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For Whitetail, first snowfall means windfall

January 22, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The arrival of the winter's first significant snowfall last week was a welcome sight to the people who run Whitetail ski resort.

It's been nearly a year since there was enough snow to cover the roads, let alone the ski slopes. Icy temperatures and the 6 inches of snow that fell Thursday on the mountain that houses Whitetail were expected to attract 10,000 skiers this weekend. The parking lots were filled Friday.

Fourteen of the resort's 17 trails were open this weekend. It is expected to be the biggest ski weekend of they year so far, said Donald MacAskill, general manager of the resort.

As recently as 10 days ago, resort officials were bemoaning the warm weather with its highs in the 50s that was slowing and even stopping Whitetail's snow-making machines.

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At that time. only six trails were open. By Friday, the highs were hovering in the low 30s.

"We love winter here," MacAskill said. "This will be our biggest weekend since Presidents Weekend last year."

The warm, snowless days and nights were beginning to take their toll on Whitetail's slopes, said Kim Rosenberry, spokeswoman for the resort.

"They were starting to get thin. It was a challenge just to keep snow on the slopes. The cold front moved in just in time," she said.

Snow-making operations began running around the clock last week, Rosenberry said. "We've made 24 to 36 inches of snow in the past week and have been able to maintain a base of 16 to 26 inches," she said.

Snowfalls do much more than cover the slopes, Rosenberry said.

"When it snows everybody starts thinking of skiing. It's a mental boost that puts everyone in a skiing mood," she said.

Another plus this year, according to MacAskill and Rosenberry, is the new ownership of the resort. Snow Time Inc., owners of Ski Liberty in Fairfield, Pa., Ski Roundtop near Harrisburg, Pa., and Ski Windham in New York State, paid $13 million for the then-financially strapped, 600-acre Whitetail resort.

The new owners have begun to streamline by introducing uniform operations at all three Pennsylvania resorts. Operations teams move back and forth through the three Pennsylvania resorts, Rosenberry said.

Among the changes are improved ticketing systems for the three Pennsylvania resorts and marketing on the Internet. About 80 percent of the skiers who come to Whitetail use its Web site, she said.

MacAskill said Whitetail operates with about 35 year-round employees. The number swells to more than 750 part-timers during ski season, he said.

This summer, when the resort was in its doldrums before the sale, the number of permanent employees dropped to below 10.

Whitetail opened in 1991.

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