One last hurrah


WATAUGA COUNTY, N.C. - With temperatures in the mid-60s Sunday, Appalachian Ski Mountain became the final High Country ski resort to shut its doors on a lukewarm season.

A mild and dry winter led to only 98 skier days at Appalachian — the mountain's shortest season in a decade. In 2001-02, it recorded 93 skier days, but most years conclude with 120 days or

Despite Mother Nature's hesitancy this season, staff of each of the High Country ski resorts said they worked hard to make the best of a challenging year.

“I think given the circumstances, we had a good year, but probably not good compared to what would be the normal winter weather pattern,” said Brad Moretz, general manager of Appalachian Ski Mountain.

Moretz said App had snow only nine days over the course of the winter. Rain was more common, falling each and every week of the brief season, he said.

“We actually had thunderstorms forecast for more days than we had snow forecast,” he said. “That's probably a once-in-a-50-year-thing, would be my guess.”

The call for more rain this week led App Ski Mountain to shut its doors early for the first time in 10 years, Moretz said. Staff had hoped to ski through March 25.

But the year wasn't without one last hurrah in the form of the annual Meltdown Games on Sunday. A high ollie and big air contest, combined with the awe-inspiring  trashbag downhill race, allowed for some final fun on the rapidly shrinking slopes.

While Appalachian Ski Mountain had the distinction of being the year's latest closure, it wasn't far behind Sugar Mountain on March 14 and Beech Mountain on March 11.

“I want a do-over,” said Kim Jochl, marketing director of Sugar Mountain Resort. “But I think all in all, it was a middle-of-the-road season. It wasn't our worst; it wasn't our best.”

Sugar Mountain Resort pulled 110 skier days out of a paltry 46 inches of natural snow, Jochl said.

Despite those lower-than-usual tallies, Jochl said the season still provided several opportunities for prime skiing. 

“My husband skied every single day, and there were days that I had to get out and ski because it was just so good,” Jochl said.

Beech Mountain Resort, which netted 97 skier days, also found some positives in the season, including a rise in group sales from last year. Marketing director Talia Freeman said the clear roads may have helped ease travel to the resort.

“I think what a lot of people perceive as a negative with the lack of natural snow, we were able to kind of spin that in a positive light and really showcase our snowmaking capabilities,” Freeman said.

While the High Country shows early signs of spring, the ski resorts are already looking forward to their off-seasons, which will include mountain biking competitions at Beech Mountain and weddings for the first time at Sugar Mountain.

But some die-hard snowmen and women are still left longing for the season that never really materialized.

“You want winter — that's why we live here,” Jochl said.