Between slinging skis and spouting off the latest weather forecasts, Jared Lee kept a nervous eye on the dwindling supply of hard warmers flying out the door of Maggie Valley Skis and Tees heading into the weekend.
“I am sure my boss is scrambling to get more,” Lee said, predicting the run on ski gear to heat up as the temps continued their dip toward single digits. “It is feast or famine in the valley. When it is busy, it is extremely busy, and when it is slow it is extremely slow.”
The end of 2017 brought a perfect storm for the ski industry in Haywood County. The cold snap couldn’t have come at a better time. The week between Christmas and New Year’s is the biggest week of the year for Cataloochee Ski Area. The quality of skiing is a live or die proposition for the winter tourism economy, and this year, winter has delivered.
Last year this time, warm weather not only made for poor skiing, but even forced Catalooche Ski Area to close down for a couple days during the critical Christmas break week.
“Considering what we went through last year, we are in a really good place. The skiing is going to stay good for a while,” Lee said. “Last year you couldn’t get a good base. Now they have so much snow piled on, and the ground will stay frozen for so long, that everything they blow is going to stick. It looks like we could ski into April at this rate.”
Last year, Cataloochee Ski Area — known affectionately among skiers as “the mountain” — was hamstrung all winter by the stop-and-start cold. Meanwhile, hotels and accommodations reeled from last-minute cancelations by disappointed skiers. It’s a far different story this year.
“Our phones have really been ringing off the hook with people wanting to come in this weekend,” said Lynn Collins, the executive director of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority.
While Collins and her tourism team have strategically promoted Haywood as the winter season destination — with or without snow — the snow certainly helps.
“It is extremely important. That is a huge component of our winter season,” Collins said of the ski area. “It brings a lot of people to town, who now only come to ski and snowboard but they also shop, they eat, they drink, they participate in all of it, so it is critically important to the entire county’s economy.”
Lee offered a bit of sage advice to locals looking to hit the slopes over New Year’s.
“Just wait this week out if you are local. It is a mad house up there right now,” Lee said.
A rare phenomenon happened at Cataloochee Ski and Sports last week. For a brief moment, the shop actually ran out of ski rental equipment.
“That’s something we haven’t done in two seasons,” said Jesse Inman, manager of Cataloochee Ski and Sports.
The ski shop is run by the ski area as a convenience for those who want to rent equipment in the valley before heading up the mountain.
It’s not humanly possible for Cataloochee itself to run out of equipment, Inman said, so it was merely a matter of directing customers on to Cataloochee during the mid-day rush. But it was a telling moment nonetheless.
As for hand-warmers? They’ve been flying out the door at Inman’s shop as well.
“I just opened a box a few hours ago and we already went through half the box,” Inman said.