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Region's ski resorts relishing big snowstorm

Skiing at lifts at Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa.
Skiing at lifts at Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa. (Handout)

Did you luxuriate in the 71-degree weather on Christmas Day? Are you gloomy at the prospect of a weekend trapped inside at the mercy of a potentially historic blizzard?

Well if so, you're just about the polar opposite of the folks at Wisp Resort near Deep Creek Lake.

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"If you were here in December, there were a lot of long faces," says Lori Zaloga, the ski resort's director of marketing. "Right now, everyone's in this just nirvana of happiness and bliss. Snow puts everyone in a great mood."

So yes, while the rest of us grumble about unplowed side streets and barren grocery shelves, skiers and snowboarders in the Mid-Atlantic region live for a weekend like this. Untenable travel conditions might suppress the crowds at nearby ski resorts on Saturday. But this weekend's storm projects as a boon for the rest of the season, which usually lasts into March.

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The benefit is as much psychological as physical, resort officials agree.

"When people have snow in their yards, they know we will have it in ours," says Anne Weimer, the marketing coordinator at Liberty Mountain in Carroll Valley, Pa., which draws about 70 percent of its business from Maryland.

The blizzard boost is most welcome after a rough December that saw Maryland and Pennsylvania resorts unable to open their trails because of unseasonably balmy temperatures. Christmas week usually means big business, but not in 2015.

"This is the feast or famine winter," Zaloga says. "In December, it was definitely famine."

The resorts have been open, using machine-made snow, for most of January. And now their trails will be topped off with two feet of the natural powder skiers and snowboarders like best.

"Are you kidding?" says Columbia Ski Club president Ted Dietz when asked if he's looking forward to the big dump. "It's like the best thing God made. There's nothing like fresh powder."

A big storm presents logistical challenges, even to the hardest of the hardcore. For example, Dietz's club of more than 500 members scheduled back-to-back Colorado trips, the first to Vail and the second to Keystone. But the flight in from Vail and the flight out to Keystone have both been canceled because of the conditions expected Saturday.

The luckiest are the members who left Friday for a weekend at the Poconos' Camelback Resort in Tannersville, Pa., where they arrived in time to enjoy the big storm.

"They made out on this one!" says Dietz, who's sick and therefore relegated to sledding around his home in Arnold.

Skiers made a point of getting to resorts by Friday afternoon so they could avoid travel perils and enjoy the snow as much as possible.

"They're arriving every minute," Zaloga says. "There's a lot of electricity in the air."

None of the nearby resorts anticipate difficulties opening on Saturday. They have the heavy equipment needed to move massive piles of snow, and most planned to lodge employees on site Friday night so business could proceed, even through the heart of a possible blizzard. Crews normally assigned to making snow will instead spend the day clearing it from parking lots and walking paths.

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Officials will have to keep an eye on high winds that could make the lifts dangerous, but all have operated through massive storms in the past. Wisp opened late during the back-to-back "Snowmageddon" events of 2010, because workers needed extra time to dig the lifts out. That's probably the worst case, Zaloga says.

Roundtop Mountain Resort in Lewisberry, Pa., which draws about 40 percent of its business from the Baltimore area, doesn't have on-site lodging. So Saturday business might be lean.

"The real hardcore skiers and snowboarders will get here no matter what," says marketing manager Chris Dudding. "But as soon as soon as Sunday we expect to see a positive effect for everybody. There's nothing like natural snow. It just makes people think of winter."

The outlook is similar at Liberty, which will lodge almost 400 guests at its on-site hotel but still relies on day trippers for the bulk of its business.

"Like everybody else, we're still at the mercy of state and local road crews," Weimer says.

With school closings seemingly likely on Monday and even Tuesday, resort managers are expecting unusually big business on those days as well.

Fresh snow won't necessarily have a long-term physical impact on the slopes. It will quickly mix in with the man-made stuff. But it will create an atmosphere skiers cherish.

"It fills in between the trees and makes everything more scenic," Weimer says. "It's so much prettier when snow is covering everything."

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