(WBIR - Gatlinburg) This week's heavy snow may have created ideal conditions for downhill fun just in time to help a charity in its uphill fight against hunger.
The sights of Sochi on television have already filled Ober Gatlinburg with enthusiastic skiers and snowboarders this winter. Add the latest round of fresh natural snow and Thursday the surging crowds were salivating to ski the slopes.
"Certainly the Olympics get people thinking about winter and winter sports," said John Cossaboom, director of winter sports at Ober Gatlinburg. "This latest snow gave us eight inches of bright white natural snow. Since they've seen it in their back yard, they figure there might be some up at Ober Gatlinburg, too. Natural snow is the best advertising we can buy."
While no school and closed businesses created a great play day at Ober on Thursday, this winter's extreme weather has also taken a big toll on pay day.
"I mean people are hurting. When there's days like this and some businesses don't open, that means a lot of people are not working at all when they need to log hours and earn a wage," said Jim Davis with Sevier County Food Ministries. "Winter is always a time of need for us because a lot of the jobs in this area are seasonal during the summer and fall. This winter has been particularly harsh with the weather, which has kept people from working as much. Then you have kids at home from school a lot more, so instead of school lunch they're eating all of their meals at home. People's cupboards are bare and they need help."
Davis said this winter there is a 20 percent increase in the number of families requesting assistance with food compared to one year ago.
"We're giving groceries to about 1,800 families a week. The need is serious and we're doing everything we can to help folks," said Davis.
Thursday the snow may have actually come to the rescue. The fresh layer of snow hit just before Ober Gatlinburg's monthly "College Night" when college students can get a free lift ticket in exchange for 10 cans of food or other non-perishable food items.
"This event they're doing tonight [Thursday] is great timing for us and hopefully a lot of kids come out and ski. Last year we had a big snow before one of these 'College Nights' and we ended up collecting almost two tons of canned goods," said Davis. "Hopefully, all the stars have aligned and a lot of kids will come up here."
Thursday's event also coincides with one of the extremely rare times when the University of Tennessee Knoxville actually canceled classes.
"They never cancel. The timing of our college night could have never been better," said Cossaboom. "I'm expecting a big crowd with folks able to have some fun and help a good cause at the same time. We have great conditions for whoever shows up. With all the cold and the snow that we've made, we've probably got some of the best conditions Ober has ever experienced."