Let it Rain!
My wife, Karen, and I trod out to the top of the slopes at Snowshoe Mountain as winds howled all around us -; gusting to over 30 miles per hour and visibility of maybe twenty feet. We were alone at the top of the Ballhooter lift at 8:45 a.m. waiting for the ski patrol to drop the ropes. There was an eerie sense of isolation being in the middle of a cloud as the rain blew sideways into our faces. If I stopped bracing against the wind while digging in my edges, the wind would blow me down the slope. I’m sure anyone looking out from one of the mountaintop condos would think us insane.
However, we knew something they didn’t. We knew it from a previous trip to this West Virginian resort many years ago. We knew that the snow is awesome and fast when it’s raining at Snowshoe.
Ski patrol finally arrived and opened the slopes for business. We zoomed down the intermediate run Skipjack. Halfway down we emerged from the cloud and could see to the bottom of the trail. The rain, however, became a little heavier. At the base of the Ballhooter chairlift, the lifties seemed to be in good spirits despite the weather and I sang out “Oh, what a beautiful morning!”
We rode to the top and took Skipjack again. A few other intrepid souls began to sprinkle out onto the slopes as Karen and I explored the intermediate runs of Spruce Glades and Gandy Dancer before checking out the expert slope Grabhammer. My goggles were useless while skiing and I had to choose between being pelted with rain in the eyes or seeing. So I chose seeing. Karen went for obstructed vision. None-the-less, we ended up at the bottom of each trail at about the same time.
Eager to try some steeper terrain, we followed the green-rated Hootenanny trail over to the Widowmaker area. This narrow connecting run is usually crowded with beginners weaving to and fro in unexpected patterns. Karen calls them snow-squirrels. The trail was empty and an absolute delight. The Soaring Eagle Express lift took us to the Top of the World Lodge where we ducked into the cafeteria for a hot chocolate to warm up.
We were drenched and decided to make a few more runs and then return to the room to change into fresh outerwear and gloves. The snow on Widowmaker and Camp 99 (both expert runs) still had corduroy tracks from the previous night’s grooming. The black slopes Sawmill, Sawmill Glades were closed… as was to our surprise, the very fun, switchback blue called J-turn. The cloud lifted to provide better visibility as the rain became a steady drizzle. Still, we managed a half a dozen total runs on the two slopes before swooshing back to the Ballhooter lift and back to our room at the Rimfire Lodge at the Mountain Village Complex. Rimfire is conveniently located a short walk across a courtyard to the top of the slopes of the main face at Snowshoe.
We changed our ski pants, switched into our windbreaker rain jackets and grabbed dry gloves. We keep split-rings (key-rings) on our jackets to facilitate moving lift tickets to different clothing. I also donned a baseball cap under my ski helmet thinking that the visor would help to shield the rain off my face. This trick worked surprisingly well as the drizzle turned back to a steady rain on the slopes.
We ventured over to the Western Territory to ski Snwoshoe’s longest trails -; the expert slopes Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge -; both having 1500’ of vertical drop. Cupp Run was designed by Olympian Jean-Claude Killy. The unceasing winds kept the top of the mountain somewhat clear, however, halfway down we were skiing almost blind in a fog as thick as pea soup. The fog didn’t break till the very bottom.
Karen took a break in Arbunkle’s Cabin, the cafe at the base of the Western Territory while I checked out Shay’s Revenge. The rain felt almost like hail as I disembarked the lift and skied down the empty slope. My face began to freeze and I laughed aloud at the absurdity of skiing into the driving ice pellets and wind. Halfway down I continued onto Lower Shays, which is usually in moguls. When completely bumped up it’s one of the few true double black diamonds in the Mid-Atlantic. Today, however, the slope was groomed, making it only ridiculously steep. Karen joined me for one more run down Upper Shay’s connecting over to Lower Cupp via a narrow cross-cut. We skied side by side so we wouldn’t lose each other in the fog.
We returned to the main basin area for a couple more runs then stopped to eat at the Junction Restaurant in the main square of the mountaintop village. We were drenched -; our jackets completely soaked through. Karen decided to call it quits after lunch and I remembered that I had an emergency rain jacket in my truck, which was parked in the underground lot. I found another pair of gloves in the bottom of my ski bag, retrieved the jacket and ventured, once more, into the breach. I managed another ten runs, mostly over at the Widowmaker Area, before calling it quits a little after 4 p.m. There were even a few times when I could see from top to bottom as the haze cleared.
The next day we woke to sunny skies and warmer temps. Karen and I took to the main face for a few runs and then went over to the Western Territory. Being a busy Saturday, we then hopped onto the shuttle to ski in the Silver Creek area for the afternoon. It was completely empty. The snow was soft; the sky was blue -; the skiing was nice… very pleasant in fact -; only not too exciting. There was no sense of battling the elements.
I think I prefer skiing in lousy weather.
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.