With Watauga County under consideration for a state disaster
declaration and sub-zero wind-chill advisories lingering, local ski slopes are finding a silver
lining in the snow clouds.
Extreme temperatures led to some ski cancellations Sunday, but overall the wintry weather has offered ramped-up publicity and natural skiing conditions, helping the resorts launch into a strong year.
"The snow is in great condition," said Talia Freeman, marketing director for Ski Beech. "The great thing is, this weekend we won't have to make snow, so guns will be off, which is good for skiers."
Freeman noted the extreme recent temperatures chilled business for a while, but that was more than offset by the recent surge of interest.
"The temperatures were so cold, we had a couple of groups cancel Sunday because they didn't want to put children in the cold," Freeman said. "But Tuesday was really busy, and it's put us in great shape with our conditions for Winterfest this weekend. We opened White Lightning to the top."
Ski Beech has the additional challenge of getting customers up the winding Beech Mountain Parkway, but the resort operates bus shuttles and a van to bring people from the foot of the mountain.
"The phones been non-stop," Freeman said. "I've had more groups this week than we've had calls all year. We are really happy. Obviously, it would be nice to have warmer temperatures, but this is the best snow and consistent temperatures we've had in years. It's definitely a blessing and we're really excited for the season."
Hawksnest Resort in Seven Devils shut down its snow-tubing operations from Sunday through Wednesday, citing high winds and frigid temperatures. Its Web site said it hoped to be open Thursday.
Kim Jochl, marketing director at Sugar Mountain Resort, said media coverage of mountain weather conditions had raised interest in winter sports.
"No question," Jochl said. "This snow is our most effective and economical marketing tool. It's good news."
Jochl said the continuous snowfall had helped the resort accumulate average snow depths of between 60 and 104 inches. The resort is also open for skating, snow shoeing and snow tubing, reporting three inches of snow on Jan. 6. The resort's Web site did issue a frostbite warning, with hats and gloves required, but overall the cold snap has brought out fans of winter weather.
"It's definitely a positive effect," Jochl said. "We have great slope conditions, with the entire mountain open. People love to ski when it's real winter conditions and it's actually snowing. It's absolutely beautiful."
Drew Stanley, marketing director at Appalachian Ski Mtn., said the Blowing Rock- area resort has been able to keep roads clear and passable, which has helped customers reach the slopes.
"Basically, the weather's been a little bit chilly but we're able to keep our entrance road in good condition," Stanley said. "Conditions couldn't be better. It's a little on the cold side but with skiing being such an active sport, you're able to keep yourself warm."
Appalachian Ski Mtn. has also welcomed the chance to let skiers experience natural snow, while saving snow-making efforts for overnight.
"We've been able to be a little more selective with our snow-making, waiting for the right temperatures and humidity," Stanley said. "You never quite know what to expect when the weather's like this, but it seems like it's gotten people in the mood for skiing."