Although amusement parks are still a few weeks away from starting up, for West Virginia's ski resorts, the proverbial rollercoaster season is finally coming to an end.
After a tumultuous up and down 2017-2018 season, four of the Mountain State's five downhill ski resorts are now closed for the season. Snowshoe Mountain, the state's largest and highest elevated ski resort, is open daily through Easter Sunday, April 1 when it will close for the season.
Terry Pfeiffer, president of the West Virginia Ski Areas Association, and who also manages Winterplace, located just south of Beckley, in Ghent, W.Va., said it was an amazing start and end to the season with a bumpy ride in the middle.
"December and January were just outstanding months but in February we had spring and summer hit in the middle of winter," Pfeiffer said. "Then in March, Old Man Winter came back out and we ended up with some of the best skiing in March."
Typically, the West Virginia ski season runs from Thanksgiving through early April, but in recent years,
resorts around the Southeast have been lucky to have much of anything open by Christmas week.This season with a seasonably cold November and December all five of West Virginia's downhill resorts were open by mid December with Snowshoe first out of the gates Thanksgiving weekend.
The Mountain State’s resorts annually attract more than 800,000 skier visits, and the five-month long ski season in West Virginia has an estimated economic impact of more than $250 million and 5,000 jobs at the resorts and other related companies.
While the March snows came too late for Oglebay and Canaan Resort, which both closed by early March, the epic March snows have left some in the industry singing a high note at the season's end.
On their closing day, Sunday, March 25, Winterplace, took advantage of eight inches of snow that had fell on Saturday and that was on top of several feet that had fallen in March. Up in Pocahontas County that weekend, skiers and snowboarders from all over the Southeast packed Snowshoe Mountain for their Pond Skim contest and a late season celebration for season pass holders, while in Canaan Valley, Timberline Four Seasons Resort was able to re-open with a fury, hosting its 24th annual Snowy Luau, opening back up to the top of the mountain, and last weekend firing up the Decker's Creek Enterprises East Coast Annual Snowmobile Race on their slopes.
"This past Sunday, March 25, was our last day and we had eight inches of snow and a really, really nice crowd and everybody had a big smile on their face to get to go out with conditions like that," Pfeiffer said. "It just goes to show that it is never too late to go out and make some turns and sometimes some of the best turns are at the end of the season."
Shawn Cassell, Public Relations Manager for Snowshoe Mountain, said the epic March snow - some 88 inches up at Snowshoe Mountain, made for an incredible end to the rollercoaster season.
"It was quite the comeback," Cassell said. "I had a hunch in late February that we were about to get a bunch of snow in March but I didn't realize how much it was going to be. I remember at one point I tweeted out the 10-day forecast and it was one of the best forecasts I've seen getting eight to 10 inches a date and then at least three to five inches. It just kept coming and exceeding expectations. It was a pleasant surprise and when we got the word out about the snow there was definitely some pent-up demand."
Cassell said it was a great feeling across the mountain when major snows returned in March blanketing the mountain in fresh powder and with the kind of conditions that drew skiers and snowboarders to West Virginia from all over the Southeast.
"I think all of us at one point in late February had almost mentally put ski season away," Cassell said. "We thought there was a chance we could stay open but figured it would be spring slushy conditions with bare spots. I didn't expect day after day of me in thigh deep powder."
Pfeiffer said overall the season was a good one for West Virginia's ski resorts, which have some of the best terrain and conditions in the Southeast (Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee).
"All the resorts proved that we have made the right investments over the seasons from a snowmaking and grooming perspective to have very successful season," Pfeiffer said. "I also think our initiatives to get people out to try skiing and snowboarding have been successful and all of the resorts are doing a good job of teaching these life-long sports."
Pfeiffer said the 2017-2018 also came with some of the excitement of the Winter Olympics, which are only held every four years.
"Absolutely, an Olympics year always puts a little more of a spotlight on winter sports and that is always an incredible positive," Pfeiffer said. "We had an 82-year-old grandmother come out and get on skis because she wanted to go skiing with her children and grandchildren and she went through our program and she joked that she was now ready for the Olympics."
Chilling down at The Boathouse that overlooks the lake at Snowshoe Mountain last weekend, Charleston area residents and avid motorcyclists Kurt Bell and Keith Pauley were taking a rest from skiing and soaking up the sun on a bluebird day, sitting out on the deck, drinking a couple beers and watching skiers come down the slopes to the Ballhooter Lift.
"We've thoroughly enjoyed it," Pauley said. "When you think about it this is the one last day and this will be it."
"And what a beautiful day it has been," Bell said.
Pauley said they realize how lucky they were to get to ski in March in such great conditions.
"We used to always come in the spring but in the past few years you can get washed out. We were at Canaan a few weeks ago and it was their last hurrah," Pauley said. "We like skiing in the spring though, it's a little bit warmer and the days are longer. We love the mountains. We have lived in West Virginia all of our lives."
For the ski resorts, they will be winding down for the season and transitioning to begin focusing on the upcoming summer season when they all host a wide range of events from weddings and family reunions to mountain biking, horseback riding, golfing, festivals and other summer-time activities.
Cassell said Snowshoe Mountain will have a busy spring season as workers begin installing about 165 new snow guns as part of a nearly $4 million in upgrades to its snowmaking and grooming technology this summer.
"This year will be a littler different with the capital improvements as they have to start as soon as we can some there will be some of those operations folks who would normally be laid off for a couple of weeks that will be working," Cassell said.