GHENT, W.Va.--After a marginal holiday season opening last year due to a lack of snow and freezing temperatures, dreams of a white Christmas came to fruition ahead of schedule this year for most West Virginia ski areas.
"We're ahead of schedule, compared to last year's mild start, when we had to battle Mother Nature to get open," said Joe Stevens, spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.
The number of skiers visiting state snow resorts during this year's Christmas-New Year's holiday season has also increased dramatically, due to an abundance of snowy terrain, and the fact that snow has fallen on many of the metropolitan areas that send skiers and snowboarders to West Virginia's mountains.
"It's really more important that we get snow in those metro areas than at the resorts," Stevens said. "We can make snow at the resorts, but it takes snowfall in the cities to get people motivated" to go skiing and snowboarding, he said.
White Grass, the state's oldest and largest cross-country ski area, got the snowball rolling on Halloween, when superstorm Sandy dumped more than 30 inches of snow on the Tucker County resort, making possible its earliest-ever season debut. While there have been some marginal to un-skiable days since then, White Grass has offered 47 days of skiing so far this season, with 50 or more kilometers of trails open on 24 of those days.
A record 2,500 Nordic skiers took to the trails at White Grass during the Christmas holiday period.
Fallout from Sandy also helped Snowshoe Mountain, the state's largest snow resort, open in time for Thanksgiving. Thanks to prime snowmaking conditions and 75 inches of natural snow so far this season, the Pocahontas County resort now has 43 trails open, including Cupp Run, which drops 1,500 feet in 1.5 miles, and didn't open until mid-January last year, due to mild weather.
"It took only two days of snowmaking to get Cupp Run open, which would have been unheard of 10 or 15 years ago," said Stevens. "Continued investment in new and upgraded snowmaking equipment by all of West Virginia's resorts makes it possible for them to cover their slopes and bring people to where the snow is."
Temperatures dropping into the teens in the state's eastern mountains during the past 10 days have produced optimum snowmaking conditions. Stevens said the combined snowmaking capacity of all West Virginia's resorts makes it possible to produce 20,000 tons of snow per hour -- enough to cover 20 football fields with 1 foot of snow.
"Skiers and snowboarders from the South know if they want a white holiday, the mountains of West Virginia will be covered," said Terry Pfeiffer, president of Winterplace resort and the West Virginia Ski Areas Association. "We are seeing a lot of skiers and snowboarders from Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida."
Winterplace, which had its season debut on Dec. 23, now has 17 of its 27 trails open, as well as its snow tube park.
Timberline Resort in Tucker County's Canaan Valley, which opened on Dec. 21, now offers skiing and snowboarding on 31 of its 40 trails open, including 2-mile-long Salamander.
Canaan Valley Resort's ski area opened on Dec. 29 and now has 21 of its 42 trails open. Canaan Valley's new 1,200-foot-long snow-tubing park is scheduled to open on Jan. 11.
Also opening in December was Elk River Touring Center at Slatyfork in Pocahontas County, which offers a 40-kilometer trail system and access to additional trails in the adjacent Monongahela National Forest.
The state's last ski area to open for the season was Wheeling's Oglebay Resort, which debuted on Dec. 31.
West Virginia's five-month snow season brings about 800,000 skiers, snowboarders and tube-riders to the state's ski resorts, pumping about $250 million into the state's economy and creating 5,000 jobs, according to the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.
For links to all West Virginia ski resorts and twice weekly West Virginia ski area forecasts by Herb Stevens, the Skiing Weatherman, visit the West Virginia Ski Area Association's website at www.goskiwv.com.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.