Neat thing about skiing/snowboarding, the more you share it, the better it gets. On Saturday, March 6, 2004 I led a church group to the slopes of Bryce Mountain. The resort is 100 miles west of Washington D.C. in Basye, Virginia via Interstates 66 and 81. My cohort in this enterprise was Father Frederick Edlefsen, Parochial Vicar (associate pastor) of St. James Catholic Church in Falls Church, Virginia.
Director of Altar Servers is among Father Fred’s many job titles at St. James Parish. He’s in charge of recruiting and training the altar boys (my son among them) who serve at Sunday Mass and at other church functions. Father Fred likes to maintain esprit de corps among his troops and to further that goal we arranged a group trip to Bryce for about 20 boys and their parents. Although Mother Nature threw us a few curve balls, in the end we had an absolute blast on a classic mid-Atlantic spring ski day.
If you’ll remember, the region received a week of very mild weather, culminating with a night of heavy rain leading up to the morning of our trip. The prospects didn’t look good and the group was feeling mucho trepidation at our Saturday morning rendezvous point. But when the call went through to Bryce’s number (800-821-1444) and we got the word that they were open for business and that the rain had ceased there. Nothing could hold back our band of diehard St. James altar boys, averaging all of 13 years of age.
I planned this group trip to Bryce because of the area’s affordability and consistently low crowds. These factors and the moderate difficulty of the terrain make it, in my opinion, one of the very best places in the mid-Atlantic for an introduction to snow sports. About half of my group were first timers or novices. Bryce worked out perfect for them with intimate “group” lessons sized at about 2 or 3 students. Several benign beginner-intermediate trails enable aggressive novices, like many in my group, to quickly and confidently attempt top to bottom runs from summit chairlift number 1. The 500-foot vertical and 8 trails of the mountain (only one significant trail was closed for our visit) also provide just enough challenge so that better skiers can cruise plenty of runs in a crowd-free, almost private resort-like environment. A lot of the boys were impressed that Father Fred fell into this latter skier skill category.
The recent uncooperative weather had taken an obvious toll, with some brown spots, thinning trails, and pooling of water in certain areas on the mountain. Nonetheless, many runs still held plenty of soft spring snow even as the temperature rose close to 60 degrees F on Saturday. We experienced a couple of brief rain showers, but for much of the day the skies were partly sunny and some of the kids even got sunburned. At one point the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain view from Bryce’s slopes was enhanced by a lovely rainbow. The fact that our unlikely trip came off so successfully was like receiving a little pot of gold. As temperatures dropped later in the day conditions got quicker, nicely matching the boys’ rapidly advancing skiing and boarding skills.
Some of us checked out Bryce’s small terrain park on Revenuer’s Run, which was open on Saturday and features 2 or 3 rails and a half dozen hits (Ridge Runner’s tubing park near the beginner area was also open). Manfred Locher was spotted doing a little snowboarding near the terrain park late in the day. He currently runs the group sales office at Bryce and has been part of the management team since the 1960’s. Manfred treated us like old friends when we checked into the sales and rental shop earlier in the day and took good care of our group.
We chose Bryce Mountain Resort for our trip for one additional and very remarkable area asset. Directly above the beginner slope stands the beautiful Catholic mission church of Our Lady of the Shenandoah. Though I’ve seen the building many times in the past (it was built in 1976), I never knew until making plans for this trip that it was part of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and is located within the far western border of the same diocese as St. James Church, where our group hailed from.
Father Edmund Carroll, administrator of Our Lady of the Shenandoah Catholic Mission, and his onsite lay assistants, Betty and Tom Downing, were kind enough to arrange so that our skiing Father Fred could celebrate the 5:30 p.m. Mass in the chapel on Saturday after our day on the mountain. Surrounded by stained glass and ski trails, many of us felt a powerful sense of gratitude as our terrific group outing came to a close. On the drive home the overwhelming consensus among our group was “let’s do this again next year!”
Check the Bryce web site for the latest ski conditions. As of March 9, 2004, Bryce is closed on weekdays, but the resort plans to again offer special spring ski rates and snow tubing next weekend, weather permitting. Always call ahead before making a trip to a ski areas late in the season.
Photos provided by Jim Kenney.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.