You may not hear many sleighbells jingling in the snowy landscape of the Winter of '77, but cash registers are jingling merrily at all the ski areas near Washington. Managers of ski areas in nearby Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania happily describe the 1976-77 ski season as "fantastic," and "the best year ever."
Local skiers, long accustomed to skillingon eithe rice or slush, are happily adjusting to large quantities of skiable snow, both real and manmade. Many of those who normally fly West to aki canceled their reservations after hearing aoubt the dry and rocky slopes of Colorado, and rediscovered Ski Liberty (Charnita, to oldtimers).
Others, who had long since "retired" from skiing, dusted off their old equipment to make a comeback.
"We got a lot of the people I call dropouts this year," said Uel Gardner, manager of Massanutten in Harrisonburg, Va. "I've seen a lot of people in old, antiquated ski equipment. One man told me he hadn't skied in 30 years."
Like other areas in Virginia and farther south, Massanutten did not get the large amounts of snow that hit Pennsylvania and Maryland, but the colder-than-average weather made it possible for southern areas to make large quantities of artificial snow.
For the first time this year, areas south of the Mason-Dixon line were reporting bases as deep as those normally reported in the West. Bryce, in Bayse, Va., said it had from 40 to 100 inches, Snowshoe in Slatyfork, W. Va., reported 66-112 inches and Massanutten claimed to have an incredible 45-144 inches.
"Those are conservative figures," Gardner said at Massnutten.
Southern ski areas have become to good at manufacturing snow, in fact, that some of them sent their experts out West to help the snow-starved skiers in the Rockies.
In the mountains of Pennsylvania and West Virginia, snowmaking was hardly necessary. At Blue Knob in Pavis, Pa., where only two long trails have artifical snow, all the slopes were covered with the real stuff by January for the first time in recent years.
At Snowshoe, which opened last year, the average annual snowfall is said to be 180 inches. This year 190 inches was recorded by mid-February, according to manager Manyon Millican.
"Hopefully we'll be skiing through Easter," Millican predicted happily.
For local ski areas, this winter's biitzzards and flurries translated into figures like these mid-February, before the crucial George Washington's birthday weekend: Massanutten reported 64,000 paid admissions contrasted with 52,000 the entire year before; Wintergreen, Va., had 70,000 skiers compared with 29,000 the year before; Snowshoe, 45,000 skiers compared with 24,000 in 1975-76, and Beech Mountain in Banner Elk, N.C., 80,000 compared with 57,000 in its best previous year.
Sepp Gmuender, manager of Roundtop in Lewisberry, Pa., said business was up 16 per cent there, and 25 per cent at SKI Liberty near Emittsburg, Md., which is owned by the same company.
The only nearby ski area that gave a less than glowing report was Blue Knob, badly hurt by a fire that destroyed its main lodge early in the season. Are manager Emory Musselman said $80,000 worth of remodeling had been done in the lodge, which burned to the ground four days after it was opened for the season.
The lack of a comfortable place to warm up after skiing in unusally cold and windy weahter has made Blue Knob one of the least attractive areas to local skiers thie year. Business has been about the same as last year, Musselman said. Nevertheless, there are plans to build a new base lodge at the bottom of the beginners' slope to make the area more comfortable for the 1977-78 season.
For Beech, Snowshoe and two other southern ski areas, the winter of '77 meant the difference between catastrophe and contiuning operations. Beech's neighbors in Banner Elk - Sugar and Seven Devils - ahd also been weakened financillay by recent mediocre winters and management problems.
The unusual winter cause a few problems for ski area operators. SOme had to curtail operations because of the energy crunch and some skiers were scared away by publicity about bad roads and stranded travelers. "Out biggest enemy is not the weather but the weeatherman," said Massanutten's Gardner. He pointed out that forecasts of storm and "traveler's advisories" kept some skiers at home.
With the deep bases that have accumulated and forecasts of 30 more days of cold wejater, local area operators are hoping skiers will not lose interest before the snow melts.
"We'll stay open as long as there are skiers," said Musselman at BLue Knob. But an instructor at the same area pointed out that, come March "people start thinking about tennis and golf."
Lynn Hodnett, marketing director for Seven Devils in North Carolina, said business drops off after Washington's Birthday because people "don't believe there is snow in the mountains if it is balmy in the city."
"People don't know it's so cold in the mountains," said Susan Spicuzza, director of public relations for Wintergreen.
Bmuender of Roundtop said, "When the temperature in Washington is 60 degrees it's 50 here. At night if freezes again. People don't realize how much fun spring skiing is. You can go out with just a sweater, and the snow is good," he added.