There is a banner on the Timberline lodge that reads, “Timberline: Ski Capital of the Mid-Atlantic.” Given the faster lifts and better snowmaking found at several other resorts in the region, this claim can come across as specious. But this past Sunday, Timberline lived up to it. Two late season snowstorms slammed into Herz Mountain in the space of two days, bringing over 26 inches of new snow and allowing late season skiers to score lines rarely achieved in the regular season. Everything was open, including the glades: if you could see it, you could ski it. It was as close to a perfect powder day as I have ever experienced in the Mid-Atlantic.
After my trip to Timberline on March 13-14, I had no intention of going back. By the end of March, a series of warm days had melted all my hopes for a good extended season. On April 2, however, the situation changed dramatically. The cold front that brought several days of cold, miserable rain to D.C. hammered Timberline with 16 inches of snow above 4,000 feet and approximately 12 inches at 3,000 feet, according to nearby White Grass Touring Center. Never one to miss the chance to experience late season natural snow, I packed my bag Friday night and headed up early Saturday morning.
What a difference a day makes. By the time I started skiing on Saturday, the new snow had turned to gloppy mush. It was skiable and fun but not the powder for which I had hoped. Oh well, any day on skis beats the alternative. My wife had a cold, so she opted not to ski that day, giving me the opportunity to talk to people on the lifts. On one ride, I met a DCSki Message Forum member (rmcva) who had driven up from Alexandria for the day. This skier mentioned that he had skied every major Mid-Atlantic resort this year and regularly used DCSki and its Forum to help him decide where to go. This skier recommended that I check out The Drop. Early in the day, I had skied Off the Wall (OTW), and decided that the moguls were just too big for pleasure -; more like small cliffs than well-rounded moguls. The Drop, on the other hand, proved imminently more skiable. The moguls were much smaller and softer. Moreover, the long run-out at the bottom allowed me to take a more aggressive line than I usually take on OTW.
I went to sleep on Saturday night content after having skied one more precious day, my 26th of the season. The last thing I imagined as I drifted off was that in just 8 hours, I would awake to one of the most memorable powder days in all my visits to Timberline. As is my custom, I peaked out the window of my unit at 7 a.m. to see what the day had in store. To my surprise, I saw snow flying over the Silver Queen double. I then went to my bedroom to read my unofficial snow stake -; the car. Sure enough, about 4 inches had fallen over night and the Weather Channel promised more. Suddenly, it was Christmas in April.
I had left my skis in the lodge overnight to be freshly waxed -; a very fortuitous decision, for few of the slopes were groomed on Sunday. In the morning, blue groomers such as Almost Heaven and Dew Drop had ankle-deep powder. By 11, one could score knee-deep powder along the sides of the trails and it just kept coming. In all, 10 inches would fall during the course of the storm. Everything was open, including Timberline’s much vaunted wooded terrain. More talented skiers than myself were ducking into the trees like snowshoe hares. At one point, I ran into two of my neighbors, Bill Mollard and Kim Williams. Kim casually mentioned that it was his 37th ski day at Timberline this season. “Did you ever get bored?” I asked. “No,” this former Snowshoe instructor replied, “the mountain keeps changing, offering new challenges and discoveries on each and every run.” Kim, a long-time condominium owner at the resort, had high praise for the place. “In the past few years, grooming and snowmaking have improved 100 percent. Timberline is still a small, family owned resort, but it’s slowly but surely getting better with each passing year.”
I opted to drive home via the new Corridor H route: 33 to 55 East. The West Virginia Department of Transportation once again lived up to its reputation for snow removal excellence. With the exception of unavoidable drifts on 32 caused by blowing snow, the roads were completely clear. In the space of 30 minutes, the scenery changed from 4-foot high snow cornices to green grass and golden forsythia. During a surprisingly traffic-free drive home, I noticed the massive pylons going up between Baker and to Wardensville. By fall of this year, West Virginia plans to have the entire stretch between Moorfield and Wardensville opened. The Mid-Atlantic’s version of New Hampshire’s “Ski 93” is finally beginning to take form. By next season, I predict that it will emerge as the undisputed, best route from the D.C. region to Timberline and Snowshoe.
Sadly, Timberline and Snowshoe Mountain Resort closed their doors on Sunday afternoon, April 4. Lack of snow certainly was not a problem, but lack of interest in the late season is an age-old issue in this region. Only the Thunderdraft and Wood’s Hole lifts ran at Timberline on Sunday and no lines ever appeared. Those wishing to enjoy more of this snow will have to trade their alpine gear in for Nordic, randonee, or telemark skis and visit White Grass. Chip Chase, the owner of that Nordic touring center, promises to stay open as long as the snow lasts.
John Sherwood is a columnist for DCSki. When he's not hiking, biking, or skiing, he works as an author of books on military history.