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Whitetail enjoys early opening

December 05, 2000

Whitetail enjoys early opening



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Don MacAskill, general manager of the Whitetail Ski Resort, has a stake in the weather.

His personal barometers tell him that it's going to be a cold, snowy winter, he said.

A possible harbinger of wintry days ahead came Thanksgiving weekend, when temperatures dropped enough to open Whitetail's ski season a month early.

Snow was made on five of the resort's 19 ski and snowboarding trails, creating a startling juxtaposition of white against the green of the 14 trails that had yet to taste the season.

"Last year we didn't open until Dec. 22," MacAskill said.

About 2,000 skiers ran the trails Friday, Saturday and Sunday. On a normally busy winter weekend, 13,000 to 14,000 skiers flock to Whitetail.

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Whitetail got the word out that it was opening for the weekend through e-mail and faxes to area ski and snowboard shops, on the Internet and through a special voice-mail system that MacAskill calls the "Snow Phone."

MacAskill said Whitetail held its winter jobs fair in early November, which brought in the first of the resort's 750 seasonal workers. About 100 trained employees were ready to handle the skiers who showed up for the early season opener, he said. Whitetail employs 30 year-round workers along with the seasonal employees, he said.

The early opening gave Whitetail a chance to try out its new, high-tech snow-making equipment installed this summer at a cost of $1.5 million.

"It lets us make more snow at milder temperatures," MacAskill said.

Whitetail was bought in the fall of 1999 by Snow Time Inc. for $13 million. Since then the new owners have pumped more than $2 million into improvements. In addition to the new snow-making equipment, the ski rental shop has been expanded and modernized. The company bought 2,800 pairs of the new shaped skis that make it easier for beginners to learn the sport.

"It's the latest in ski technology," MacAskill said. "They have an hour-glass shape that makes turns easier."

Whitetail bought 200 new snowboards to bring the rental shop's total to more than 700, along with a new Bombardier grooming machine for the slopes, he said.

MacAskill said several indicators are pointing to a successful ski season this year. They include predictions of a snowier, colder winter, plus reports in industry publications that pre-season retail sales of skis and snowboards and related clothing are up 5 percent across the nation.

"I feel very upbeat given those barometers," he said.

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