In the Year 2050
Is the weather window closing on the national ski industry? Is the High Country ski industry more equipped to survive in the long-term?
A recent study commissioned by the city of Aspen, Colo., and a recent article titled, "The Future of Snow," by Kitt Doucette paints a daunting look at the future of the $6 billion American ski industry, and pushes the question: "Wouldn't it be tragic if your grandkids couldn't go skiing in the mountains?"
According to the study, if greenhouse gas emissions - yes, this is a climate change argument, so manifest some cynicism - continue at the current rate, by 2030 the ski season in many resorts across the continent and in Europe will have shrunk by 10 days or more.
What's more, the study finds that, post-2030, snow will begin falling later and melting earlier, with higher temperatures prohibiting effective snowmaking. By 2050, any resort in the world below 5,000 feet elevation will not have a natural snow season; by 2100, or before, the only winter precipitation at what are now resort areas will be in the form of rain.
Doucette's article quotes Aspen Skiing Company's Auden Schendler: "The ski industry is the perfect metaphor to explain climate change to society."
So what can be done? Little hope remains for us to pull our SUVs off the roads, and we love us some fume-spewing factories, so we can assume pollution will finally win out over the creature comfort remnants of the Industrial Revolution. The answer, says experts, Doucette and the study, lies in snowmaking - a technology that we in the east are much more accustomed to using than our counterparts out west. In theory, we could have a leg up on the challenges of tomorrow.
Both the study and article place heavy importance on resorts investing more and more money into snowmaking, as to prepare for a future where that is the only option. If you have followed the High Country ski industry news for the past decade, each of our resort operators have done just that, investing millions upon millions into snowmaking system upgrades.
The resorts that will be able to maintain current operations by making more snow and relying on the real stuff less, say the study and article, will survive in the long-term. The others, well, they should (and have, at a few locations out West) plan for a snowless future by investing in ancillary activities, such as spas, shopping centers, restaurants, ziplines, go-carts and even amusement parks.
But this is an issue of climate change, so the irony of this solution falls in the amount of energy it takes to produce manmade snow. The new task for snowmaking-machine manufacturers is delivering top-quality fake snow to an ever-increasing customer base, while using less energy to do it.
Go play in the snow (while it's still there).
Around the Slopes
Hawksnest Resort went above and beyond during MLK Weekend, opening 21 snow-tubing lanes to the public, when the resort only features 20 advertised lanes.
"We had a lot of snow and a really talented Snow Cat driver," said Tom Bookstaver of Hawksnest Resort, who added that the resort saw multiple sold-out sessions on Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 15 and 16, and overall "the crowds were good."
Bookstaver said the resort is hoping to stay open throughout this week, but its staff is watching the weather in the hope that freezing rain and ice don't hamper those plans.
"We're planning on staying open, but we'll see what Mother Nature throws at us," Bookstaver said. "We certainly have a bunch of snow out there now."
Speaking of a bunch of snow, Ski Beech General Manager Ryan Costin is happy to report that his resort has received more than 8 feet of natural snow in the last 45 days.
"We've been very fortunate thus far," said Costin. "And we had big crowds on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday for MLK - it was a great turnout."
Because of the ample snow base, Ski Beech will not be blowing snow during day sessions for the remainder of the week, "but we will be making snow on and off during some of the nights when the cold weather comes in," added Costin.
This Saturday, Jan. 22, Ski Beech will host a beer festival in the Beech Tree Village. Multiple vendors will be setup throughout the day providing two-ounce tastes of micro-brews for a $5 admission fee. What's more, Ski Beech will play host to two live bands on Saturday afternoon in the Beech Tree Bar & Grille.
If that wasn't enough activities to cram into a weekend, Edge of the World will also be at Ski Beech this Sunday, Jan. 23, to begin its Boardercross Series, which begins with registration in Group Sales between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. This year's series is open to skiers as well, and will take place on four upcoming dates: Jan. 23, Feb. 6, Feb. 13 and March 6. The entry fee is $15 and contestants may preregister at Edge of the World in Banner Elk, or on the day of the event. This Sunday, an on-hill pre-race meeting will take place at 12:30 p.m. and the race begins at 1 p.m. For more information, call 1-800-SUX-EDGE.
This Thursday, Jan. 20, through Sunday, Jan. 23, is N.C. Gay Ski Weekend, sponsored by Blowing Rock's N.C. Mountain Boys and JustTwirl.com. Titled "Summit 2011," the weekend is centered on activities at Crestwood Resort & Spa, but includes events at both Ski Beech and Sugar Mountain Resort. In addition to skiing and snowboarding, the weekend includes a cocktail party sponsored by French-Swiss Ski School, a wine tasting sponsored by Barefoot Wine & Bubbly, yoga sessions, a gallery crawl, a dinner at Gamekeeper Restaurant, a Best of Blowing Rock Dinner at The Best Cellar and Crippen's Country Inn, a comedy show by Julie Goldman of the Logo's Big Gay Sketch Show and, as the main event, a dance party dubbed "Snowball 2011" that features DJ/Producer Seth Cooper of Austin, Texas. For more information on the event, click to http://www.ncgayskiweekend.com or contact Greg Jung of N.C. Mountain Boys at 1-877-951-NCMB (6262), extension 101, or (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Appalachian Ski Mountain is coming off a successful MLK Weekend boasting a 77- to 108-inch base, with groomed conditions and 12-of-12 slopes and six-of-six lifts open. Mark your calendars for Saturday, Feb. 5, when Appalachian begins its annually popular Shred for the Cup Series. For its fifth season, the series will begin with a Big Air competition on Feb. 5, continue with a Rail Jam on Feb. 27 and then conclude with Slopestyle Finals on March 19. As always, Shred for the Cup is open to skiers and snowboarders of all ages and ability, but each sport will be judged separately among three categories of participants: beginner, intermediate and advanced, for both men and women. Click to http://www.appskimtn.com for descriptions of each ability category. In addition to individual event winners and participant prizes, points will be tallied throughout the three events to decide the entire series winners in each category. Those winners will win the coveted award "cup."
Two races have now taken place in the Sugar Mountain Adult Race League (SMARL) atop Sugar Mountain Resort, and - surprise, surprise - Team Sugar (led by Gunther and Kim Jochl, Sean McKee and Erich Schmidinger) and Team Banner Elk Cafe #1 (led by Robert Jones, Clint Hendricks, Ja Davis, Elizabeth Beadle and Les Broussard) are in the lead, both with 40 team points. In the snowboard competition, Team Edge of the World's 20 points is good enough for the top spot, but tight competition is on the horizon from Team Modern Rustic (Andy McDaniel, Chris Arquette, Eve Parsons and others) with 15 points, Team Sugar Mountain Snowboard (Bill Delligatti, Vance Huneycutt, Austin Burr, etc.) with 14 points and Team Alpine Ski Center #2 (John Davidson, Drew Overton, Josh VonCannon and others) with 13 points. Four races remain in the series, and even more beer; happy racing!
Go play in the snow.