WARM WINTER: Snow-making technology saves winter tourism on North Carolina ski slopes

Weather

(FOX 46 CHARLOTTE) – When the snow is finally back, you can’t help but dance! Avid skiers have been counting down the days, patiently waiting since November to hit the slopes.

It’s the first layer of natural winter white…8” of snow at both Beech and Sugar Mountains are packing the slopes with excitement, skiers rejoice, “It’s amazing! You can actually carve the mountain…You got shred…And if you fall down it don’t hurt that bad!”

Welcoming back some old comers and teaching some newcomers, “It’s a wonderful time, you just got to figure out what you’re doing! And I think this may be our first cold-weather vacation, we are typically tropical people.” Everyone has just been waiting for winter to get cold.

The calendar has said winter for quite some time now but man, it hasn’t felt like it. Now that we finally have the good first stretch of cold weather for the season, the snow machines have been cranking full time at Beech Mountain getting the snow to crank as the temperatures stay cold and humidity stays low.

Michael Stanford is the Ski Patrol Director at Beech Mountain, “Our snow-making crew is on game…They’re able to get out there and really get us a good depth of base that sustained us through the warm periods.”

December was the third warmest on record in Charlotte. Nine daily records tied or broken and another 11 within shouting distance, which means about half of the month sat in record warm territory.

“It was a roller coaster,” Kimberley Jochl is the Marketing Director at Sugar Mountain, “the constant 50, 60-degree weather melted all the snow so we shut down for one day only thankfully.” Jochl calls it a miracle, “When the temperatures were in the mid to upper 30s, the humidity was extremely low, maybe 10 percent so we were able to make snow on those nights.”

Ideally, ski resorts need temperatures in the teens to pump the white stuff.

“It’s clear that it’s continuously getting warmer and warmer each winter” Alex Ettinger is the Ski and Ride School Director at Beech Mountain. He remembers October snows, “last winter we had a significant amount of snow and it was cold but that’s more abnormal now and the warming is more of a norm for us.”

Winter is warming the fastest in North Carolina. At a similar elevation, Asheville finds cold snaps with below normal days shrinking by 6 days since 1970.19 fewer nights dropping below freezing.

Ettinger explains, “We have to have cold temperatures to make snow, we rely mostly on our snowmaking here,” adaptation and mitigation, these ski resorts need to invest in becoming climate-resilient.

Stanford adds, “We increased our pump capability to have a pump from the reservoirs that hold our water that allows us to pump more gallons per minute up the hill, it gives us a greater capacity to make snow.”

And it’s not just the ski resorts, Stanford adds, “folks rent houses, they go to restaurants, they go to the grocery store, they buy products from the different folks that are selling here on the mountains.” Winter brings an economic boom to all of western North Carolina.

“It’s fun…We’re in the business to provide fun to families,” Jochl explains.

“I’m so excited…This is what we live for” Ettinger says.

With more cold and snow in the forecast, fingers and skis are crossed for more powder on the slopes.

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