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Wednesday, 25 January 2017 15:16

Warm weather forces Cataloochee Ski closure

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Unseasonably warm weather and the drought have combined to temporarily close Cataloochee Ski Area.

For Maggie Valley, that’s a problem. The small tourist town has always had challenges in winter as restaurants, stores and hotels close up shop until spring returns. 

The success of Cataloochee Ski Area has helped mitigate the drop-off of visitors and has helped introduce an entire new demographic to Maggie Valley. Skiers typically occupy the slopes at Cataloochee and the hotel rooms in the valley from November into March, which is why Cataloochee’s recent 12-day closure will likely have a negative impact on local revenues. 

“As the main attraction for winter activities, Cataloochee temporarily stopping their skiing and snowboarding activities has impacted tourist traffic to the Valley,” said Teresa Smith, executive director of the Maggie Valley Chamber of Commerce.  

Tammy Brown, marketing manager at Cataloochee Ski, sent a press release out Jan. 18 announcing that the resort would be closed for the next week because of the unusually warm January weather. 

“The ski area has temporarily suspended operations for the upcoming week until snowmaking temperatures move back into the area,” Brown said. “The ski area plans to reopen on Thursday, Jan. 26. As always, we suggest you check back with us or visit our website at www.cataloochee.com as we move forward into next week.”

While the ski season always varies each year, having to cease operations in the middle of the season is a rare event — but so is this warm weather. 

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in January has been about 6 degrees higher than average. This time last year, Maggie Valley had several inches of snow on the ground compared to this year’s 65-degree sunny weather. 

Even though the Asheville region did receive more January snow last year, overall the region had its warmest winter on record in 2016, according to the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. 

Smith hopes the impact of Cataloochee being closed for more than a week will be balanced out by the advantages of having warmer weather in the winter. She’s also hopeful that the cold weather will return in time to make the remaining season profitable for the ski resort and the rest of the valley businesses. 

“Temperatures have been mild and visitors could go hiking, fishing, play golf, and enjoy many of the outdoor activities that are available year-round,” she said. “But the weather will turn cold again and we look forward to a busy President’s Day weekend in February.”

Even before the warm weather set in, Cataloochee was having a problem with making snow because the drought had impacted the ski resort’s water supply. In a Jan. 14 press release, Cataloochee Ski Area President Chris Bates said the 20-inch rain deficit throughout the year had reduced the inflow to the snowmaking reservoirs by two-thirds.  

“The reduced water for snowmaking has limited our ability to maximize the cold weather when we have had it, and limited the ability to make snow on more terrain,” he said. “We have continually invested in expanding our water reservoirs and drainage around the resort to have more water for snowmaking and will continue to so for the future.”

Maggie Valley won’t be the only town to suffer — Sapphire Valley Ski Area in Jackson County has had to shorten its hours of operations because of the weather conditions as well. 

The ski industry has a major impact on the entire state of North Carolina, which is home to six ski resorts. According to the North Carolina Ski Areas Association’s 2014-15 economic value analysis, the ski industry had a $197 million economic impact during the 2014-15 season. 

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