- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

A mountain in West Virginia is being looked at as a possible winter resort, and it could mean a major facility would be easily accessible to skiers and snowboarders in the Washington area.

Marsh Mt. LLC, one of five partners that own Wisp at Deep Creek Mountain Resort in McHenry, Md., last week closed on the sale of 1,500 acres of Tory Mountain, mostly in Randolph County near Harman, W.Va. The group will close on about an additional 200 acres in a few weeks. Purchase of the entire parcel was placed at $4.5million.

“We’re a few years away from deciding whether to develop it into a resort,” said Karen Myers, one of the principals in the Marsh Mt. group and the CEO at Wisp. “Our predecessors in title [of the property] wanted to build a ski resort but we don’t know about that. We want to think about it and study it.”

In the mid-1980s a group owned Tory and built an access road and cleared some trails in anticipation of developing it as a ski resort. But reports indicate the group ran out of money and abandoned the project.

The section of Tory Mountain Marsh bought has northern exposure, a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet, a base area above the 3,000-foot level and a peak that tops out at around 4,500 feet.

Those statistics would put a potential ski area on Tory in the same league as Canaan Valley (850 feet of vertical, 3,400 feet at the base, 4,280-foot summit) and Timberline (1,000 vertical, 3,268 base, 4,268 summit), both in Davis, W.Va., about 20 miles to the north. Snowshoe Mountain, 70 miles south in Pocahontas County, has a 1,500-foot drop from its 4,848-foot summit. Snowshoe’s base area is atop the mountain.

There is no development on Tory Mountain, save for the abandoned access road. Myers said Marsh Mt.’s immediate plans include improvements to the road, a bridge to span a river and a select-cut timber harvest.

A resort on Tory Mountain realistically would be years away. If it does happen, it would become the closest West Virginia ski area to the District and access would be eased as more sections of a road project in West Virginia known as Corridor-H are finished. Reports indicate it will be five to seven years before the final sections of Corridor-H are completed.

Third best year — U.S. ski and snowboard resorts had the third-best season in terms of visits this past winter. The Kottke National End of Season Survey from the National Ski Areas Association reported that total visits are projected at 56.8million, down 1.3 percent from last season’s record 57.6million and slightly behind the 57.3million visits recorded in 2000-01.

Skier visits had hovered around the 50million mark for decades before the 1990s. The number of visits spiked into the 54million range a few times in the ‘90s. With three seasons at about 57million in the past four years, industry sources indicate there is a growth trend emerging.

Gains in the Pacific West and Rocky Mountain regions offset a down year in the other three regions. The Southeast region, which includes resorts in the Mid-Atlantic, was down about 3.5 percent from a strong 2002-03 season.

The survey offered two reasons for the strong showing in skier visits: The broadening of the core group of skiers and innovations in equipment that make skiing and snowboarding easier. The survey said 20 percent of skiing’s core group account for 80 percent of the skier visits.

Gear sales increase slightly — Sale of winter sports equipment and clothing rose 0.6 percent compared to last season to $2.21billion compared to $2.20billion in 2003. Unit sales for the winter season (August through March) were up 4.0 percent according to the SnowSports Industries America Retail Audit.

The McLean-based trade association reported snowboard gear sales led the industry with equipment sales at $207.5million, up 16 percent compared to last year and snowboard clothing was up 17 percent to $96.5million.

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