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West Virginia ski season ready to begin

By RUSTY MARKS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Joe Stevens has just about given up trying to predict what the weather will be for West Virginia’s annual ski season.

Joe Stevens, spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association, said West Virginia’s ski industry has a financial impact of about $250 million a year.
(Photo courtesy Joe Stevens)

“It’s weather,” the spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association said. “We’re going to weather the weather, whatever the weather may be.”

After years of experience on the slopes, Stevens usually looks out the window to see what the weather is going to be.

Fortunately, that’s become easier to do, as all of the state’s five Alpine ski facilities and three cross-country ski areas now have online weather cams for checking conditions on-site.

Stevens said there are about 800,000 skier visits a year to the Mountain State’s downhill skiing facilities, which include Winterplace Ski Resort, Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, Canaan Valley Resort, Timberline Four Seasons and Oglebay Ski Resort. Cross-country skiing is available at Elk River Touring Center, White Grass Ski Touring Center and Blackwater Falls State Park.

Stevens said the state’s ski industry employs about 5,000 people and generates about $250 million a year, between selling lift tickets, food sales, resort stays and merchandise sales.

“We’re coming off a relatively good year last year,” Stevens said.

Even though there was not a lot of natural snow during the 2016-17 season, Stevens said conditions remained cold throughout with reasonable humidity, giving the state’s ski resorts good conditions to make snow.

“We were able to create a product to have a normal year,” Stevens said.

He said West Virginia’s ski areas are located in a natural bowl on the west side of the Allegheny Mountains, allowing the region to trap cold weather and humidity coming in off the Great Lakes.

He said the state’s ski season usually lasts from November through the end of March or so.

But exact weather patterns remain difficult to predict. Stevens said he’s seen years when there was more natural snow in March than in November.

“It’s such an imperfect science to say what March is going to be (in November),” he said.

Some ski spinoff industries are almost completely dependent on the ski season for their livelihoods.

“It’s our total income,” said Debbie Cline, general manager of five Ski Barn retail outlets that operate at Mountain State ski facilities.

The first Ski Barn opened in 1980, she said.

“We carry a lot of everything,” Cline said. “We have hard goods, soft goods, pretty much anything you would need (for skiing).”

Cline said the Ski Barns are open year-round, but during the off-season, sales are centered a lot on selling souvenirs or blowouts of seasonal skiing gear.

Cline was reluctant to say what kind of sales figures the outlets make in a typical season, but it’s been enough to keep the Ski Barns open for the past 37 years.

She said she’s looking forward to another ski season opening.

“We’re just hoping everybody gets going soon,” Cline said.

Staff Writer Rusty Marks can be reached at 304-415-1480 or email at [email protected]

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