Only the boldest and toughest ventured out on the slopes the weekend of January 18-21, 2008, but we were surrounded by some of the bravest and most determined -; families with children battling cancer. Each year, the “Special Love” organization, the NIH Ski Club, and Guest Services, Inc. bring them to Canaan Valley Resort for a wonderful weekend on the snow and in the lodge. Families, friends, and loved ones continue to return annually for this remarkable retreat. Families whose children have lost the battle continue to come to comfort and be comforted and those new to the battle quickly blend in with the group. This year 146 attended from 45 families. 65 are children. Sadly, one beloved child died a few days before the event; another died in the past year.
Some who have survived childhood cancers are now strapping young adults -; such as snowboarder and computer expert Jeremy Webb and skier and NIH administrator Larry Chloupek. They return to teach and inspire others. Larry is getting married this summer and brought his fiance. Jeann Newbauer is a lovely and warm asset to him, and to the cause. There are other incredible events this weekend. A short “gotchya day” ceremony was held for one beautiful little girl. I just learned this is the term to celebrate the day a person was adopted. This young lady and her sister were originally adopted from Ukraine, and she then survived a cancerous tumor and a host of other medical problems. She is here to enjoy life and family.
It is always a grand occasion to come to Canaan and -; this year -; Timberline Resort as well. On bitter cold days, the Canaan Lodge and Conference Center is even more inviting. There is a heated swimming pool, hot tub, weight and game rooms, and an endless supply of excellent local cuisine. The rooms in the lodges are also warm, clean and comfortable with free satellite TV and broadband internet. Thanks to our friend Troy Cardwell, the hard working General Manager, for hosting us.
Outside, the beautiful deer flicked their whitetails and waited for their treats (even though we are not supposed to feed them!). And beyond, the snow-covered slopes of Canaan are visible. There are also the fields of the Whitegrass Touring Center, and the slopes of Timberline, about 4 miles away.
While the slopes are well covered with snow -; natural and manmade -; nature reminded us how tough the climate can sometimes be in West Virginia. On Saturday, the temperature was a balmy 17 degrees above in the morning, the wind was relatively light, and the skies were partly cloudy, so we were able to get most of the children on the mountain and give them ski and snowboard lessons. Some made remarkable progress in just hours, and others sped down the mountains like experts. Most of the children stayed on the Bunny Buster Slopes, but others soon made it to the more difficult side of the mountain and took the sweeping Timber Spur trail around the mountain. They were rewarded by scenery at the top part which is truly “almost heaven.” The fir trees were decorated with thick snow, and the view of the Canaan Valley was dramatic. Canaan is an area well worth visiting, and the rest of this season should be good. It is a far cry from the conditions our group experienced last year, when the weather was warm and rainy, and there were thin patches of snow on the slopes.
Sunday was a good day to stay inside, but many of us tried our best to enjoy the snow. The arctic cold which affected much of the East was merciless. The temperature was in the single digits at the base of the mountain, and around minus twenty wind chill at the top. Some of the children actually spent two hours in their lessons, with their dedicated teachers -; including Dave Smith, executive director of Special Love and Randy Schools, Director of Recreation and Welfare at NIH. Most of us huddled in front of the large fire places in the warming huts and cafeterias!
After the morning lessons, four of us took the short drive to Timberline, a 21-year old resort a few miles up the valley. The slopes there were well-groomed and the snow base abundant. It would be excellent in better weather. We took the easy Salamander trail, which winds around the mountain for 2 miles, and is the longest in the Mid-Atlantic. The wind was so strong, it nearly blew us backwards. The trail was especially difficult for Dave on his snowboard. None of us had frost bite, but we came close. Dave took two other runs, on Dew Drop and White Lightning, and then the cold drove him inside too.
Charles returned on Monday with Jeremy Webb and discovered Twister trail which is only slightly more difficult than Salamander and slightly shorter. It meanders through condos, tunnels under a road, and comes out at the base. They noted that the snowmaking equipment is quite state-of-the art, with completely portable fan guns that have the air compressor on the gun itself, allowing snow to be deposited in very precise locations. It may have been a function of the temperature, but the powder being generated was of Utah quality (the greatest snow on earth!) They also took the Silver Streak chair which had adult-height seats and good padding. The padding came in handy because it was definitely slower than the Thunder Streak chair; the latter had chair heights low enough for children and nice foot rests for snowboards, but it hit Charles in the calf instead of behind the knee. It might be good for sit skis; Timberline does have an adaptive program and military discounts as well.
In the spacious cafeteria, we had a good talk with Fred Herz, the Vice President and one of the three owners of Timberline. He outlined plans for the future, and gave us an excellent update on the resort. He and General Manager Troy Cardwell of Canaan have developed a “Ski the Valley” pass, which is valid at both ski areas. It can be used anytime, except on busy holidays. The pass opens up 76 potential trails between the two areas. It also makes it easier for more people to stay in Canaan and ski both places. There is currently no shuttle service between Canaan and Timberline, but neither area wants to increase traffic congestion, pollution and parking problems. Canaan has a free shuttle with two school buses equipped with ski racks between the Lodge and the slopes. There is discussion of a shuttle services between the two ski areas.
Timberline is working to increase lodging at its resort, and a new 20-room hotel is under construction. It could be ready this spring or summer, and is a slopeside resort. Press and Marketing Manager Jessica Scowcroft says it is possible to rent space in the beautiful homes and condos. Their reality company, Timberline Four Seasons Reality, offers ski and stay packages. For more inexpensive lodging, there are 530 bunk beds available for large groups in bunk houses. They are usually used by scout or Church groups at affordable rates, which also include lift tickets. I have always advocated trying to work out an inclusive package, which includes lodging, lifts, and sometimes even equipment, lessons and meals. Try to work out such packages at both resorts, if you are able.
Some last observations, as I end this article. I decided to go snow tubing my last morning at Canaan, and learned I am now too big for the sport. It is definitely best for the smaller ones! My added size and weight made me go too fast, and I crashed into the well-padded fence (thank God!). I flipped over backwards, hitting my head and shoulder. Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. Some important points to remember about snowtubing:
After the tubing, I was grateful to be able to walk around in the clean, white snow and beautiful sunshine. It was now a balmy 20 degrees. Eight deer came over to beg for food and to say good bye. Who can resist their beautiful eyes? All in all, it was “almost heaven.”
Thank you Canaan and Timberline for a wonderful weekend. And Canaan, thank you for all you do for the “Special Love” families!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.