With about half the slopes open and a pair of free passes in hand I decided to point the Ford Explorer toward Ghent, W.V. for my first ski outing of the season.
My 9-year-old Sally rode shotgun for the 150 mile trip from our southern Virginia home to the Beckley area resort. After about 45 minutes of the usual check-in and rental hassles we hit the slopes.
Despite only a moderate December, Winterplace Ski Resort had 14 of their 29 slopes open when I arrived Thursday, Dec. 27. The snow was the expected wet granular, which held its own over a day that was overcast and cool. While only half the slopes were open, the snowmakers had strategically covered parts of the mountain from its cellphone tower covered summit to the beginner area at the bottom. This allowed for a variety of terrain to be open from beginner Highland Run to expert the expert Drop Off and for the skiers to be able to take in all 603-feet of the mountain’s vertical.
December skiing is always a painful reminder that while I am grateful for the many new people who take up the sport each winter, they do tend to jam pack the beginner areas. During our first warm-up runs it looked like a plane had crashed on the mountainside scattering bodies across the ski trails. At several points there were more people lying on the slope than skiing it.
Winterplace’s layout is not the most efficient. It seems to create bottlenecks as well as require multiple lift rides (and trips through multiple bottlenecks) to get back to the main lodge area.
The lift servicing the top of the mountain could only be accessed by intermediate and advanced slopes, which cut down on novice traffic and Sally and I skied the top section of the mountain multiple times. By lunch time I had tweaked my knee so we made our way back to the lodge for rest and the usual cafeteria fare.
The afternoon got considerably more crowded, but again the top section of the mountain was relatively open. One complicating factor was that a full lift No. 2 broke down about mid afternoon leaving skiers and boarders stranded for about an hour. For those, like me, who have never seen the rope and seat rescue of the ski patrol, the Winterplace patrollers did yeoman’s work to get everybody out of the stalled lift. It took about 30 minutes but the resort fired up a parallel lift to keep skiers moving.
The mountain boasts a 14-hour ski day from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., but by dinner time the knee was hurting and Sally looked sleepy, so we headed back to the car. A few Ibuprofen, and a couple hours of stiff-legged driving and the first ski adventure of the year was in the books.
Born and raised in the D.C. area, George Lyle is the County Attorney for Henry County in southern Virginia.
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