- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2005

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — On a balmy afternoon more fit for golf and tennis than skiing, the slopes were again slushy Wednesday at Snowshoe Mountain.

It’s been that way for weeks at West Virginia’s largest ski resort, mired in a stretch of springlike weather that came in with the new year.

“The conditions are marginal,” Snowshoe spokesman Joe Stevens acknowledged as temperatures crept to nearly 60 degrees. “The snowmakers and groomers have done everything they possibly can to keep us open.”

Throughout Appalachia — where resorts bill themselves as a cheaper alternative to heading west for powder skiing — conditions read pretty much the same: wet or granular, with snow depths in inches rather than feet. Operators have been forced to cut back hours, rebook reservations and keep a straight face to hard-core skiers.

“Obviously it’s been pretty challenging. We had a really good start to the season — really good stuff until the new year,” said Chris Dudding, marketing director Ski Roundtop in Lewisberry, Pa. “Then it got warm and wet, and caused a shift in interest among customers.”

Roundtop, Liberty Mountain Resort and Whitetail Mountain Resort are owned and operated by Ski Time, a York, Pa., company.

None of the resorts has received any natural snow yet, but machine-made snow sufficed through December and the slopes were 70 percent to 80 percent open as of yesterday, Mr. Dudding said. Cold weather today is expected to help.

“We are anxiously anticipating [Friday] night. We will start making snow around-the-clock,” Mr. Dudding said.

Overall income and attendance were about 6 percent behind last season’s levels, Mr. Dudding said.

“A lot of people seem shocked about that. But the second half of December was great,” he said.

John Anderson of Belmont, N.C., was disappointed upon arriving Tuesday night with relatives at Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent, W.Va.

“They’re usually good conditions this time of year,” he said. “They were not so good once we got up here. It’s getting wetter by the day.”

His group came to Winterplace a year ago when Mr. Anderson said “it was snowing to beat the band.” They had such a good time that they immediately made reservations to return this year.

“It’s a gamble you take,” Mr. Anderson said. “I figure we’re back to about even.”

Slopes at some resorts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Tennessee have been shut for more than a week, with operators hoping to reopen when lower temperatures return.

That should happen soon. An arctic blast is approaching for the upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, one of the busiest ski weekends of the season. The springlike wind being felt now is the collective sigh of relief.

At Snowshoe only 85 percent of its trails and 10 of 14 lifts were open Wednesday. All 57 trails were expected to be open by the middle of next week.

Virginia’s largest ski Mecca, Wintergreen Ski Resort, near Charlottesville, gets up to 5,000 skiers during peak winter days. On Wednesday, just two of 23 slopes were open.

But there has been a bright side: The golfing. Morning tee times were booked solid at the nearby Stoney Creek Golf Course, where the grass is still mowed twice a week.

“It’s not very helpful on the ski slopes, but it’s helpful on the golf course,” said assistant golf pro J.D. Wilson.

Much of the mid-Atlantic has recorded one-third or less of the snowfall normally received by this time of year.

It’s the lack of low temperatures — not the lack of snow — that has hurt. January thaws are not uncommon. The length of this warm spell, which began around New Year’s Day, is more unusual.

At Sugar Mountain Resort in North Carolina, only seven of 20 trails were open Wednesday, leaving skiers who had booked vacations months in advance little choice but to take to the slush.

“If you go to Disney World and it rains the entire time, you make the best of it,” said Sugar Mountain marketing director Kim Jochl. “It’s been like this for two weeks, but they’ve been sunny, nice days.”

Wintergreen has temporarily halted night skiing and is offering discounts normally reserved for the start and end of the season. The resort also has shut down most of its slopes to preserve what little snow depth remains.

“We’re letting them rest so that when we get the cold temperatures…we can have a base that we can add to,” said Wintergreen spokeswoman Frankee Love.

Daytime highs are expected to drop 30 degrees or more by today.

Staff writer Jeff Sparshott contributed to this report.

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