Where is WINTER?????
Sunny and 65 degrees at the end of January and the beginning of February - what’s up with that??? Where are the frigid temps, the people bundled up in parka… and the snow?
It’s at Snowshoe!
My wife, Karen, and I spent an extended weekend up at Snowshoe and it was awesome! Highs were in the twenties and low 30s, 54 trails open and real snow on the ground. Snowshoe rocks! The resort has the most terrain open of any resort in the mid-Atlantic. Until recently they had more snow than a lot of resorts in Colorado.
Everyone knows that Snowshoe is the biggest resort in the region… and that they have the longest runs and most vertical drop. There’s snow tubing, swimming fun at Split Rock Pools, great dining and shopping at the mountaintop village, tons and tons of condos and rooms for rent, snow cat rides, nighttime snowmobile tours, games galore at the Bigtop (including a bungee trampoline) and a backcountry hut on Cheat Mountain. If you are diehard skier or snowboarder, however, none of these things really matter. You want to be on the snow.
So here’s something you may not know - how to get the most time on the slopes for a weekend getaway.
If you are going up on a Saturday for a couple of nights, don’t even bother with the main mountain at Snowshoe. It’ll be packed. After checking in, take the shuttle down to Silver Creek area and ski the un-crowded terrain into the night. Silver Creek is lighted for night skiing and there are hardly ever lift lines on Saturdays. Silver Creek has three terrain parks!
If going up on a Friday night - get to bed early so that you can be putting on your boots on by 8:30 Saturday morning. Be out on the slopes waiting for the ropes to drop by ten ‘til 9 am. Spend the first hour of the day cruising the blues and blacks at the Snowshoe Basin area that lead down to the high-speed quad Ball Hooter lift. Check out the Spruce Glades Terrain Park. As of last weekend there weren’t any features in the park - making it an excellent wide-open intermediate run. Once the lift line starts to build at Ball Hooter, cut across the mountain on the Hootenany trail to the Soaring Eagle high speed quad lift. Expert Slopes Widowmaker and Camp 99 are a delight - as is Sawmill when it’s open. For an easier turn, don’t forget about the blue run J-hook.
By 11 am the crowds start to develop here and it’s time to move on to more challenging terrain - the Western Territory with Cupp Run and Shay’s revenge. You’ll look at the trail map and decide to take the connector slope Flume to the Powder Monkey Lift to reach the Western Territory. Don’t do it! The waiting line for this beginner lift will be a disaster. And the lift runs at the speed of a snail - a snail that jerks to a stop every five seconds as new skiers fall every which way trying to board or exit the chair. Instead, unclip your skis (or board) at the top of the Soaring Eagle Lift and make a pit stop, if needed, at the Soaring Eagle Lodge. Then walk around to the front of the building and grab the shuttle at the Top of the World to the Western Territory stop. It’s faster and more hassle-free than the Powder Monkey lift.
The expert slope, Cupp Run, designed by Jean-Claude Killy, winds down 1,500 glorious vertical feet. A favorite combo is taking the expansive Upper Shays to a connector to Lower Cupp. By mid-day Lower Cupp sometimes turns into a scene of carnage. It’s narrower than the rest of the trail. And for some reason it’s always crowded even though the rest of the slope is empty. Skiers and riders also tend to stop and wait in clumps at the top of lower Cupp. And then they all head down the middle and the left side of the slope, scraping off the snow and piling it into irregular moguls. The trick to avoid the hard-pack and other skiers is to go all the way to the right side. Once at the bottom, you’ll find an un-crowded lift and wonder - where did all of those skiers come from and go to?
After a couple of hours on the Western Territory your legs might begin to feel a little wobbly and your stomach will be howling for food. Take the shuttle at the top of the lift down to the Silver Creek Lodge for a quick lunch at Bear’s Den or Misty’s Sports Bar. Then, as in the first tip, spend the rest of the day and evening at Sliver Creek. The shuttle bus runs well into the night - don’t worry about getting back to the village or top of the mountain if that’s where you are staying.
On Sunday repeat the steps from Saturday leading up to the Western Territory. When done with Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge, however, take the bus back to the Top of the World for lunch at Hoot’s restaurant in the Soaring Eagle Lodge. Stay in the Widowmaker area until about 3-3:30. When you return to the main face of the mountain, don’t go to the Ball Hooter lift. It can still be crowded. Steer towards the adjacent Grabhammer lift for one or two runs. Grabhammer only runs on weekends. It’s slower than Ball Hooter. But there isn’t a long lift line. The chairlifts on this part of the mountain close at 4:30. The Ball Hooter lift usually starts to empty out at about 3:45. Finish the day with a few last runs on the black Grab Hammer slope or Knot Bumper.
Stay an extra day! Snowshoe on a weekday is unbelievably fabulous and EMPTY!
Book your trip for March, where you’ll find cheaper accommodation packages, a lot less people, and usually the best snow of the season.
So if you’re looking for winter, now you know where to find it!
Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.