It’s not often that a local ski resort can claim a base depth higher than resorts in New England or even the Rockies, so when the snow report for West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort began showing a base depth of 76-104 inches, I decided it was time to investigate. (Hey, it’s the least I can do for loyal DCSki readers.)
The report was accurate. During March, natural snow has fallen furiously and frequently at the Pocahontas County resort, adding to piles of manmade snow made throughout the winter. In just three weeks, Snowshoe has received 64 inches of natural snow. With 100% terrain open - a total of 56 trails - Snowshoe is ending March (and entering April) with the best conditions of the season. Snowshoe is officially planning to stay open until April 11, but may extend that date if the skiers and boarders keep coming.
I made the pilgrimage to Snowshoe on Thursday afternoon, accompanied by an old friend from college, Brian Preston. Brian had flown down from Boston, to the amusement of his fellow New England co-workers who were surprised to learn that there was skiing as far south as West Virginia. Brian will no doubt be bragging about the excellent conditions at the water cooler on Monday. He plans to write his own DCSki Firsthand Account as soon as he recovers from jet lag (those 1.5 hour flights are tough), and if he has fewer than three type-o’s in his submission, he will fully qualify for the position of DCSki Northeast Correspondent. (That alone may scare him out of writing the article.)
We hit the slopes on Friday, and the weather was beautiful. On both Friday and Saturday, the sun smiled upon Snowshoe’s slopes, and the skiing conditions were great. Temperatures Friday hovered in the 30’s with some wind at the top of the mountain. Temperatures were higher on Saturday, with cloudless skies. Clouds rolled in Saturday night, bringing some mixed precipitation and fog Sunday morning.
Some highlights from the trip follow.
Snowshoe turned 25 years old this season, and the season-long celebration reached a climax this past weekend as the resort teamed with Coca Cola and Coors Light to offer a day full of contests and entertainment. For example, children were able to participate in a Snow Limbo contest and a Snowman Building Contest. Kids of all ages turned retro for the Shag Contest. But there was a catch: you had to dance in your ski or snowboard boots. And things got crazy for the Inflatable Whale Races.
Each event, held outside the Shavers Center, attracted an enthusiastic crowd. Children had a blast with the events; one child, when asked where he was from, proudly proclaimed “North America,” resulting in a chorus of laughter. And everyone got a free piece of birthday cake.
Capping off the day of fun was a fireworks display that rivaled Fourth of July displays. Above Snowshoe Mountain, dozens of beautiful fireworks erupted, accompanied by “Ooohs” and “Ahhs” from across the mountaintop. Everyone at Snowshoe on Saturday seemed to be having a wonderful time, and the weather couldn’t have been better - until Sunday, when the resort received some mixed precipitation.
Snowshoe cut a new expert trail this summer, adding a neighbor to the popular Cupp Run in the Western Territory section of the resort. Shay’s Revenge is located to the right of Cupp Run as you look up the mountain. Like Cupp Run, Shay’s Revenge offers a vertical drop of 1,500 feet. This results in a deliciously long trail that makes your legs yearn for the chairlift ride back up the mountain. And the entire trail is very wide.
Unlike Cupp Run, Shay’s Revenge offers a surprise at the bottom. The last leg of Shay’s Revenge is steep - so steep that Snowshoe decided to change the classification of Lower Shay’s to double-black diamond early in the season. This section of the trail offers a 55% grade that will quicken the pulse of the most expert skier or boarder.
The left side of Lower Shay’s is left ungroomed, resulting in plenty of moguls for the mogul hounds. Snowshoe groomers take pity on those of us who fall apart in moguls (such as your faithful Editor), grooming a path along the right side. Most skiers this weekend stuck to the groomed part, and as loose snow was scraped off, the groomed part of Lower Shay’s became slick. You had to plan your turns to avoid slick spots, or venture to the edge of the moguls, where there was plenty of loose powder.
The top half of Shay’s Revenge is not nearly as steep. It offers a wide path to practice confidence-building carving. For those who want to try Shay’s Revenge without braving the lower section, there is a well-marked cross-over to Cupp Run near the old lift mid-station point. (Just look for the warning signs and double-black diamonds, and turn right instead of going straight!)
Immediately following this cross-over is a relatively flat stretch of Shay’s Revenge. Skiers - and particularly snowboarders - will want to keep their speed up to make it through this section. The resort plans to regrade this section of Shay’s over the summer to reduce the flats, responding to the complaints of some.
Most sections of Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge were groomed nightly. By the end of the day, small moguls had formed on the lower half of Cupp.
Cupp Run and the new Shay’s Revenge offer a lot of great skiing with vertical that keeps your legs moving, but the icing on the cake is a new high-speed quad to service both trails, the Western Express.
DCSki was on-hand this past fall to cover the installation of Snowshoe’s latest chairlift, a high-speed quad servicing Cupp Run and Shay’s Revenge in the Western Territory. Having witnessed the helicopter-assisted installation, I was anxious to try out the new lift, which whisks skiers and boarders 1.5 miles to the top of the mountain in just 6 minutes. (The old lift took 22 minutes to accomplish the same feat.)
I heard one complaint about the new lift: it doesn’t give you enough time to rest your legs! But the new lift does pamper riders with a footrest.
Unlike the old lift, the Western Express does not have a mid-station loading/unloading area. In the past, the mid-station allowed Snowshoe to open the upper half of Cupp before the lower half was ready - typically the lower half required about a week’s worth of extra snowmaking. With expanded snowmaking on Cupp Run this year, Snowshoe was able to open the lower half with just three days worth of snowmaking. Now, Snowshoe is reevaluating the need for a mid-station. The lift is designed so that a mid-station can be added, but the lift would be unable to operate at a high speed when operating in mid-station mode. (The chairs wouldn’t “detach” at the mid-station as they do at the top and bottom, so the cable would have to be slowed down for the entire ride. The lift would revert to high-speed mode once the entire trail was open.) It appears unlikely that a mid-station will be added.
One warning about the new lift: at the bottom lift terminal, skiers and boarders must cross through a gate that makes sure only four people filter through. One skier likened this to “herding cattle,” and another skier made the mistake of entering the gate through two lanes instead of one. These lanes are separated by a bar, so you can imagine his discomfort. (It was amusing to those of us watching, at least!) Use caution when sliding through the lanes in the gate.
Even on Saturday, when crowds began to line up at the main Snowshoe area, the Western Territory remained relatively uncrowded. The lift line for the Western Express was usually less than a minute and never more than a couple; often, there was no line at all. On the slopes, crowds tended to build up on the narrow, groomed section of lower Shay’s, and on lower Cupp. On Friday, crowds and lift-lines were practically non-existent. By all means, if you can sneak away to Snowshoe during midweek, that’s the time to go - you’ll be rewarded with lower prices and less people.
With a brand new lift ready to serve, Snowshoe has expansion plans for the Western Territory. In the coming years, Snowshoe will be adding several intermediate trails on the western side. Trail expansion is also on tap for the main Snowshoe area.
Although it is late March and many local ski resorts have already pegged down their closing dates, it is going to take awhile for Snowshoe’s base to melt, and more natural snow may be on the way. Beginning March 29, Snowshoe will drop its lift ticket prices down to $12 - the same price they were when the resort opened 25 years ago.
The Silver Creek area at Snowshoe is now slated to close April 4, and when it does, the resort will build a halfpipe on the Skidder slope at the Snowshoe area for snowboarders. Like the current halfpipe at Silver Creek, the new pipe will be made entirely out of snow. The main area at Snowshoe will stay open until April 11, but the resort is prepared to stay open longer if visit rates stay high.
If you make it to Snowshoe in the next several weeks, you won’t be disappointed. Even as temperatures climb in the the Washington, D.C. area, Snowshoe’s 4,848-foot elevation guarantees lower temperatures. Mild temperatures at the beginning of season resulted in a slow start for Snowshoe, but Mother Nature pulled through in March and delivered enough snow to make western resorts envious. For me, at least, this weekend’s trip to Snowshoe was a way to end the ski season on a great note.
M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.
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