New snow guns help make winter fun at six area resorts

Matthew Graham

Everybody loves snowboarding at Pennsylvania’s Shawnee Mountain.

Largest tubing hill in the country now at Camelback

These last few years have been a roller coaster ride in terms of snow and cold temperatures. We’ve had a blizzard here and there, but winters have been warmer and snowfall has been unreliable. This season, the ski resorts aren’t taking their chances with Mother Nature and the race is on for making the most snow the fastest way possible.

Everybody loves snowboarding at Pennsylvania’s Shawnee Mountain.
Everybody loves snowboarding at Pennsylvania’s Shawnee Mountain.

Making snow

Whitetail Resort in Pennsylvania spent more than $2.5 million in the last couple of years to upgrade infrastructure, including major renovations to the snowmaking systems. Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort now boasts one of the world’s most sophisticated snowmaking systems, called Snowpower. It has a 5 million-gallon tank, 400 snow guns, and the ability to fill a football field with 37 feet of snow in a day. Also in Virginia, Massanutten is automating existing guns and adding new fully automated snow guns.

Timberline Resort — West Virginia’s holdout for natural lake-effect snow — has increased its snowmaking capacity by 30 percent. Neighboring Canaan Valley Resort has doubled the capacity of its systems. The largest ski mountain in the region, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, is so confident of its manmade snow that the resort guarantees more skiable terrain than any other resort in the Southeast, or you will get you a free lift ticket for your next day’s outing.

In Pennsylvania, Seven Springs/Hidden Valley has added four new state-of-the-art groomers and added five new Impulse Tower guns to the top of the popular North Face black diamond slope. Last season, this sisterhood of Pennsylvanian resorts manufactured more than 1,400 football fields worth of foot-deep snow.

Alternatives to skiing

Area resorts have also realized that the winter experience isn’t merely about skiing and snowboarding. While tubing parks have been a fixture at most resorts, this season sees an expansion of tubing areas and facilities. Most hills now have dedicated snowmaking, nighttime lighted runs, and easy-loading, conveyor-style magic carpet lifts.

Ski resorts are preparing to make more snow this year.
Ski resorts are preparing to make more snow this year.

Camelback Resort, in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, now has the largest tubing hill in the country, with 42 lanes. At Ski Liberty, also in Pennsylvania, the old rider drop-off area is being transformed into an ice skating rink and additional outdoor seating has been added outside the tavern.

Massanutten Resort leads the trend for seating with a new 5,000-square-foot deck. The deck features a retractable roof and walls and a heated “umbrella bar.” The enclosed, easily accessed round patio on the deck provides a warm shelter — with a full-service bar and floor-to-ceiling windows — that can accommodate 100 patrons.

The biggest news for the Mid-Atlantic is bucking all of the trends and involves the opening of a new ski resort — sort of. Laurel Mountain Ski Resort, in Central Pennsylvania, is reopening.

One of the oldest ski mountains in the region, Laurel Mountain started in 1939 and went belly-up in the late 1980s. It reopened briefly twice in the early 2000s, but closed down again in 2005. A partnership between Seven Springs Resort and the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources is behind the reopening this legendary ski area.

At Virginia’s Massanutten Resort, you can tube all day and visit the water park at night.
At Virginia’s Massanutten Resort, you can tube all day and visit the water park at night.

Renovations at Laurel Mountain include a new high-speed chair lift, regrading and widening of trails, improvements to the lodge, and, of course, new snowmaking that doubles its previous snowmaking capacity.

Originally designed by famed European skier Johann “Hannes” Schneider, one of the pioneers of the modern Alpine skiing method used today, Laurel Mountain features an 800-foot vertical drop and the steepest slope in the region, Lower Wildcat. The resort plans to offer 20 trails, 70 skiable acres, and night skiing.

What’s old is new again for the 2016-17 season.

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