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2012-13 W.Va. ski season sees better start than last winter

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- A late October snowfall helped get the 2012-13 ski season off to an early start and, so far, West Virginia's snow resorts are handling 10 percent to 15 percent more skiers and snowboarders than they did by this time last year.

"We had a great start to our ski season this year; now we're getting new snow and great snowmaking weather," said Terry Pfeiffer, president of Winterplace Resort and the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.

Pfeiffer said snow and freezing temperatures that are expected to linger through the weekend in the West Virginia highlands should make it possible for Winterplace to open 100 percent of its skiing and snowboarding terrain by next week, if not this weekend. The state's other ski resorts also should be at, or approaching, having all trails open during the same period, Pfeiffer said.

"We've had nonstop snowmaking since Monday, and we're getting some significant natural snowfall, too," Pfeiffer said. "West Virginia has the best teaching terrain and the best instructors in the region. We need to use them to create a new generation of lifetime snowboarders and skiers."

Pfeiffer and representatives of other West Virginia ski areas were at the state Capitol on Thursday to promote January as the state's official "Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month," with help from Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. The governor presented ski industry officials with a proclamation designating the month.

"I ordered this snow today," Tomblin joked, pointing to a window through which a thin accumulation of powder could be seen accumulating on grass and leaves on the statehouse lawn.

The governor said the 150 ski and snowboard trails offered by the state's five alpine resorts lie within a single day's drive of 75 million people. "Our snow-covered mountains beckon people from across the country," he said.

All totaled, the state's alpine resorts -- Snowshoe Mountain in Pocahontas County, Winterplace in Raleigh County, Timberline and Canaan Valley resorts in Tucker County -- combined with the White Grass and Elk River cross-country touring centers in Tucker and Pocahontas counties, draw nearly 1 million skiers and snowboarders annually to West Virginia.

The five-month ski season pumps about $250 million into the state's economy, and employs about 5,000 people on and off the slopes, some as far away as Charleston.

Buddie Clendenin, vice president of Charleston's SportMart Superstore, said the current ski season has been a good one for his store, which sells and offers seasonal leases of skiing and snowboarding gear to Kanawha Valley snow enthusiasts.

"Our sales are weather related," he said, "and thanks to the weather we've been having this year, we're pretty well sold out for this season."

Several years ago, SportMart moved from single-day and weekend ski and snowboard rentals to season-long leases. The leases, which cost about $150 a season for skis, boots and poles, essentially pay for themselves, when compared to renting gear by the day at resorts, if the leaseholder hits the slopes four or five times a year, Clendenin said.

Restaurants, gas stations, convenience stores and motels also benefit from the presence of the ski resorts.

Started by a group of industry officials in 2007, the Learn to Ski and Snowboard program offers discounts on lessons and gear and other incentives to those giving snow sports a try. For more information, visit www.skiandsnowboardmonth.org or www.goskiwv.com.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.


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