Ski operations at beleaguered Timberline Four Seasons Resort are closed for the remainder of the 2018-2019 ski season, and perhaps beyond, according to at least one ski industry observer.
Last week, after operating for more than a week with only four to six of its 40 slopes and trails open, the Tucker County ski resort announced on its website that it would close through the Feb. 22-24 weekend and that continued skiing would be “re-evaluated” on Feb. 25.
On Thursday, the resort’s website continued to carry the message about slopes being re-evaluated on Feb. 25, but included no further word about when, or if, ski operations would resume. An announcement appeared on Timberline’s Facebook page late Wednesday night stating “Closed for 2019,” and thanking customers for their “kindnesses and support.”
“Better times lay ahead,” the announcement concluded.
It has been a challenging year for Timberline’s operators and those who enjoy skiing and snowboarding the resort’s 4,268-foot mountain with 1,000 feet of vertical drop, challenging black diamond slopes, glade skiing, sweeping views of Canaan Valley, and a gentle, winding two-mile-long trail.
The resort delayed its announced opening date twice, finally making its season debut on Dec. 23. Since that time, only a fraction of its trails and slopes have been open, apparently due to snow-making issues.
On Dec. 12, Timberline co-owner and operator Fred Herz was arrested by Tucker County sheriff’s deputies for failing to pay hotel and motel taxes owed the county.
The following day, the Public Service Commission held a hearing at nearby Canaan Valley State Park to begin the process of determining whether Timberline’s water and sewer utility, owned and operated by Herz and his wife, Tracy, should be placed in receivership. Complaints from about two dozen customers of the Timberline Four Season Utility were heard, ranging from spotty billing practices and deferred maintenance issues to repeated boil water notices.
On Feb. 21, the PSC voted to implement an administrative law judge’s recommendation that the utility be placed in receivership and its assets and customer base transferred to the Canaan Valley Public Service District.
On Feb. 1, World Business Lenders LLC filed for a writ of possession in Tucker County Circuit Court to seize nearly $100,000 worth of assets from Timberline Four Seasons Resort to make up for unpaid principal on a loan.
On Feb. 11, Tucker County Prosecutor Raymond LaMora filed a motion in Tucker County Circuit Court in behalf of the county commission and county sheriff seeking to place Timberline Four Seasons Resort, its water and sewer utility and its real estate operation in receivership.
During proceedings before the PSC, it became evident that “numerous loans have been taken out in the name of the utility company which have directly preceded payments from the account of the utility to Timberline Resort,” LaMora wrote in his filing. “This amounts to Mr. Herz and Timberline Resort using the utility as a slush fund to create encumbrances in excess of $400,000, which the resort seems to have no intention to pay back.”
Continued operation of the resort by its current owners, LaMora wrote, would bankrupt the utility, causing “irreparable harm to the County,” through lost lodging taxes and lost income from owners of rental properties. According to the filing, extended boil water notices cost local realty firms $27,000 per day in lost rental income.
In addition to placing the resort, its utility and real estate operation in receivership, the motion seeks to restrain Herz family members and their employees from using all property, furniture, goods, equipment and bank accounts affiliated with resort operations.
Realtor David Downs built and operated a T-bar surface lift at Timberline that opened for the 1982-83 ski season, but sold the ski area site to Frederick Reichle, a Philadelphia area surgeon, his sister, Rose Marie Herz, and his nephew, Fred Herz, in 1985. The new owners added chairlifts and a lodge, and opened the improved ski area in 1987.
Reichle, now 83, was one of 14 doctors and physician assistants indicted on Feb. 6 by a federal grand jury on charges of illegally operating pill mills through a Philadelphia area urgent care medical company.
West Virginia’s other alpine resorts have been experiencing an above-average season, having enough snow cover on their slopes to draw crowds of skiers over the Christmas, Martin Luther King Day and Presidents Day weekends.
On Thursday, Canaan Valley Resort, two miles to the south of Timberline, had 24 of 47 slopes and trails open, with snow depths ranging from 18 to 36 inches. At Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County, 59 of 60 trails were open, while Winterplace in Raleigh County had 24 of 27 trails open.
“Timberline Four Seasons Resort is now closed for the season,” Skisoutheast.com founder and editor Mike Doble wrote on Thursday. “Odds are, it is closed for business, period.”
In addition to the problems stated above, Timberline owes tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes, Doble wrote. If the resort owners default on taxes and Timberline goes on the auction block, a new buyer would have to wait two years — the legislatively mandated period allowed for a debtor to redeem his or her tax bill — before reopening the resort.
Meanwhile, the possibility of a new buyer using the area as a residential development rather than a ski area is large, according to Doble.
“I don’t think ‘better times ahead’ applies to Timberline,” he wrote. “I think you can stick a fork in the place as a ski area.”