Ski resorts savor spring snowfall
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - While many Kanawha Valley residents lament the early spring snow showers, state ski resorts are rejoicing in the additional accumulation, as nearly 5 feet of snow has piled atop the mountains so far this month.
"The conditions are excellent right now for skiers and snowboarders wanting to make those final turns of the season," said Terry Pfeiffer, president of the West Virginia Ski Areas Association and president of Winterplace Ski Resort.
"It's been a very good season for all of the resorts as we have had plenty of snowfall and excellent temperatures for snowmaking."
Three ski areas have extended their seasons thanks to chilly temperatures, more than 17 feet of natural snow this season and local college spring breaks.
"Folks in southern West Virginia all the way up through the mountains are quite happy. While some people are not enjoying the spring snowfall, it's helping us to extend our season here in West Virginia and keeping the resorts open an extra week or so," said Joe Stevens, communications director for the ski association.
"We curtailed any snow making earlier this month; there's still plenty of manmade snow. It's very resilient to mild temperatures. But when you've got natural snow -- A, it creates awesome conditions, and B, it creates a buzz. If people see snow out their back door, they know if there's snow there, there's snow in the mountains," Stevens said.
Winterplace in Raleigh County is scheduled to close Saturday, and Snowshoe Mountain in Pocahontas County and Timberline in Tucker County will close Sunday. Canaan Valley Resort has been closed for about a week.
"We're scheduled to close March 31, and that will be our longest season in a decade -- Everybody is happy about that," said Dave Dekema, the director of marketing for Snowshoe Mountain.
"March is poised to have the highest visitation numbers in the last seven years. It's a night-and-day difference from last year."
A mild winter last year left many resorts with shortened seasons and fewer visitors than usual.
"Last year, everything was closed up and done by this time. We were playing golf by March 15. On average, the middle of March is when we end up closing. Going to the end of March is a little later than usual," said Bill Smith, executive director for the Tucker County Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Timberline averages between 160 and 180 inches of natural snow per season. This year it received more than 208 inches
"We've had an incredible season. Anything over 200 inches for the southeast is huge.
"Overall, our season ski numbers are up over last year. A lot of that has to do with our really good season and Virginia and Pennsylvania having a borderline season. It has a lot to do with our increased natural snow because our summit elevations exceed 4,250 feet," Smith said.
Ski school instructor Tom Peterson said he's loving the current conditions.
"Usually in spring you have warmer weather, softer snow and spring-like conditions. But this is more like mid-winter conditions. You don't usually see this -- it's great skiing," he said.
Greg Hoyer, who has frequented Snowshoe Mountain since he was a child, will try to get one more visit in.
"Saturday might be the day, given the weather. I've already been about eight or nine times since the first of the year, and I'm very happy I already bought a pass for next year," he said.
Skiers and snowboarders aren't the only ones benefiting from the March snow showers. The five-month ski season in West Virginia has an estimated economic impact of more than $250 million and 5,000 jobs at the resorts.
"This is a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar industry in the state -- not just in resorts, but in businesses that depend on the resorts: restaurants, hotels, gas stations, bed and breakfasts close by the resorts," Stevens said.
"It's an industry that has quite a few tentacles. Everybody is working a full season this year, and that helps stimulate the local economy."