Warm weather threatens the start dates of West Virginia’s ski season

Weather

Charleston, WV (WOWK) – Thanksgiving week usually brings great joy to the staff at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and it’s typically the start of the West Virginia ski season. This year, we’re less than 2 weeks from opening day and the mountain is virtually snow free.

It’s not for a lack of trying. Workers have been prepping all summer to get ready for this ski season by repairing and upgrading snow guns, prepping the trails for a new season and so much more. According to Bryan Hughes, “Mother nature is not cooperating and that can be linked to a developing La Nina which means it will generally be wetter but also warmer weather across the state.”

“With snow making technologies improving every year, when it is 32 degrees or less, West Virginia’s slopes are being covered by man-made snow,” according to Joe Stevens with the West Virginia Ski Areas Association. Stevens goes on to say,”the increased snow making ability helps the resorts open earlier and stay open longer.”

Snowshoe’s Shaver’s Centre is looking less wintry in the middle of November. (Courtesy ResortCams.com & Snowshoe)

Pictures are worth a thousand words and the picture above doesn’t bode well for the Thanksgiving opening. Two weeks prior, when the cold air brought the first good snow to the mountain (2 inches), they made snow for the following two nights as it was cold enough. Then, in classic 2020 fashion, we had record high temperatures across the state and most of it melted.

At Snowshoe, Shawn Cassell tells us that they will have to make an opening date decision soon. “We’re looking at the forecast and one week before the opening, we’ll have to make that decision to change the date or work on opening a few of the trails.”

“All of the ski resorts in West Virginia have invested literally millions of dollars in snow making equipment which helps offset the lack of natural snow,” Steven says. But the weather dictates much of what happens here.

The temperatures outlook for the month of November. (Courtesy: Climate Prediction Center/NOAA)

The forecast, for the month of November, accounts for all of the heat we’ve seen so far. And it’s been one for the records, literally. Thankfully, the forecast is looking cooler than normal for the week before Thanksgiving and that will help. The only problem, there will be cold nights on the mountain but it will be entirely dry and this is where the snow making operations kick into overdrive.

We asked Mr. Stevens about delays for opening day. “That is something that is decided by each individual resort.” There is still hope that they are able to concentrate on a few runs and get something going, but we’ll have to watch with baited breath.

Cassell says, “Snowshoe can open up with 100 hours of good snow making.” At the going rate, there will be 7 to 8 nights of snow making that are possible before Thanksgiving and possibly 2 full days at Snowshoe. The Canaan Valley is similar with their forecast before Thanksgiving with 6 nights and 1 day of snow making.

The rest of the season is fraught with warmer than normal temperatures as well. Take a look at the map below.

January, February & March are predicted to be above normal with temperatures. (Courtesy: Climate Prediction Center/NOAA)

While the region will trend to be above normal, there is a great benefit to the region according to Joe Stevens. “The beauty of where West Virginia resorts are located on the western side of the Allegheny Mountains, that all of them sit in a natural bowl and when we get snow and cold temps off the great lakes, the resorts benefit from both scenarios.”

Looking up the mountain from the basin at Snowshoe, WV. (Courtesy: Snowshoe Mountain Resort)

With the combination of snow guns and Mother Nature, it makes for a good time but even Joe admits, there are issues with the natural snow. “Believe it or not, sometimes there can be too much natural snow.  What I mean is, we can control where man-made snow is placed on the slopes, but if we get too much natural snow, getting to and from the resorts, even though state highways does a great job in plowing, visitors from the metro areas we draw from are not as comfortable driving on snow covered roads as the folks who live here in the state.”

From the StormTracker 13 Weather Lab, it looks like opening dates are in jeopardy until the weather gets much colder. And that’s for resorts across the entire state, because we’re still looking at some tough times ahead in the next 4 weeks.

An interesting bit of info that we’ll call “stats behind the stats”…during Snowshoe’s snowiest season back in 2009-’10, they received 229 inches of snow! They actually backed up the opening date to December 5th because they couldn’t make enough snow before Thanksgiving that year.

So we can all be thankful, we’ve got snow making technology on our side that will allow us to have some fun on the slopes this season…even if it’s a little warm!

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