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Date published: 12/28/2012
The Daily Record of Baltimore
McHENRY, Md.--As snow began to fall on Christmas Eve, a white Christmas seemed a tantalizing possibility for many Marylanders. At Wisp Resort in Garrett County, however, it became a reality--and the snowfall delivered more than holiday cheer.
For Maryland's only ski resort, it held out the promise of a profitable winter season just weeks after Wisp emerged from bankruptcy--and its new owners are already moving forward with upgrades at the facility.
A third of Wisp's annual revenue is generated during the week of Christmas, according to General Manager Tim Prather, but warm temperatures the past two years delayed the resort's opening and threatened to derail its bottom line.
This year, Wisp was able to open several of its slopes on Dec. 15, and Prather's team was working to open the rest before the end of the week. On Wednesday, hopes were high as more snow blanketed Garrett County, which typically receives 100 inches per year.
"We have no control of the weather; it's the greatest challenge," Prather said. "I don't have a crystal ball that tells me what the weather is going to be, but right now it's trending positively for us. So we're optimistic--we have to be optimistic."
Earlier this month, EPT Ski Properties, a division of a Kansas City, Mo., real estate investment trust, bought the resort for $23.5 million after the previous owner filed for bankruptcy related to loan defaults. Everbright Pacific, an affiliate of Salt Lake City-based Pacific Group, came on board to manage the resort through a lease partnership with the trust, but Prather and his local management team will continue in their roles. Prather said Wisp has 700 winter employees.
A $5 million investment will bring new amenities this year, including a ski slope designated for beginners and more seating in the main lodge, Prather said. More substantial upgrades are planned for coming years, he added.
Wisp is nestled in the small town of McHenry near Deep Creek Lake, a popular tourist destination with a variety of activities in addition to the skiing, snowboarding and other attractions offered at the resort.
Patrick Kane, co-owner of Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Realty, said the real estate market is strongly linked to the area's thriving tourist industry. Thanks to Wisp, Deep Creek's many vacation-home rentals--already popular during warmer months--are in demand year-round.
"If there wasn't something for people to do, I'm not sure they would come just to stay in the woods," Prather said. Real estate development and the resort "kind of feed off each other as they continue to develop," he said.