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Big snow is big bucks for W.Va.

By Sarah Plummer

The Register-Herald

BECKLEY, W.Va. — With a $250 million economic impact over a five month season, winter recreational tourism is big bucks for West Virginia, said Division of Tourism Commissioner Amy Goodwin.

“Our studies show we are a four-season destination. As many people come to West Virginia in November — February as come May through August,” she said. “Last year Mother Nature was not good to West Virginia, and we had one of the worst ski seasons in many years because of high temperatures, but we expect this cold front to continue and we had a great holiday season on the slopes this year.”

Goodwin said slopes were packed over Thanksgiving and Christmas and many visitors have already booked trips over upcoming four-day weekends — Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day weekends.

While great drops of snow, like a five-inch accumulation this past week, makes her office do the ‘snow dance,’ many West Virginia slopes have top-notch snowmaking capabilities. Coupled with high elevations, many of the state’s resorts are able to give “snow guarantees” for visitors who book ahead of time.

Winterplace Ski Resort in Ghent, for instance, has again expanded its snow making power, adding more high volume, energy efficient snow guns.

And the ski, snowboarding, winter sport industry supports 5,000 jobs, she said.

“Fortunately for West Virginia, we have a smattering of excellent facilities across the state, drawing visitors to all parts of the state. And having high elevations helps those facilities out. We are called The Mountain State for a reason,” she quipped.

Goodwin, an avid skier, said she makes a point to ask visitors where they are from during her frequent trips to Winterplace. Inevitably she finds guest from Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Alabama, she said.

“Winterplace is, bar none, the best place to teach your kids to ski. Ski instructors there taught both my kids how to become confident, good skiers. On the East Coast, there is not a better place for learning,” she said.

This year the resort has also expanded its SkiWee and Snow Explorers program to include their own learning area with carpet lift and carousel. The program is for kids ages 4 to 12, and instructors use the award-winning Terrain Based Learning method.

There also a guarantee: Learn to ski or snowboard or take the class again for free.

“The thing about skiing is it is extremely fun and affordable. You don’t have to go out and buy equipment. Rentals are as good as you would buy, and our resorts across West Virginia do an extremely good job of maintaining their equipment,” she said.

Snow tubing has long accompanied ski offerings at resorts, and snowboarding has increased in popularity in recent years.

But there is also an interest in cross-country skiing, and White Grass Ski Touring Center in Canaan Valley has been named one of the top cross-county skiing locations in the nations, she said.

And having that variety in winter outdoor recreation is important.

“Nobody wants to come to town to do one thing. Our church groups or youth groups want to ski one day and tube another day or have an alternative activity for those who don’t ski,” she added.

While many are flocking to the slopes now, the Division of Tourism began marketing West Virginia’s winter outdoor adventures in August.

“A lot of booking happens in August. Just like stores are beginning to put out winter clothes, we have to start putting out what we have ahead of season,” she explained.

The team is already looking toward spring and summer marketing efforts.

— Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @Sarah_E_Plummer

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