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The Toughest Slope in the Mid-Atlantic
By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist
January 30, 2002

What is the toughest slope in the Mid-Atlantic? This question could stir an enjoyable exchange about the best tests for skiers and snowboarders in our region.

Jim  picks Snowshoe's Shay's Revenge, above, as the toughest slope  in the state of West Virginia. But his pick for the toughest  slope in the Mid-Atlantic is Extrovert at Blue Knob.
Shay’s Revenge. Jim picks Snowshoe’s Shay’s Revenge, above, as the toughest slope in the state of West Virginia. But his pick for the toughest slope in the Mid-Atlantic is Extrovert at Blue Knob. Photo provided by Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
Before I get rolling on it I need to explain a few caveats. The scope of my discussion includes only the ski areas of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and a cluster along the southern border of Pennsylvania. These are areas I know fairly well and have visited, except as noted. They are also those most frequented by D.C. and Baltimore skiers and snowboarders. Some resorts I have skied extensively, others, admittedly, only once or twice. In a few cases my last visits were five or more years ago, making my experiences a bit stale.

As a recreational skier like many of you, my knowledge base has the limitations of an amateur. I kept my snapshot commentaries on various ski areas very simplistic to minimize the “B.S.” factor. I welcome elaboration from all readers.

I’m no super expert, but I like to sample ski resorts and I’ve been capable enough over the last 30+ years to ski everything I’ve seen that passes for a black diamond run in the Mid-Atlantic. My assessments are not meant to be authoritative, but are offered for entertainment value on a subject of interest to all serious skiers and snowboarders.

Picking the “toughest” of anything is a subjective exercise. An expert skier from New England, the American West, or Europe might chuckle at the premise of really tough slopes anywhere in the Mid-Atlantic. Certainly the geography of our region precludes seriously extreme terrain; nor do we have the kind of steep, lengthy in-bound runs found elsewhere that can turn your legs to jelly and set your lungs to heaving after one descent.

I could argue, however, that everything is relative. Something of a challenge can be found at almost all of our local ski areas for the average Mid-Atlantic recreational skier or boarder.

We all have a gut feeling on what’s the toughest slope, but the more I thought about it, the less cut and dry the answer became. An intermediate trail covered with icy bumps can be much tougher to handle than a perfectly groomed black diamond run. “Steeper than hell” is the obvious first qualification (a number of tough slopes around the country bear this moniker), but weather and grooming also factor in to the slope difficulty equation, including snow/ice conditions, presence and size of bumps, narrowness, trees and glades, and the unpredictability of off-the-trail-map terrain. You could even consider the physical condition of the individual skier/boarder and the condition of their equipment as a difficulty factor. Enough boneheaded philosophy, here’s my two cents on the subject by state.

Virginia

In the state of Virginia there just isn’t a real tough slope. I’ve never been to The Homestead. My impression is that they have a terrific lodge/resort complex with a small, benign ski area added for the enjoyment of winter guests.

Bryce Mountain is a great little beginner and family mountain about two hours west of D.C. on I-66. Bryce offers a relaxing trail system. The narrow little trail “Hangover” presents an opportunity to link a few quick turns, as might White Lightening, but everything else is pretty much easy cruising.

Wintergreen, down near Charlottesville, is not quite as tame and offers a greater range of intermediate and advanced runs. It’s been three or four years since I’ve been there. From my experience, when “Upper Cliffhanger” was bumped up it delivered enough challenge to demand close attention. I don’t remember similar steepness or bumps on “Wild Turkey”, another black diamond slope at Wintergreen.

I’ve skied quite a bit at Massanutten near Harrisonburg. While the two enjoyable runs off their quad chair, “Diamond Jim” and “Paradice,” are designated as expert only terrain, neither has any seriously steep sections. I’ve found that the top of “Dixie Dare” off the Rebel Yell double chair is more likely to be the toughest slope at Massanutten, especially by mid-season when management usually allows it to develop pretty good sized bumps.

My vote for the toughest slope in Virginia is “Dixie Dare” at Massanutten.

Maryland

Wisp, the only ski area in Maryland, does not contain anything more difficult than can be found in the state of Virginia. Wisp lies in the far western corner of Maryland and gets a relatively generous dose of natural snow. It is located near Deep Creek Lake, which presents some nice views from the top of the slopes and great summertime diversions. Wisp has a number of interesting and well maintained intermediate runs, but there is nothing there to really rattle your teeth.

West Virginia

I have never been to Winterplace in southern West Virginia, but I have not heard of any fearsome terrain there.

The terrain at Canaan Valley ski area in the northeastern quadrant of West Virginia is comparable to Wisp and Wintergreen. I enjoyed the variety of undulating intermediate runs. I haven’t skied there much, but the run “Gravity” seemed to be one of their steepest offerings. I am not aware of any hair raising runs at Canaan Valley.

Timberline ski area is just a couple of miles from Canaan Valley. It also features mostly intermediate-friendly runs. However, many of the runs at Timberline head straight down the fall line adding a bit more challenge, if less duration. (In this regard it is reminiscent of Whitetail in Pennsylvania.)

“The Drop” at Timberline is pretty steep. I am not sure about the difficulty level of two additional black diamond runs between “The Drop” and the lazy two mile beginner slope “Salamander,” as they weren’t open during several visits I made to Timberline.

I have heard that some challenging, off-the-trail-map (and probably unauthorized) skiing exists at Timberline and in the nearby Dolly Sods wilderness area. This wouldn’t surprise me given all the telemarkers I’ve observed on the slopes of Timberline. Some telemarkers I’ve talked to were former alpine skiers who made the switch to introduce more challenge to their skiing and gain access to wilder terrain.

Snowshoe, in the east-central section of West Virginia, contains a good range of what I would call advanced intermediate slopes. “Cupp Run,” in their Northwest Territory, is one of the best and longest examples of this in the Mid-Atlantic region.

“Shays Revenge” parallels “Cupp Run” and also descends the same 1500 vertical feet. The upper portion of “Shays Revenge” is a cruiser’s delight, but the truly black diamond lower section features a headwall with the longest, steepest mogul field south of the Mason-Dixon line; i.e., Pennsylvania. Snowshoe blows a lot of snow on this steep section and it is generally open with big bumps for a major portion of the ski season. It’s a good bet for those looking for reliable access to a local slope with some serious challenge.

My vote for the toughest slope in West Virginia is “Shays Revenge.”

Pennsylvania

The southern third of the state of Pennsylvania contains seven ski areas; many have been enjoyed by Mid-Atlantic skiers for decades.

The toughest runs at Roundtop in south-central Pennsylvania are “Gunbarrel” and “Ramrod.” They contain steep and typically bumpy, but short pitches.

Nearby, Whitetail is noted for a 900’ vertical drop, the largest in close proximity to D.C. Several consistently steep runs descend from the Whitetail high-speed quad. At least one of them, “Bold Decision,” is allowed to bump-up and can provide considerable challenge.

Liberty, also located in this area of Pennsylvania, has a couple of short but very steep and moguled trails on the backside of their mountain, “Upper Strata” and “Ultra.” With a lighting system that provides nearly 100% coverage, Liberty has some of the toughest night skiing terrain available to Mid-Atlantic skiers and boarders.

I have never been to Hidden Valley or Laurel Mountain ski areas in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is my understanding that Hidden Valley caters to families looking for affordability and features moderate terrain.

Laurel Mountain, recently reopened after being closed for years, is said to have a very steep run called “Wildcat.”

Nearby, the venerable Seven Springs offers a great deal of ski terrain, including a number of short, relatively steep runs on the front face of the mountain. They are usually well groomed and very manageable, but moguls are allowed to grow on a couple, making them considerably tougher.

Last, but not least, is Blue Knob, also located in western Pennsylvania. Blue Knob contains several runs that are probably tougher than any found at the other ski areas covered in this discussion. The steep, bumpy, but relatively wide run at Blue Knob called “Extrovert” is perhaps a smidge longer and steeper than the headwall of lower “Shays Revenge” at Snowshoe, West Virginia.

The steep section of “Extrovert” has a significant vertical drop that I would estimate is in the neighborhood of 750’. A couple of narrow, advanced trails bisect “Extrovert,” adding a bit of a chaotic factor. The comparison between “Extrovert” and “Shays Revenge” is close, but Blue Knob’s legendary foul weather and less user friendly surface conditions make “Extrovert” tougher. I guess you’d call that a qualified nod to “Extrovert” and Blue Knob in general.

The obscure and all natural “Lower Shortway,” also at Blue Knob, contains a short, steep and extremely narrow (15’) segment. The steepest part of “Lower Shortway” demands the ability to make a series of quick linked turns. Other trails like “Edgeset” and “Lower 66” demand similar skill.

I am less familiar with the gladed terrain Blue Knob has cleared and officially opened up in the last few years. “East Glades Wall” parallels “Extrovert,” but is not as long a descent. It appears almost as steep and is heavily cluttered with trees and rocks.

My vote for the toughest slope in southern Pennsylvania and in my entire survey of Mid-Atlantic ski areas is “Extrovert.”

Conclusion

As I write this, the Mid-Atlantic is experiencing a serious January thaw. Let’s hope it ends soon. Early February usually brings the optimal weather and snow conditions for testing the best and toughest skiing and boarding terrain available in our region.

My racking and stacking of the toughest slopes in the Mid-Atlantic is all personal opinion and not backed up by any measurements or engineering surveys. If I’ve omitted, mischaracterized, or belittled your favorite run, go ahead and set me straight if you care to; for now I’ll stand by my toughest choices.

Ad: Canaan Valley Resort

Dan
12 years ago
Hey Denton has a couple slopes that have a 66% drop the whole way down the mountian. Also, there is a slope with a 66% drop and it is all trees it is rated triple diamond. Now Denton is has the toughest slope around.
John Sherwood
12 years ago
Jim:

As always, thanks for the great article! This one should prompt a lot of debate.

First a general comment:

John Phillips in his Mid-Atlantic ski and snowboard guide points out in his introductory remarks that the constant freezing and thawing in the Mid-Atlantic produces some of the iciest moguls in the country. The region clearly is not renowned for steep or long trails but the conditions factor is worth emphasizing! I think any Mid-Atlantic skier can feel proud of making his or her way down Extrovert on a late season day with bare spots. My big thesis on the Mid-Atlantic is that the crappy, marginal conditions can turn the hard-core faithful into skiers capable of skiing most marked trails in the world.

Specific comments about Timberline:

I agree with your general comment that Timberline is basically an intermediate mountain. When groomed, black trails such as White Lightning or Upper Thunderstruck are basically intermediate cruisers—nice long cruisers with some interesting terrain features, but cruisers nonetheless.

The Drop and Off the Wall (natural snow slopes which rarely open) do offer some challenge to experts, but they are indeed too short to compare with Shay’s or Extrovert. The Cherry Bowl Glades were apparently interesting (I’ve never skied them), but management closed them this year. One trail that can kick you under bumped up, late season conditions is the narrow Silver Street, which basically runs under the Silver Queen Chair. It’s narrow width means that there are only a 1-2 lines down the trail late in the season, and all falls will be critiqued by lift riders above.
Jude Clapper
12 years ago
Laurel Mountain, located in ligonier, PA, has a fantastic run called lower Wildcat that is the steepest
continuous slope in PA. The run also has somewhat of a slant from left to right, and moguls on the right hand side for the expert skiier. This run must rank very high in the mid-atlantic. It’s a must ski.
NAVSKI
12 years ago
It also depends on how you ski. For us want to be down hillers. Regionally nothing beats the leg burn on cup run at snowshoe. If you skip top to bottom no stop at speed it is a challenge to behold. The old “take for ever chair” was the only draw back to skiing it this way.
Susie Skier
12 years ago
I definetly agree that Snowshoe has the best skiing in WV . The trails are longer than all other resorts. I also agree that Shay’s Revenge is the toughest slope..but Cupp Run is also very challenging and I wouldNt consider it intermediate by any means due to its length and terrain that can build incredible speed. No one belongs on it that is not an experienced skier.
Roy
12 years ago
If conditions are right, I’d rather ski Blue Knob than Snowshoe because of runs like “66” and “Extrovert”. The “East Glades” are a great run (I love the trees). Blue Knob is closer than the Shoe and makes for a good day trip. Unfortunately, it can’t claim the consistency of Snowshoe so The Shoe outshines the Knob most of the time.

I skied “Extrovert” about 10 times last year. Even though Blue Knob got lots of snow last year, it was still an icy mess. However, it helped to teach me how to ski anything.
Ruh
12 years ago
I must agree that Lower Shay’s is a difficult slope. Its steep mogul field is usually covered with a hard shell of ice (at least the few times I’ve skied it) that demands confidence, control, and execution. Bold Decision at Whitetail is also a fun trail and becomes a nice challenge when allowed to bump-up.
richard
12 years ago
shays revenge is good if you like cross country skiing! the whole slope should be on the other side of the mountain with the rest of the bunny slopes. it start off good then you get to this part where even the best skiier has to push and make his way for the last part of the slope which is the most difficult. i am a west virginia native now being blessed with the west coast but my favorite run of all is Cupp run. its fast ,steep, long, usually bumpy, and the new high speed is hard to beat! for west virginia and pretty much all of the east coast, CUPP CAN NOT BE BEAT!!!!!!
Rich
12 years ago
Laurel Mountain Ski Resort located near Ligonier Pa. is a ski dream. It has the steepest run in Pa. It also has long trails through trees for easy relaxing skiing. I have been skiing in Colorado, Wyoming, Vermont, and this compares to them. With no onsite lodging, it has some of the best skiing and no lift lines. It may take 5 or 10 minutes to get to the slope, but it saves 20 minute lift lines. They are also going to put in a slope soon that is even steeper than the Lower Wildcat. For cabin rental near the enterance email rsherrin@weir.net or check skilaurelmountain.com
John Sherwood
12 years ago
Rich:

I’d like to put Laurel Mt. on my list of places to visit next season. Do you know anything about accomodations/places to eat in the area. I’m inclined to stay at the Day’s Inn in Somerset. For $34.00 a night, it is hard to beat. Also, Somerset has some really good and cheap eats.
Gerry
11 years ago
Denton state park claims to have a 66% slope called Avalanche. Is this true? and if so how long is the trail?
Ralph
10 years ago
I’ve skied some of the Mid-Atlantic resorts you mentioned in your article as well as many eastern and western resorts. I can tell you that when Shay’s bumps are icy they can be as tough to ski as many of the western mogul runs. The run might be shorter and not as steep but the west lighter, softer snow will cushion and slow down you descent while the ice at Shay’s will propel you down adding the speed and the difficulty of slowing down.
Doug Hoehn
8 years ago
I’ve skied most the named trails mentioned. Extrovert at Blue Knob ia also tough as the pitch is not quite fall line and the “Blue Knob Powder” (Blue Ice) demands sharp edges. But the King Steeps is with out a doubt, Lower Wildcat at Laurel Mountain, last year run by Seven Springs. (2004-2005) You will be entertained and challenged to the hilt. Go Double Diamond !
Doug Hoehn
Phil
4 years ago
I awoke in Canaan Valley to 36” of snow on Saturday. Sure, alot of places in the Mid-Atlantic would be great if the “snow was right” but Timberline’s true potential shined through to me that day. I am not aware of another set of glades that go from top to bottom, with consistent fall line, and offer such a variety of lines and spacing as Timberline. Blue Knob (motto: Ski Good or Eat Wood) is my home mountain so I was shocked/thrilled to see what people aren’t talking about in regards to inbounds skiing at Timberline. As for the locals there, I know why you aren’t talking!
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