A 40th birthday party, a "radical redesign" of its teaching terrain and a new spa at Snowshoe; a $3.1 million winter and summer improvement program at Holiday Valley; and the completion of a two-year, $34 million lodge renovation at Canaan Valley.
Those are just some of the updates and upgrades that snow-sports enthusiasts will find at local and regional resorts during the 2013-14 season.
Let's start with Snowshoe, the sprawling 11,000-acre resort perched on the second highest mountain (4,848 feet) in West Virginia. It will celebrate its 40th birthday Dec. 19 with $14 lift tickets, the rate it charged in 1973. They can be purchased only online at www.snowshoemtn.com.
The "blowout" birthday celebration will be a four-day affair with dance and hot tub parties, on-snow games, costume contests and live entertainment in its Big Top event center, including a concert at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 by The Commodores.
The redesign of its teaching terrain is intended to make learning to ski and snowboard "simpler, more intuitive and enjoyable." It has hired the primary designer of Terrain Based Learning (TBL) and here's why:
Eighty-five percent of first-time skiers and snowboarders never return for a second visit, according to the National Ski Areas Association. That's an uphill challenge resorts try to overcome every snow season.
Frank DeBerry, Snowshoe's president and chief operating officer, said the new style of teaching will have beginners learning to link turns in small, park-like stations. The snow will be shaped to create "gentle rolling terrain" to control students' speed.
"We have done years of research [to find] the key sensations that are memorable for first-time skiers and snowboarders," said Joseph Hession, cheif executive officer of snow operating.
"We design our features to give high-level sensations to beginner-level guests. Coupled with a disciplined program designed for first-time guests, this creates proven results that lead to a higher return of beginner skiers and snowboarders."
A new apres snow facility, the Spa at Snowshoe, will open next month with a salon, "top-of-the-line" fitness center and men's and women's locker rooms.
Snowshoe also has opened 5 Bars, a new connectivity center and lounge in the village so guests can stay in touch. Although there is also increased cell phone service across the mountain, phone cards may still be necessary.
Holiday Valley has added 75 HKD Impulse automated snowguns that will be used on Edelweiss, Sunrise, Cindy's and Foxfire. They were developed by Herman Kress Dupre, a former co-owner of Seven Springs.
Resort president Dennis Eshbaugh said the HKDs "increase efficiency and energy savings while providing the best manmade snow. Automation makes it possible to make snow in brief periods of cold and allows for variations in temperature and humidity."
The resort purchased a Pisten Bully 600 Active Boom Winch Cat machine to groom snow on steep terrain.
A Burton Riglet Park has been built at the Outpost at the base of School Haus East. It's an introductory area for young children learning to ski or snowboard that uses low-to-the-ground rails and boxes.
There also are tiny snowboards with retractable leashes that allow instructors to pull children around and over the features to help them develop their snowboarding skills. It also will have a TBL area for beginners with banked turns, rollers and dips on very gentle terrain.
The resort also upgraded each of its 102 guest rooms at the Inn at Holiday Valley with new bedding, artwork, lighting and bath fixtures.
The readers of Ski magazine rated Holiday Valley the fifth best resort in the eastern United States and Canada. They gave the resort high marks for lifts, service and on-mountain food, dining and apres snow activities and lodging.
Canaan Valley retrofitted its new 160-room lodge into its old lodge and added an atrium-style lobby and more than 25,000 square feet of meeting space.
The guest rooms feature luxury beds and linens, oversized bathrooms, flat-screen televisions and micro-fridges. Some rooms include fireplaces, balconies, ADA access, VIP suites and individual climate control.
In other news
• Wisp discontinued its annual low-cost December birthday weekend but has continued its Monday Deal Days. They begin Jan. 6, excluding holidays that fall on Mondays, and offer a lift ticket, rental equipment and a one hour clinic for $39.
• The western Maryland resort developed 20 acres of glade terrain on the front side next to the advanced Squirrel Cage slope; opened Outdoor Elements, a retail store on the lower level of the Main Lodge; added a new equipment tuning center; purchased new rental equipment; installed new seat pads on two chairlifts and erected new signage.
• Seven Springs made this month's cover of TransWorld Snowboarding magazine. The resort was rated first in parks and pipes in OnTheSnow.com's visitors choice awards.
TransWorld Snowboarding magazine's Resort Guide ranked it second in parks and pipes on the East Coast. It also earned Top 10 rankings by the readers of Ski magazine.
• Mystic Mountain at Nemacolin Woodlands will open a new terrain park with a variety of features. Its Neighbors and Friends Night includes a lift ticket and rental equipment for only $25 from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays beginning Jan. 3.
• Whitetail purchased a new grooming machine and new junior rental skis and boots, made "significant" improvements to its snowmaking system and upgraded its food and beverage service.
• Mount Pleasant of Edinboro renovated its rental shop, purchased new ski and snowboard boots and helmets, installed new tracks on its grooming machine, added a fourth lane to its snow tubing area and enlarged its snowmaking pond.
• Peek'n Peak purchased a snow grooming machine, improved its snowmaking system and added new outdoor fire pits at the Courtyard Cafe.
Lawrence Walsh writes about recreational snow sports for the Post-Gazette.