West Virginia's mountains offer up some of the best skiing and snowboarding in the entire Southeast.
article by kevin savage
West Virginia has become known as an outdoor playground with challenging and diverse terrain. Mountain bikers and whitewater rafters flock here during the temperate months to take advantage of its natural wonders. But when the Mountain State turns cold, a handful of resorts are ready to serve up some wild and wonderful fun and excitement for skiers, snowboarders and snow-lovers in general.
Sprawled atop one of West Virginia's tallest peaks in the Allegheny Mountains of Pocahontas County is Snowshoe Mountain Resort. Although it is the largest ski area in the Southeast, there are features other than size that set it apart.
The resort's unique mountaintop location is one of them. Other ski areas boast of on-mountain facilities, but Snowshoe is literally located on the mountain. At 4,848 feet, nearly a mile above sea level, the village is easily the highest in the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region.
Snowfall is another great attribute. Snowshoe receives an average of 180 inches of natural snow a year, with 217 inches recorded last season. The resort also has 100 percent snowmaking capability with 400 snow guns that allow the snowmaking crew to make up to 2,500 tons of snow – enough to cover five football fields – in just one hour.
All that snow is needed to cover the 57 slopes and trails situated across two mountains and three faces. There are also two terrain parks, Mountaineer and Spruce Glades, which have been expanded this year to include more variety and more rails.
The Western Territory, home to black diamond favorite Cupp Run and the newer double-black Shay's Revenge, has the longest continuous vertical drop in the Southeast at 1,500 feet. The resort's longest run is 1.5 miles, and there are 14 lifts, including two high-speed quads, to get you back up the mountain in record time. Night skiing is available on 14 trails at the nearby Silvercreek area. This season Snowshoe is celebrating its 30th year since operation began on Friday the 13th, December 1974. Tokyo Development Corporation bought the resort in August 1990 and began resort expansion by purchasing the Inn at Snowshoe base lodge.
In 1992 the Silvercreek Resort was acquired, increasing the property from 6,500 to 11,000 acres and providing additional lodging.
In October 1995, Snowshoe was purchased by Intrawest, the largest resort developer in North America, which owns ski resorts all over the U.S. and Canada. Capital investments of $150 million have ensued, including slope expansion, new lifts, the outdoor adventure program, 600 rooms of new lodging, and the highly popular Village at Snowshoe.
The Village is the heart of it all, where one can find trailside lodging, shopping, dining, and nightlife. It's also home to the Mountain Adventure Center, headquarters for a number of outdoor adventure opportunities in the resort's 11,000 acres of backcountry. Cross-country skiing, snowmobile tours, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and snowshoeing excursions are all offered.
Lodging is not limited to the village, however. There are outlying private cabins, town homes and condominiums – more than 1,300 units in all. Most lodging facilities are served by the Hareline Shuttle.
From January through March this year, Snowshoe will host the $25,000 Freestyle Events Series, a winter-long series of competitions for the regions top freeskiers and snowboarders culminating in $25,000 in cash and prizes. Points will also be awarded and a series champion will be named at season's end.
Also new this year is Snowshoe Underground, an interactive youth-oriented website with details about games and events, audio and video clips and maps of the terrain parks. For more information, check out www.snowshoeunderground.com.
Joe Stevens, director of communications at Snowshoe, says the most popular time to visit the resort is around the holidays when many guests come from Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas because, "We guarantee them snow for Christmas."
High in Canaan Valley near Davis is Canaan Valley Resort. The ski area has a top elevation of 4,280 feet and a vertical drop of 850 feet. Three lifts serve 34 slopes and trails, as well as a terrain and snow tubing park. Night skiing is available Friday through Sunday during prime season on 11 slopes.
The thing that stands out about Canaan Valley, according to Brian Brown, resort spokesperson, is that it is very family-oriented. "We're really focused on the family in everything we do. Special packages, lodging and amenities are all geared toward the whole family. We want to provide activities for the young child all the way to grandma and grandpa."
Canaan Valley Resort is owned by the State of West Virginia and operated by Guest Services Incorporated, a non-profit corporation based in Virginia.
A new two-story base lodge opened in January 2001, allowing the resort to offer more guest services including outside ticketing, expanded gift and rental shops, and five separate dining outlets on the second floor.
This year new rentals have been added and the terrain park will be expanded to include new tables, rails and obstacles.
Cross-country skiers can take advantage of the resort's many acres of open meadows and nearly 20 miles of trails. Ski rentals, tours and lessons are also available at very reasonable rates.
Guests can stay in the Canaan Valley Lodge, which offers 250 rooms, a year-round swimming pool and a large outdoor ice rink. There are also 23 private cabins and cottages to choose from.
Just a few miles from Canaan is Timberline Four Seasons Resort, which offers some of the more difficult terrain and best skiing conditions in all of West Virginia. The steep, north-facing slopes of Herz Mountain, elevation 4,268 feet, allow for consistent snowfall and retention, including a yearly average of 150 inches.
Snowmaking capability of 95 percent ensures the 91.5 skiable acres and two terrain parks stay covered, should Mother Nature fail.
Timberline has 35 slopes and trails, including Salamander, a two-mile long beginner trail, one of the longest in the Southeast. Night skiing is offered Thursday through Saturday during regular season on 30 percent of the mountain.
First operated under Allegheny Properties with one lift and limited snowmaking capabilities, the resort still has the same lodge but has been expanding all along. The current owners started adding more lifts in the early 1990s with one triple chair, then a double, and then a used double named the Silver Queen, purchased from Crested Butte, Colorado.
Tom Blanzy, general manager at Timberline, says the lift is popular across the country. "We get people who've carved their initials in a chair in Colorado, then found them here." The lift will be upgraded this year from a double to a triple.
Other improvements this season include more food service at the lodge and more snowmaking in the glade area to facilitate some of the best glade skiing in the entire Southeast. Condominiums and cabins are available for ski in–ski out lodging.
The greatest asset of Winterplace, aside from the snow, is its accessibility. Winterplace president Terry Pfeiffer explains: "We're literally just 2 minutes off I-77, which means you can spend a lot of time on the slopes and not a lot of time driving."
Winterplace is located on Flat Top Mountain, elevation 3,600 feet, just off Exit 28 on I-77. All but two of the 27 slopes are lighted and open seven nights a week, and the price is included on the same all-day lift ticket. This makes for, in Pfeiffer's words, "the longest skiing day in the Southeast."
The mountain has 603 feet of vertical drop, and the longest run is 1.25 miles long. An abundance of lifts ensures you'll spend more time coming down the mountain than waiting to get back up: there are two quad chairlifts, three triples, and two doubles as well as two surface lifts.
This year, the resort will employ more efficient snow guns, enabling increased and faster snowmaking. New rental equipment has been added, including more of the increasingly popular snowblades – very short skis that allow the wearer to practically skate around the mountain.
Winterplace also has the market cornered on snowtubing. One of the first resorts to offer a snowtubing park, it includes 16 lanes and five lifts. As Pfeiffer says, "People are just looking for various ways to enjoy sliding on the snow."
Winterplace offers slope-side condominiums, or take advantage of a ski-and-stay package at nearby Glade Springs Resort.
Whether you're an avid skier, snowboarder or just a winter wonderland lover, the Mountain State has something for you and your family. So get out an enjoy the winter season in "White and Wonderful West Virginia."
Office Box 384 Huntington, WV 25708-0384