Solemn Slalom
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90.3 WBHM | Mentone, Ala. -- It’s about the only sound of something racing downhill at Cloudmont Ski Resort these days: a tiny waterfall that runs into a creek just off the main gravel road. Right now, the only images of snow-covered peaks are coming from the Winter Olympic games going on out west.

While the Olympics have attracted a lot of attention to both Cloudmont slopes, owner Marsha Hair says above average temperatures have melted business rather quickly.

"You know, we had a lot of people come, but now that the Olympics are on, they really are calling. It’s gotten them interested. Now if we could get some snow going here, it’d work!"

Natural snow is a rarity in Mentone, despite the high terrain. But Hair says it’s also rare for the slopes to be so green this time of the year. Only a few patches of snow remain, not enough to ski on. And that frustrates the snowmaker of the family: her brother, Gary Jones. He says there are two simple ingredients for making snow: cold and dry.

"It’s got to be below 28 degrees, and humidity needs to be around 60 percent."

That recipe hasn’t been able to come together often enough. If it’s cold one night, then it’s too humid; or if the humidity’s low, then it’s too warm. No snowmaking machine can overcome Old Man Winter’s inconsistencies. And no doubt, his performance has been lackluster this year.

According to the National Weather Service in Birmingham, temperatures in extreme North Alabama dropped below 28 degrees only nine times this January. Last January, there were twice as many nights with temperatures low enough to make snow.

And while above average temperatures have kept the slopes idle, the resort has a plan B... or is that tee? Warm days might not be good for the ski business, but it’s banner weather for golf.

In fact, the number one fairway at Saddle Rock Golf Course crisscrosses the ski slopes and several snowmaking machines. That’s why Marsha Hair says the number one hole is off limits until ski season is over.

"And the golfers that do come, you know, all the time go ‘why can’t we?’ Well, you know, there’s obstacles down there. We don’t want the machines hurt."

That doesn’t stop regulars such as Jeff Reaman from playing the other 17. He says he’s played Saddle Rock for more than 30 years, before part of the land was made into a ski resort.

"I like to see them have a big crowd up there. They have as much fun doing that as we do playing golf. Yeah, they’re not having much fun today, but we are!"

From the course, you can see the ski-lift box at the base of the slope, where Randy Solomon ordinarily makes sure the pony-toe gets skiers to the top. Today, warm weather has him doing other chores.

"(It's) not cold enough to make snow, so we’re just improvising and getting a little firewood up – just trying to get things ready for if it does get that way, we can make it and have some fun. We need more cold weather. Maybe Monday’ll bring us something. I sure hope so."

Forecasters are calling for rain early next week, followed by much colder weather. And while ski season generally wraps up at the end of the month, if its cold and dry enough, they’ll keep cranking out the snow.

But nothing’s certain at a place where a sunny, warm day is good and bad.

~Steve Chiotakis, February 22, 2002