Firsthand Report: Timberline (Mar. 8-9) 3
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

A few weeks ago, I skied champagne powder at Lech and St. Anton in Austria, and now I am back on the slopes of West Virginia’s Timberline. I’m having a great time and not looking back. Many skiers who leave the region to ski bigger mountains come home with an attitude problem-;a “big mountain hangover.” To them, local skiing just doesn’t cut it anymore. They’ve graduated to bigger and better things, and are now thoroughly bored by the local scene. Well, I’ve got some news for those afflicted with this ailment: any skiing is better than no skiing; size does not always matter; and, by the way, snow conditions in the Mid-Atlantic this year have been world class. Snowshoe currently boasts a bigger base than Alta in Utah. Timberline’s base is greater than Stowe’s. Go figure!

Unlike many of my other trips to Timberline this year, the roads were clear of snow, and I could truly relax and enjoy the ride. On the way home, we took Route 55 and marveled at the progress of the new Corridor H. By fall 2003, 16.5 miles of the new road will be finished. West Virginia plans to build an additional 23.5 miles by autumn 2004. Ultimately, this 100-mile-long Appalachian highway will revolutionize travel between the Washington metropolitan area and the West Virginia ski areas much the same way “Ski-93” revolutionized travel between Boston and the New Hampshire resorts or I-70, between Denver and many Colorado mountains. Eventually, Snowshoe, Timberline, and Canaan will be viable destinations for day commuters from DC.

Saturday turned out to be a perfect spring skiing experience. Fifty-degree temperatures allowed my wife and I to ski in shirtsleeves. It was one of those days where the snow started out as hardpack, and ended up as mashed potatoes. The conditions, in other words, changed with every run. Clothing also changed. By the day’s end, many were skiing in shorts or getting tans on the Timberline lodge’s sundeck. Timberline had 100 percent of its terrain open, but there were no lines. I still can’t figure out why no one in the Mid-Atlantic seems to ski in March. On a good year like this one, many resorts will be able to maintain their bases well into April. However, because skier numbers drop precipitously in March, few resorts can afford to staff the slopes much beyond the 20th of the month. Wisp and Timberline intend to stay open through April 6, and Snowshoe and Seven Springs, until April 13.

After being cooped up in my office for a week, being in the sunshine for a day raised my spirits immeasurably. I recommend this therapy for anyone else complaining about our endless Mid-Atlantic winter. On the Thunderdraft triple, I spoke to a high school senior who traveled all the way from Chicago to snowboard in West Virginia. I asked him how he liked it. “It’s not Whistler,” he replied, “but there’s some nice terrain here.” The boy especially enjoyed riding Snowshoe’s Western Territory on Friday.

Over the night, Timberline received scattered rain showers and then the temperatures dropped below freezing. In the morning, Herz Mountain looked like something out of Middle Earth. Fog drifted through the woods and completely covered the upper sections of most slopes. The snow had turned from mashed potatoes to ice. We skied for half a day on Sunday just to prove we could and then packed up and headed home. Ironically, just as we were leaving, the sun returned. I suspect conditions improved measurably over the afternoon.

In freeze-thaw cycles, the window for good skiing narrows. On Saturday, it was best between 10 and 12 -; a period when the hardpack had softened to loose granular, but was still cold enough not to be mashed potatoes. We did not get any corn snow on Saturday, but I once skied some nice corn (course, granular snow) at Whitetail, so I know it does exist here in the Mid-Atlantic. During the spring diurnal cycle of melting and refreezing, corn snow skiing is at its best in mid to late morning, after a layer has begun to melt but before it is too wet and sloppy. There should be good corn to be harvested all this week at most local resorts, which are also offering discount lift tickets and lodging deals. Therefore folks, get out and ski before the inevitable long dry spell. West Virginia resorts now have 83-100 inch bases, but this snow will not last forever. Enjoy it while you still can!

Photos by John Sherwood.

About John Sherwood

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.

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Reader Comments

MitchH
March 12, 2003
I spent last Saturday skiing the backcountry near Whitegrass and behind the Canaan Downhill area, and found lots of perfect corn skiing, especially in the trees. It was one of the best days of spring backcountry skiing ever. Still lots of snow at Whitegrass, especially in the high country. Looks like more great corn backcountry skiing this weekend. And based on past years, I wouldn't be surprise if Canaan gets another cold spell with fresh powder before the month ends.
MitchH
March 12, 2003
I spent last Saturday skiing the backcountry near Whitegrass and behind the Canaan Downhill area, and found lots of perfect corn skiing, especially in the trees. It was one of the best days of spring backcountry skiing ever. Still lots of snow at Whitegrass, especially in the high country. Looks like more great corn backcountry skiing this weekend. And based on past years, I wouldn't be surprise if Canaan gets another cold spell with fresh powder before the month ends.
Jarrett
March 12, 2003
Nice article John! a week and a half!

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