A bunch of diehard DCSkiers got together to “Ski the Valley” this past weekend. Months ago we signed up to rent a lovely house beside the slopes of Timberline Ski Area on February 10-13, 2012. The game plan was looking a little dubious for a while there, but in the end our faith in the wild and wonderful was righteously rewarded. You might say we hit the bull’s-eye for the West Virginia “Alps” because the Canaan Valley region collected a total of about one foot of new snow from storms leading up to and during our visit.
Members of the group skied as many as four consecutive days during the gathering, making great turns at both Timberline and Canaan Valley ski areas. In addition to the natural snowfall, cold temps allowed each ski area to blow manmade snow virtually round the clock. Some WV locals called it the best conditions of this otherwise wimpy mid-Atlantic winter.
Several of us used Friday as a warm-up day. We skied the twilight session at Timberline and enjoyed fun and crowd-free runs on Salamander, Twister (a great easy cruiser only recently opened for the season), Dew Drop, Thunder Struck, and the steeper Silver Streak, all with a 1,000 foot vertical drop. Some of the group tackled Off The Wall, which was skiing as a pretty dang gnarly bump run over the weekend. By Friday night most of the dozen or so people staying at our rental house had arrived. The evening was filled with good food, wine, and ski movies. Meanwhile, the snow kept falling overnight into Saturday and trail conditions only got better.
Saturday was rugged, but rewarding with about 5-6 inches of new snow during the day. There were gusty winds and temps dropped to 10 degrees by late afternoon, but OMG was the skiing good, especially as a shared experience with our spirited group of powder starved fast movers. We tested our mettle on Off the Wall again, which was like six inches of bliss over a bumpy, rock hard glacier. Due to the low overall natural snowpack, dipping into Timberline’s renowned glades was a dicey prospect, but blow-over from snow guns made some treed areas really nice such as Pearly Glades and the woods adjacent to several upper mountain trails. Additionally, a number of runs with all-natural coverage had reached the irresistibly poachable stage.
Saturday was busy at Timberline, including USSA races (also on Sunday), but lift lines were not too crazy, especially on the upper triple chair paralleling Silver Streak trail. We had some other friends join us Saturday as the day went on, and ended up having a good size group of 15-20 going down the advanced and intermediate terrain. We even had one person in the group who just started skiing this year and was able to conquer all of the groomed runs that we did during the gathering. How many of us could or would have gone down some of the terrain she did in our first year of skiing? Simpatico group dynamics and a sensible dose of peer pressure can be a beautiful thing to encourage a novice adult to fall in love with the joy of skiing.
Our rental place had a nice little back porch hot tub and it was very popular Saturday night even though the weather was cold and windy enough to freeze your hair while the rest of you boiled. After a big group dinner we reviewed the day’s photos and video on a big screen TV, promising to delete the embarrassing images and go viral with the flattering ones.
Several of us had two-day Ski The Valley tickets. This is a neat and often overlooked deal allowing access to both Timberline and Canaan Valley ski areas on the same ticket, whenever/however, for just a very nominal premium. See details and pricing here: http://skithevalley.com. On Sunday morning we took advantage of the variety offered by the Ski The Valley ticket to venture the four miles to the nearby Canaan Valley ski area, where crowds are always lower and fresh snow remains untracked longer. For a couple of hours we greatly enjoyed Canaan’s 850 vertical feet cutting up foot-deep fresh snow on trails like Ramble, Upper Valley Vista, Spruce Run, and Weiss Drop. Give me a small hill with pitch, soul, great snow, and no crowds - and I’ll show you the ingredients for snowriding fun!
We returned to Timberline for lunch and then hit it hard. By about 3 p.m. Sunday we had the whole place to ourselves and the group was feeling groovy. The mountain had saved the best for last and we had friendly locals pointing us towards sweet stretches of loose snow along the sides of steep groomers such as Silver Streak. All natural terrain like Upper Thunder Draft had soft bumps over mostly forgiving dirt, and ski trails that shall remain nameless featured a foot of chopped powder over fine WV weeds. More and more areas of skiable trees also began to come into play. Everybody finished the day with a hunger for more!
A word about the special appeal of Timberline Ski Area from weekend participant Rob Davis: “I’d like to take a moment and tip my helmet to Timberline. We picked T-line because it is a skier’s mountain. It isn’t an anti-resort really, but the heart and soul show in the skiers who call this West Virginia mountain home. Until this weekend it has been a real thin year, a season when a snow was followed by killer rain and warmth, but Timberline management saw fit to allow Off the Wall’s whales and bumps to grow despite the fact that bread and butter intermediate terrain went without snowmaking until this weekend. That to me is a real plus and not just because that is the terrain I like to ski. Every resort that dares to use the qualifying word ski before resort should have that one trail that will require you to bring your ‘A game’ even if your ‘A game’ is not up to the task. You can rest assured that all those gapers who had no business being in your line will often repeat their tale of conquest with pride. They too survived everything the mountain threw at them. They too are a part of our community and gladly pay their dues with honest effort and full enthusiasm. So for this I say thank you Timberline. In my heart you are almost heaven.”
Monday was check-out day from the excellent rental property our group had arranged through Mountaintop Realty. Many group members hit the highway, but at mid-morning a pair of us stragglers returned to Canaan Valley Ski Area for a final, gorgeous ski reprise with blue skies, great snow conditions, 20-something degree temps, and no wind. This was a big contrast from the prior stormy days and we called it the frosting on the cake of a great weekend. And this treat was a bargain. A weekday lift ticket at Canaan is extremely economical and will cost about half of what you’ll pay elsewhere with nary a hint of a lift line.
During a snack break in the slopeside Bear Paw food court/cafeteria we got a chance to talk with Mountain Manager Mike Chaney. Mike was happy to announce that a batch of runs on the looker’s right side of the trail layout was opening at that very moment for the first time all season. The weekend’s snow had made a crucial difference for finally opening the lion’s share (35 trails) of the mountain’s ski terrain in what Mike lamented was a very erratic winter (~65 inches of snow vs. 200+ inches during the prior two seasons).
Mike also spoke with excitement and cautious optimism about a makeover continuing at Canaan Valley Resort over the next couple of years. In addition to major new construction underway at the nearby hotel facility, there are a batch of scheduled on-slope projects including expansion of snowmaking capabilities, ski lift repairs and renovations, new ski school and beginner slopes, improvements to the original ski lodge buildings, a new tubing park, and installation of people movers to transport guests from parking lots to lifts. If this effort comes to fruition it will be great news for The Valley. Multiple high quality ski areas in close proximity (including White Grass Ski Touring Center) means variety, competition, and residual traffic - all good things for operators and guests.
After lunch we checked out the newly opened terrain over by the Dark Side of the Moon trail. We found more schweeet turns on fluffy groomers, several steeper drops with copious day-old powder, and generally just luxuriated in what seemed like our own private ski preserve. After a fabulous wintry weekend it was a shock to head home and discover that 30 miles east there was barely a trace of snow on the ground.
It’s been a lame winter for the most part in the mid-Atlantic, but you’ve got to play the percentages. Over the years more often than not, come mid-season, Canaan Valley, WV is going to deliver the snowy goods! What a thrill it was to go into a long-planned group trip with modest expectations and hit the jackpot with fresh snow, great accommodations, and fun camaraderie. Our group included folks from DC, MD, VA, PA, NC and WV, yet by the end of the weekend we felt like a tight knit team celebrating a 9th inning grand slam victory. Everybody went home a winner!
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.