catch-up through the end of the season."
Stevens said the ski areas overall had about 15 percent fewer skier visits last season, "but it wasn't as bad as some resorts in neighboring states which in some cases were down over 50 percent.
"We were able to cover the majority of the slopes last year due to the resorts' ability to make snow when temperatures allow," Stevens said.
"When the temperature drops into the teens and 20s, over 20,000 tons of snow is being produced per hour across the state. That sets West Virginia apart from other states because the temperatures are colder in our mountains than further south, which is a key for the snowmaking process.
"All of the resorts are reporting strong early season reservations, and I think some of that has to do with the amount of snow that Hurricane Sandy dropped on the mountains as it got people outside of the area to think about winter, even though the cleanup continues in areas," he said.
Contact writer George Hohmann at email@example.com or 304-348-4836.