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SUGAR MOUNTAIN, NC (WBTV) -
Hugh and Lisa Bell went to the mountains from Fort Mill, South Carolina hoping to see some winter weather and go skiing. Instead, they found the weather to be not much colder from where they came from, and no chance of skiing just yet.
"I want the snow," said Lisa. She and Hugh walked the green slopes at Sugar Mountain on Wednesday hoping the weather will change before they head down the mountain on Sunday. Sugar Mountain's slopes show more grass and mud than white these days after warm temperatures forced the lifts to shut down.
But Gunther Jochl thinks there is a glimmer of hope just around the corner. "By Thursday night we could be seeing some snow and we should have enough cold temperatures to make a lot of snow," he said. The plan right now is for the slopes to reopen Friday morning. "The long term forecast into next week looks pretty good, too."
The week between Christmas and New Years Day is one of the most important tourist weeks all year in the mountains and a big chunk of that business is dependent on the ski industry. At the Alpine Ski Center in the town of Sugar Mountain, George Villanueva was one of only a couple of people working on Wednesday. Staff has been cut back until the weather changes. There are sale tags on merchandise across the store but few customers coming in. "No snow means any business," he said.
In Newland, highway crews for the North Carolina Department of Transportation were on non-winter related duties on Wednesday but are standing by in case the weather does turn. County engineer Jerry Combs says everyone on his staff expects to be busy sometime this winter. "We will do what it takes to make the roads safe."
For now, though, the plows and spreader trucks are parked in a barn-like structure. The lack of snow this year so far has saved money, said Combs. The biggest expense is labor costs. "We do get a lot of overtime when the weather is bad," he said. Workers see some of that overtime in their paychecks but some of the hours are taken care of in compensatory time off later in the year. It means in some years when the winter has been busy, more workers are taking more time off in the summer.
If things continue this winter season as they have Combs expects more people will be available for summer maintenance of highways. "It's too early to tell yet, though," he said
Winter does not officially arrive until this weekend and no one is expecting the area to escape at least one major blast of snow and bad weather this season. The only question they have is when will it hit? The tourist industry is hoping it will be soon.