WINTER WON’T WAIT
Cold Weather Allows Massanutten Resort To Open Slopes Earlier Than Ever
By IAN MUNRO
Daily News-Record 11/22/19
At a white mountain to the east of Harrisonburg, it’s time to hit the slopes.
And this weekend, earlier than ever before, Massanutten Resort will oblige skiers and snowboarders.
“It’s the earliest we’ve ever opened for skiing,” said Kenny Hess, director of sports and risk management for the McGaheysville resort.
Today, select slopes will open to Massanutten season pass holders and property owners only, and on Saturday, they open to the public.
The early opening was due in large part to the temperatures being perfect for snow production, Hess said.
Massanutten makes its own snow, often at night, in temperatures around 20 degrees.
“We typically shoot to start making snow as soon as the weather allows, from mid- November on,” Hess said.
But this year, low temperatures allowed the resort to start making snow even earlier, beginning on Nov. 8, he said.
“I think it’s the earliest we’ve started making snow,” Hess said.
“We make snow in the early season so we can build enough snow depth so it will last through the inevitable Virginia thaws,” he said.
The resort will be opening three of its 14 trails this weekend, and will open more throughout the season, Hess said.
“It’s a process,” he said. “But it’s a start and we’re happy about it.”
Resort staff members are not the only ones putting in extra time.
The Powder Shack, a ski and snowboard shop in McGaheysville, opened early this year as skiers and snowboarders brought in equipment to get their kits outfitted before the trails open this weekend.
“We have been working around the clock to try and get all of this equipment ready since Massanutten made the announcement last Wednesday,” said Melanie Ledford, owner of the Powder Shack.
“It’s created quite a rush on our end,” she said. “It’s an early bump in revenue where we normally don’t see this till December.”
The Powder Shack has 19 employees, who are all James Madison University students and began working earlier than usual, Ledford said.
“We don’t expect to see the volume on Friday that we expect on Saturday and Sunday, because most pass holders own their own equipment,” Ledford said. “Saturday and Sunday, we expect to really be rolling.”
And with them, visitors bring their wallets.
“With opening around two weeks earlier than the 2018 season, the two-week jump will allow for visitors and residents to begin skiing prior to and around Thanksgiving breaks,” said Joshua Gooden, the economic development and tourism manager for Rockingham County. Tourism generated over $231 million in revenue for the county in 2018, the most generated by a single locality in the Shenandoah Valley, according to the United States Travel Association.
The $231 million was up 6.1% from 2017, according to the data.
“We typically average about 100 days a year of skiing,” Hess said. “And if we can extend on that, that means there’s more people skiing and riding and spending more money on tourism.”
Normally, Massanutten Resort shoots to open by the first week of December and stay open until the third weekend of March, he said.
But an early start does not guarantee a great season, Hess said.
“Last year was a decent year, but the two prior years to that were not a baseline,” Hess said.
Rain and warm temperatures during peak ski and snowboard times can pose a problem, Hess said.
“If you have couple washouts Christmas week, it’s not positive on the bottom line for us,” Hess said.
Like the resort, it remains to be seen just how long and cold the season will be before Ledford can be sure of how it will go.
“If they do longer, we will definitely be open longer,” she said. “We just hold our breath and wait.”
Normally, the season ends by late March, and the Powder Shack closes on the final day of the month, Ledford said.
“It’s definitely the best start we’ve ever had to season,” she said. “But we never know until the numbers are in on April 1 to be able to compare it other years.”