Unlike in the past, I hadn’t given much thought to my church’s youth ski trip this year. I was too preoccupied with photographing the 12 Hours of Sebring, America’s oldest sports car endurance race, for the town’s local paper, the News Sun. In fact, the race almost caused me to miss the bus to West Virginia.
My feelings of indifference disappeared as the sun rose over the mountains on Sunday morning, March 21, 2004. The temperature had dropped 50 degrees since I stepped on the bus in Florida. It was snowing. The snow stuck to cars, fields, and even cows!
We arrived at Canaan Valley Resort around 6 p.m. Sunday night. After taking our luggage to our rooms, we feasted on tacos and burritos. The Mexican delights created by the resort’s catering crew were a welcome break from fast food.
The snowfall also allowed our youth group to have a big snowball fight. Little did we know, dry powder doesn’t form snowballs very easily! We just threw dry snow at each other instead.
Three to six inches of fresh snow fell on Canaan Valley Sunday night and Monday morning. My first run was Upper Canaan Curve to Chute and down Face to the Weiss Quad lift. On my way back up, I noticed that the Valley Vista bowl was covered in fresh snow. I ventured off piste whenever I could to take advantage of the fresh powder. The un-groomed runs were amazing.
The slopes were empty on Monday. I only saw a handful of people as I rode back to the summit of Weiss Knob on the quad chair. The Glades, a narrow, tree-lined intermediate, was closed on Monday and Tuesday. But it was too difficult to resist the untracked powder, and I have to confess - I ducked the ropes. The Glades was a fast run that opened up into the bottom of the Valley Vista Bowl. Seeking more adventure, my friend Bruce Winter and I decided to explore Weiss Meadow 3, which had not been opened either.
The upper half of Meadows 3 was marvelous! Snow cover was six to eight inches deep, and no one had been on the slope. An F-16 even flew by to see what we were up to. However, conditions rapidly deteriorated towards the bottom of the run near Weiss Road. Coverage was only an inch deep in spots, so Bruce and I had to remove our skis and walk. “I guess ropes really do serve a purpose!” I commented as we walked through the woods to open terrain. There was an additional downside to exploring closed terrain. I ran over several rocks and sticks that gouged up the bases of my new skis. I also had to get my skis waxed at lunch because the grass rubbed all my wax off!
Bruce and I found some members of our group who were trying to learn how to turn and stop on the beginner slopes. They took a group lesson, but reported that the ski instructors did not teach all of the basics; including turning and how to get on and off of a lift. “Would you like some help?” we asked. On the way to the lodge to eat lunch, we instructed the newbies in turning and stopping.
We ate pizza on Monday and sub sandwiches on Tuesday. To avoid paying steep prices for cafeteria food, we brought lunches to the resort from nearby restaurants. It sure was good!
After lunch on Monday, I continued to explore the slopes Canaan Valley had to offer. Temperatures stayed in the twenties, so the snow was smooth and fast. I enjoyed Upper Valley Vista and the Face most. Both slopes allowed me to zoom down the hill. I had visions of Olympic glory floating through my head!
I relaxed in the resort’s pool and hot tub on Monday evening. The hot tub was kept at just the right temperature, but the pool was too small and the pool staff, very stringent. Activities considered normal in a Florida pool, such as wrestling and throwing people around, were not allowed. The pool is not very deep, and guest safety is very important to the resort.
Conditions were amazing on Tuesday! The sky was clear and the snow was fast. My skis made a humming sound through the powder, which sounded a lot like walking on squeaky beach sand.
Except for our group of Florida teenagers, hardly anyone was on the mountain. I hurried to the top of Gravity with several of my snowboarding friends. The slopes were in perfect condition. We decided to race from the top of the trail to the first slow sign, about a quarter mile away. “On your mark, get set, go!” It wasn’t the last time I would cruise down the mountain as quickly as possible. The rest of the day I skied from one side of the mountain to the other. Lift lines were non-existent, so I managed to make at least five runs an hour throughout Monday and Tuesday. The off-piste adventures from Monday continued, but I stayed away from Meadows 3. Instead, I followed the tracks of other people through the trees on the side of Timber Trail. Unfortunately, in all my skiing exuberance, I forgot to put sunscreen on my face, and ended my trip looking like a tomato.
Before my final run down Gravity, I noticed a ski patrol sled with “Almost Heaven” stamped on the side. Maybe it’s a sign of things to come! I skied to the top of Gravity, shouted “Here we go!” and pushed off. I carved the first drop, then flew straight down the remainder of the slope to the Bear Paw Lodge. I went as fast as I could, and my adrenaline was pumping!
There is room for improvement at Canaan Valley. The Weiss Haus restroom was poorly lit. There were no paper towels in the dispenser, and the automatic hand dryer was not working! The steps in Valley Haus are slippery as well. They are covered with vinyl instead of non-stick rubber.
Additionally, skiers and snowboarders should not have to walk from Bear Paw Lodge around Valley Haus and up a steep embankment to the Weiss Quad. A rope tow or magic carpet lift should be installed to transport skiers from the Valley Haus to the lift. Skiers should be allowed to carry their gear through the Valley Haus so they don’t have to walk through gravel on the side of the building, tearing up expensive ski boots.
Finally, a rope tow should be installed at the terrain park. The resort doesn’t allow skiers and snowboarders to walk back up the terrain park. Skiing to the base of the mountain, riding the lift back up, and then returning to the terrain park takes too long.
I was disappointed to see the wind farm on the edge of the Allegheny Front. In my opinion, the mountain views are scarred by the windmills.
I had a great time at Canaan Valley. The slopes were empty, the snow was great, and the weather was beautiful both Monday and Tuesday. The temperatures barely reached forty on Tuesday. It felt more like winter instead of the first days of spring!