GHENT -- I have to admit, when the COVID-19 pandemic caused just about everything to be shut down just over a year ago, I truly was worried that I was going to lose the opportunity to ski during the this past winter.
But lo and behold, the folks that head up the West Virginia ski industry got together and were able to provide a safe and fun ski season that ended just a few weeks ago.
I was worried that strict social distancing regulations were going to curtail the fun everyone has while skiing or snowboarding in the West Virginia mountains. But then I got to thinking that Mother Nature probably provides the best opportunity to social distance.
One of those ski operators who faced the challenges of this past ski season head on was Tom Wagner, executive vice president for Winterplace Ski Resort in Raleigh County.
Wagner told me he just took it all in stride. “Every season is different," he said. "This season brought some unique challenges, with COVID-19 and the protocols that came with that, but what we saw, everyone wanted to get outdoors. It was the one place that you could physical distance and enjoy winter and have fun outdoors. It seemed to give everyone a sense of normalcy.”
The West Virginia ski season started the last week of November at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County and did not end until the final Sunday of March, also at Snowshoe.
I bet if you would’ve asked ski resort operators, like Wagner, back in September, their optimism about the upcoming season would not have been as strong as years past, due to the pandemic. Wagner was clear to me they all had a lot of questions.
“Back then, we weren’t really sure what to expect. But after we got together with the National Ski Areas Association and worked with the state to come up with an operating plan to get through the season safely, my confidence level grew as we got closer to opening day," he said. "This wasn’t just happening in West Virginia, but across the country. I just came back from out west and the same information signs we used, were the same signs I saw out there. This provided a consistent message to skiers and snowboarders and that was important.”
While none of West Virginia ski resorts reported record-breaking seasons, all report having very good seasons in terms of visitors heading to the resorts.
Every time I got to get on the slopes this year, the weather, for the most part, was very winter like and, best of all, really not too cold and not too warm.
Wagner explained the good weather did have a positive impact on the season, saying, “Weather is important no matter what, and no matter what anybody says, the sport is all about the weather. This season, what we had was a normal winter as far as temperatures go, and that’s critical for our snow-making operations. What we didn’t have were the freeze thaws that we have been getting in recent seasons and the snow didn’t go anywhere after we were able to cover the slopes.”
I have learned with challenges come opportunities to learn, and Wagner told me this past season was a perfect example of just that.
“The biggest thing we learned was probably patience," he said. "That’s patience with your guests, patience with your staff and probably most of all patience with dealing with the unknown of not knowing what was going to happen each day, as each day brought about another different challenge, but we dealt with all of them.”
I can probably speak for every skier and snowboarder out there that I feel fortunate that the West Virginia ski resorts stepped up, took on the pandemic challenge and provided another fun ski season.