Firsthand Report: Timberline 9
Author thumbnail By John Sherwood, DCSki Columnist

Some shots from Timberline. Photos by John Sherwood.
When I left Washington on Friday, daffodils were already blooming. Most people in my neighborhood were racking bikes, not skis. Nevertheless, I headed to Timberline determined to squeeze more turns out of this season, and also to cover the Southern Alpine Racing Association (SARA) Championships for Ski Racing Magazine. SARA, formed out of the southern divisions of the Pennsylvania Alpine Racing Association, is only five years old. However, in this short period, the league has already produced racers in Junior Olympic competition.

Like all resorts in the region, Timberline had lost base due to more unseasonably warm weather. Snow reports called for frozen granular conditions with temperatures in the 30s on Saturday and the high 40s on Sunday. Still somewhat jet-lagged from my recent trip to Austria, I questioned my sanity as I made the long drive to West Virginia. Then something happened on route 93 just before Scherr which put me in a very different mind-set: it started to snow! As Warren Miller would say, nothing boosts the wayward spirit of a skier like the “power of snow.”

I made my first run on Saturday on White Lightning, a black trail that follows the fall line of the mountain. Conditions were superb. The fresh snow gave me just enough fluff to make some nice turns on the hard-packed, frozen granular surface. Most people complain about frozen granular, but with just a sprinkle of surface powder for edge control, frozen granular is a speed junkie’s delight. It allows you to get down real low on the GS turns and put all that shaped technology to work for you.

White Lightning still had a nice, solid base with no bare spots. The fresh snow on the tree branches and on the sides of the trail gave the mountain that winter wonderland look that I always yearn for when skiing. I made my next run on Dew Drop. Dew Drop had a deeper, loose granular surface, and was bumpier than White Lightning. Heavy traffic on this popular blue trail had obviously beat it up, and made it harder to pack for the groomers than White Lightning. A secret of Mid-Atlantic skiing is to stick where possible to groomed, black terrain. The black color of the trail marker scares away a lot of traffic - a factor which often makes these steeper, narrower runs easier to ski than your average high volume blues.

I spent the rest of the day watching the SARA race. A full report with race results can be found on www.skiracing.com. The race proved exciting. In ski racing, he (or she) who dares, wins. In short, the best racers are always skiing on the hairy edge. The slalom course on Thunderstruck, set up by Canaan/Timberline coach Mark Fiorini, took down some of the best. When I asked him why he made it so tough, he remarked, “I want to separate the wolves from the rabbits for this year’s Junior Olympics at White Face Mountain.”

The race went well, but start times were generally delayed because of long lift lines. After the holiday weekend and last week’s mild temperatures, I expected crowds to be minimal, but I ended up waiting in the singles line for 10 minutes per run the entire afternoon. This was bearable for me but I felt sorry for the people in the slower lines.

Sunday started out at 14 degrees, but warmed up to a spring-like 50s as the day progressed. Conditions once again were fantastic. By noon, some people were skiing in T-shirts or in a few brave cases, no shirts. I made a couple runs on Thunderstruck before settling down to watch the giant slalom on White Lightning. Timberline’s expert slopes offer some of the best racing terrain in the Mid-Atlantic, and spectators enjoyed sitting out in the sun, watching some spectacular performances from the Southeast’s top racers.

My only complaint again was the crowds. The Silver Queen double broke down first thing in the morning due to electrical problems. This created a huge logjam at the Thunderdraft Triple and once again delayed the races. The lines got so bad by the afternoon that I decided to call it a day when the race ended and drive home rather than trying to get some more runs in. Skiers were polite and patient, and I enjoyed talking to people in the line, but still - Timberline must consider upgrading the Thunderdraft Triple in the future or risk losing business to nearby competitors with faster, more efficient uphill capacity. One shredder from West Virginia University remarked to me, “Wisp doesn’t have near the vertical of this mountain or the range of terrain, but it does get you up the mountain faster. What good is a big mountain if you can only get a handful of runs in on weekends?”

In past articles, I have kept silent about the slow, 11 minute ride to the top on both the Thunderdraft Triple and Silver Queen double because it has reduced traffic where it counts - on the slopes. However, this weekend proved that the popularity of Timberline is truly outpacing its lift capability. The secret is out: Timberline has some of the best conditions and terrain in the region, but good conditions are meaningless if you can’t get up the hill. If the resort does not have enough internal resources, it should look to private corporations and to the state of West Virginia to raise the 2 million dollars needed for a major lift upgrade. Seven Springs scored big this year by building its high-speed six-pack with a corporate sponsorship from Coca-Cola. Why can’t Timberline follow this example?

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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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DCSki Sponsor: Canaan Valley Resort

Reader Comments

ChuckR
March 3, 2002
You're exactly right about Timberline Some of the best skiing around, but you have to go during the week unless you want to wait in long lift lines. Try going during the week, you'll have a blast. It's funny, but the same lift you spoke of wasn't running when we went last season. Major lift upgrades would be sweet.
Mitch H
March 3, 2002
One additional benefit of Timberline is the great telemark skiing program they have, with many expert telemark instructors on their staff. I did their all day telemark clinics this same weekend and emerged a much better tele skier!

I wonder if you shared this review with Timberline management for their comments? I am one skier who would love to ski at Timberline more often but instead usually shun it due to the lift line problems (and also their dismal snowmaking capabilities, and inability to open up slopes). In fact, in January I had a much better experience during a visit to Whitetail than my visit to Timberline, due to Whitetail's superior lifts and ability to open up most slopes. Timberline has to understand that they need to provide better service to convince people to drive 4 hours there. If Timberline improved their lifts and snowmaking, I would probably triple or more my visits there.

(one hint, though, try skiing at Timberline on a rainy day, if you have good rain gear it is not all that bad, the rain usually makes the skiing surface very soft and pleasant, and of course you will have the place to yourself).
John Sherwood
March 4, 2002
In answer to your question Mitch, I have shared some of my concerns with management. Management is trying to do what they can with limited resources (such as improving snowmaking), but the real problem is the ownership. The resort is owned by a Philadelphia doctor who simply refuses to invest any money into the enterprise. I talked recently to a member of an investor group who tried to buy the place. Apparently, the doctor is unwilling to sell even though neither of his sons are interested in inheriting the business. In short, he is really holding the place back, and this absolutely infuriiates property owners who have seen their property values stagnate over the past 20 years. If a company like Snowtime took over the place and simply invested 1 million for a new lift and had the state come up with another million in bond issues to pay for the other half of the lift, property values would once again start heading North. Sprinkle a little marketing and some improved snowmaking into the mix and voila, Timberline could actually begin to be competitive, and perhaps see its visits double.
Alice
March 4, 2002
I was at Timberline the same weekend as in this article, and I was not appalled by the lift lines - earlier this season I waited three times as long at Massanutten, which was AGONY. It was my first trip to Timberline, and the skiing made up for the drive and lift lines. However, I did hesitate before hitting the road - when I looked at their website, I could hardly believe they had so few lifts, and that one would actually be closed on a weekend. I'm sure others don't make the trip for exactly the same reason. A high-speed quad would be great...
Anne Fitzpatrick
March 4, 2002
Having never been to Timberline, I must take the author's word about the long lift lines, which seem more typical of the East Coast; there are simply more people in that neck of the woods than in the Rockies, for example. Perhaps if our new shadow government sets up shop out in West Virginia in a mountain bunker, more funds will be generated for installing high speed quad lifts to keep all of those workers happy in the winter.

On another note, the slightly granular snow sounded not bad, and if I recall correctly that is what they prefered at Salt Lake last month in the downhill races.

South of Utah: Taos has nice conditions even though the overall snowfall in New Mexico has been very light this year and Santa Fe ski area is getting patchy. We are already bracing for water rationing and forest fires this summer, although cross-our-fingers nothing like the Cerro Grande fire that torched Los Alamos two years ago.

Coming soon: I'll be back with the report from Telluride, CO in a few weeks.
Rich
March 5, 2002
Why bother investing 1 cent in it? If it were empty, if no one bought a lift ticket, THEN I'd think about it. But as long as people are willing to pay for what they get, why spend anything more on improvments. You're not thinking of it as the business that it is.

People also complain about the price of a movie...usually while they're in line willing to pay it !!!!
John Sherwood
March 5, 2002
They should invest some money in the resort to prevent skiers from going elsewhere in the future and also to grow the business in a sustainable fashion.

There are a lot of people in Tucker County WV whose livelihoods are connected to the resort. By not keeping up with the competition, Timberline could end up hurting a lot of people, not to mention itself.
Reid
March 5, 2002
They'll likely make improvements if it ever becomes necessary to maintain profitability. At the moment they're still selling plenty, with lots of emphasis on plenty, of tickets so why bother. As long as people complain while shelling out the cash for the tickets, those complaints are bouncing off of deaf ears.

I like the quiet unimproved mountain on Tuesday-Thursday but you won't likely catch me up there on a weekend if I can help it.
Lee
March 16, 2002
I go to Timberline several times a year, and only on weekdays, as it is far to long of a wait on weekends. Timberline has the best terrain in the region and would become my favorite(more visits) if a high speed quad were installed. It is a long slow ride to the top even if its not crowded. Hopefully ownership will reconsider its position and add a long overdue HS Quad.

Does anyone know why "off the wall" has not been opened in the last couple years?

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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