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Sholten Singer/The Herald-Dispatch 

Marshall’s Iran Bennett (2) prepares to go in for a layup against Howard’s Zion Cousins (10) during an NCAA men’s basketball game on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at the Cam Henderson Center in Huntington.

W.Va.'s 2019-20 ski season opens Friday at Snowshoe Mountain

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s ski and snowboard season gets underway Friday, Nov. 22, when Snowshoe Mountain Resort, in Pocahontas County, powers up three of its 14 lifts and opens 11 trails and a terrain park in its Snowshoe Basin area.

“The cold snap is giving our resorts a great opportunity to make snow, and they have been taking advantage of it,” said Joe Stevens, spokesman for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.

Canaan Valley Resort, in Tucker County, with 41 trails served by three chairlifts and one surface lift, plans a Dec. 14 opening for skiing and snowboarding, but will offer outdoor ice skating from Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 1 and snow tubing from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1.

Canaan Valley has added nine fan guns, four tower guns, five portable guns and multiple water pumps to its snowmaking arsenal this season, and added a new ticket window at the end of the ski area parking lot farthest from the lodge to accommodate skiers and snowboarders not needing rental gear.

The ski lodge parking lot has been paved and expanded to add 75 to 100 parking spaces, and the main lodge at Canaan Valley Resort has added a ticketing kiosk, allowing guests to buy tickets before boarding the shuttle for the mountain.

Winterplace, in Raleigh County, tentatively plans a mid-December opening, but could open earlier if snowmaking temperatures continue.

“Winterplace and Canaan Valley could open now, but they’re letting their snow whales (huge piles of machine-produced snow) build up to make trail conditions better for when they do open,” said Stevens.

For the first time since it opened in January 1987, Timberline Four Seasons Resort, in Canaan Valley, will not be among the state’s ski areas operating this season.

Timberline ended the 2018-19 season early last season after experiencing difficulties with snowmaking, lifts and financing, and filed for bankruptcy.

However, Perfect North Slopes Inc., of Lawrenceburg, Indiana, plans to reopen the Tucker County resort for the 2020-21 ski season after it was the second-highest bidder at an auction this week.

High bidder First Asset Holding LLC agreed to assign its bid of $2.2 million to Perfect North Slopes in exchange for $30,000 cash.

Meanwhile this ski season, the West Virginia Ski Areas Association is offering a new program that makes it possible for fourth- and fifth-graders to learn to ski or snowboard at the state ski area of their choice for an all-inclusive fee of $25.

The new Passport Program includes rental gear, a day of instruction and a beginner’s lift ticket, plus an additional three junior lift tickets when accompanied by a paying adult.

The Passport can be obtained through the West Virginia Ski Areas Association website at www.goskiwv.com.

Former Trump adviser undercuts GOP impeachment defenses

WASHINGTON — A former White House official said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s top European envoy was sent on a “domestic political errand” seeking investigations of Democrats, stunning testimony that dismantled a main line of the president’s defense in the impeachment inquiry.

In a riveting appearance on Capitol Hill, Fiona Hill also implored Republican lawmakers — and implicitly Trump himself — to stop peddling a “fictional narrative” at the center of the impeachment probe. She said baseless suggestions that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election bolster Russia as it seeks to sow political divisions in the United States.

Testimony from Hill and David Holmes, a State Department adviser in Kyiv, capped an intense week in the historic inquiry and reinforced the central complaint: that Trump used his leverage over Ukraine, a young Eastern European democracy facing Russian aggression, to pursue political investigations. His alleged actions set off alarms across the U.S. national security and foreign policy apparatus.

Hill had a front row seat to some of Trump’s pursuits with Ukraine during her tenure at the White House. She testified in detail about her interactions with Gordon Sondland, saying she initially suspected the U.S. ambassador to the European Union was overstating his authority to push Ukraine to launch investigations into Democrats. But she says she now understands he was acting on instructions Trump sent through his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

“He was being involved in a domestic political errand, and we were being involved in national security foreign policy,” she testified in a daylong encounter with lawmakers. “And those two things had just diverged.”

It was just one instance in which Hill, as well as Holmes, undercut the arguments being made by Republicans and the White House. Both told House investigators it was abundantly clear Giuliani was seeking political investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden in Ukraine, knocking down assertions from earlier witnesses who said they didn’t realize the purpose of the lawyer’s pursuits.

Trump has also said he was simply focused on rooting out corruption in Ukraine.

Giuliani “was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us and in fact,” Hill testified. “I think that’s where we are today.”

Hill also defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified earlier and whom Trump’s allies tried to discredit. A previous witness said Hill raised concerns about Vindman, but she said those worries centered only on whether he had the “political antenna” for the situation at the White House.

The landmark House impeachment inquiry was sparked by a July 25 phone call, in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for investigations into Biden and the Democratic National Committee. A still-anonymous whistleblower’s official government complaint about that call led the House to launch the current probe.

After two weeks of public testimony, many Democrats believe they have enough evidence to begin writing articles of impeachment. Working under the assumption that Trump will be impeached by the House, White House officials and a small group of GOP senators met Thursday to discuss the possibility of a two week Senate trial.

There still remain questions about whether there will be additional House testimony, either in public session or behind closed doors, including from high-profile officials such as former Trump national security adviser John Bolton.

In what was seen as a nudge to Bolton, her former boss, Hill said those with information have a “moral obligation to provide it.”

She recounted one vivid incident at the White House where Bolton told her he didn’t want to be involved in any “drug deal” that Sondland and Trump’s acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Trump wanted. Hill said she conveyed similar concerns directly to Sondland.

“And I did say to him, ‘Ambassador Sondland, Gordon, I think this is all going to blow up,’” she said. “And here we are.”

Hill and Holmes both filled in gaps in previous testimony and poked holes in the accounts of other witnesses. They were particularly adamant that efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Burisma gas company were well-known by officials working on Ukraine to be the equivalent of probing the Bidens. That runs counter to earlier testimony from Sondland and Kurt Volker, the former Ukraine special envoy, who insisted they had no idea there was a connection.

Holmes, a late addition to the schedule, also undercut some of Sondland’s recollections about an extraordinary phone call between the ambassador and Trump on July 26, the day after the president’s call with Ukraine. Holmes was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv and said he could overhear Trump ask about “investigations” during a “colorful” conversation.

After the phone call, Holmes said Sondland told him Trump didn’t care about Ukraine but rather about “big stuff,” meaning the “Biden investigation.” Sondland said he didn’t recall raising the Bidens.

During Thursday’s testimony, the president tweeted that while his own hearing is “great” he’s never been able to understand another person’s conversation that wasn’t on speaker. “Try it,” he suggested.

Republicans continued to mount a vigorous defense of Trump. And the top Republican on the panel was undeterred by Hill’s warnings about advancing “fictions” on Ukraine. GOP Rep. Devin Nunes of California said Russian interference in the 2016 election didn’t preclude Ukraine from also trying to swing the election to stop Trump’s presidency.

“That is the Democrats’ pitiful legacy,” Nunes. He called it all part of the same effort, from “the Russia hoax” to the “shoddy sequel” of the impeachment inquiry.

Hill, the British-born coal miner’s daughter who became a U.S. citizen in 2002, left the White House before the July phone call that sparked the impeachment probe. She worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations and said she joined the Trump White House because she shared the president’s belief that relations with Russia needed to improve.

Still, she was adamant that Russia is gearing up to intervene again in the 2020 U.S. election, declaring: “We are running out of time to stop them.”

She warned that political chaos in Washington plays into Moscow’s hands.

“This is exactly what the Russian government was hoping for,” Hill said. “They would pit one side of our electorate against the others.”


Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly, Andrew Taylor and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Thanksgiving travel expected to be near record levels this year

HUNTINGTON — Huntington travelers will join more than 55 million others making plans to kick off the holiday season with a trip of 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, according to AAA’s annual Thanksgiving travel projections report.

“This will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since AAA began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005,” AAA said in its report.

Overall, an additional 1.6 million more people will travel compared with last year, a 2.9% increase, the report showed.

Raymond Smith, of Huntington, will join the vast majority of holiday travelers who will drive to their destinations.

“I go to my sister’s home in Columbus, Ohio, nearly every year to celebrate Thanksgiving with family,” Smith said while filling up his car with gasoline at the Speedway on Hal Greer Boulevard in Huntington. “I leave very early on Wednesday morning to try to avoid some heavy traffic, but it’s really impossible because I think most people leave on that day.”

Inrix, a global transportation analytics company, expects Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 27, to be the worst travel period nationally, with trips taking as much as four times longer than normal in major metropolitan areas.

“The strong economy is giving many Americans the confidence to head out and visit their families and friends this Thanksgiving,” said Jim Lehman, president of AAA East Central. “Millions in our region will be hitting the roads and skies to create long-lasting memories.”

The Thanksgiving holiday period is defined as Wednesday, Nov. 27, to Sunday, Dec. 1.

The Associated Press reports that record throngs of travelers are expected to jam into airports over the Thanksgiving break and airlines are adding hundreds of flights a day in response.

The Transportation Security Administration said last week that it expects to screen more than 26.8 million passengers and airline crew members between Nov. 22 and Dec. 2. That would be a 4% increase over last year.

The busiest days figure to be the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day — about 2.7 million people — and the Sunday after the holiday, when TSA expects to screen more than 2.8 million people.

The lightest day is expected to be the holiday itself.

U.S. airlines are adding about 850 flights and 108,000 seats per day compared with the same period last year, according to their trade group, Airlines for America. There were nearly 25,000 flights a day over the Thanksgiving stretch last year.

Beginning next October, the government plans to require that identification to board a plane comply with so-called Real ID standards. However, the U.S. Travel Association estimates that 99 million Americans don’t have an ID that meets the requirements, meaning people could be turned away at airport security checkpoints.

Congress required more secure IDs in a law in 2005, but the deadline for enforcing it has been pushed back many times in the face of opposition by privacy advocates and slow adoption by many states.

Older driver licenses might not comply with the law. You are OK if yours has a gold star logo.

The government and travel groups have been conducting a public relations campaign to make people aware that they might need a new driver’s license to fly.

“Significant lack of awareness is one of the challenges we face as the Real ID enforcement deadline approaches next year,” said U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow. “We are concerned not only about the post-deadline effects for major travel times like Thanksgiving, but also the next two months are going to be critical for closing the Real ID awareness gap.”