WINTER ARRIVES AT SNOWSHOE
Winter, so far, has been pathetic. The brief chill at the end of November warmed up to a balmy early December, balmy and rainy. There was no snow anywhere, lots of mud… but no snow. Somehow, however, Snowshoe Mountain managed to get the snow guns running at night, survive the deluge of rains, and open for business. Thus, my wife, Karen, and I made the trip to West Virginia on Friday morning (December 10, 2004) to get in a few early season turns.
We arrived at Snowshoe at about 2:00, checked in and hit the slopes at 3:00. There were 10 trails open, i.e. two runs top to bottom at Snowshoe and one run top to bottom at the Silver Creek area. We warmed up on the meandering beginner trails Heisler Way and Skidder a couple of times. The snow was slushy but not too clumpy. The Spruce Glades slope offered some intermediate terrain and we spent the next hour making circuits down this trail and returning on the Grabhammer lift. Again, conditions were a mixed bag of slushy and icy spots, although it was actually better than we had expected, considering all of the rain the previous few days.
When the lift closed at 4:30 we called it a day instead of continuing on for night skiing at Silver Creek. We were both surprisingly tired after only 90 minutes on the slopes. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Junction Restaurant and went back to the room to watch the Weather Channel. Temperatures in the 40s and more rain was predicted for Saturday. Great!
I awoke at 7 a.m. and peeked out the window of the condo at the Rimfire Lodge. I couldn’t see anything. Everything was white. At first I thought it was just fog, or rather a cloud sitting on top of the mountain. But when I looked closer I realized it was snowing. It was snowing to beat the band! At least an inch of powder had accumulated on the sidewalks. I stepped outside onto the balcony and let the snow fall upon my face. The sound of snow guns roared like jet engines in the background.
The forecast had been updated: snow for the entire day with temperatures dropping through the afternoon and evening. But there wasn’t enough new powder to open any additional trails. We purchased wrist guards, rented snowboards and signed up for a 10 a.m. snowboarding lesson. We had taken a lesson last spring. (I forgot most of what I had learned.) It seemed like the best way to have fun on the beginner terrain. A woman named Julie joined Karen and I in the beginner class. The instructor, James, was exceedingly patient with all three of us. We fell a LOT!!! I’m sure glad I bought the wrist guards. I wish I had bought a butt-guard. After the 90-minute lesson, Karen and I could manage the heel-turn fairly well. The toe-turn, however, is another matter. On anything steeper than, say, a one degree incline, I’d lose control on the toe turn, spin out and fall. BAM! Karen, a trained ballerina with near perfect balance, was equally abysmal.
We ate lunch at the Foxfire Grill and returned to the embarrassment of snowboarding. After surviving a run all the way down Heisler and Skidder with countless falls, we looked around for a less crowded area. The trail was packed with equally bad beginning skiers and snowboarders. A shallow incline near the Shaver’s center did the trick. Karen and I took turns, practicing a toe-turn or a toe-turn to heel-turn combo and then shuffling or walking back up the small sloping area. We should have gone over to Silver Creek where the beginner terrain is wider and less crowded. But I didn’t think of it, probably because I dislodged my brain during one of the falls. I finished the day with another journey down Heisler/Skidder with only seven falls. I cheated, however, and did heel-turns most of the way down.
When the lifts closed at 4:30, I was tired, sore and HUNGRY! I took a nice long, hot shower and we went in search of pasta. We found it at the Cornerstone Steak and Pasta Company where they served vegetable lasagna. The night was still young after dinner and the Mountain Adventure Center offered snowmobile tours and snowcat tours that evening. It was way too cold and windy for a snowmobile. The snowcat tour came in a heated cabin. The cabin held about a dozen people and the snowcat chugged along down the Spruce Glades trail as David Huber, the director of the Adventure Center, pointed out various features about the snowmaking system and grooming techniques at Snowshoe. It was interesting from an engineering point of view. But it mostly made me want to get up early the next morning and make first tracks through the corduroy of the freshly groomed snow.
Three inches of snow had fallen on Saturday. Thus we were waiting at the ropes first thing the next day. A few minutes before 9 a.m., we glided over the grooming tracks, cutting perfect arcs in the snow along Heisler Way. The fresh powder floated off of our skis. We rode up the Grabhammer lift and sped down the wide open (and empty) Spruce Glades. A demo event was being held all weekend with dealers from K2, Salomon, Rossignol, Volkle, Burton Snowboards and several others. With such great conditions and still no new trails open, we decided to try out new skis. (Snowshoe doesn’t open terrain until they build up a base of a couple of feet. It would take another couple of days of snowmaking to open up any new slopes.) I didn’t really notice much difference in the performance for any of the skis I tried, except they were lighter than my 188 K2s. They were all a lot shorter. If skis continue to keep getting shorter and shorter, we’ll all be on Snowblades in a few years. Though, some of the names were interesting, such as Hellfire and Scream. Do people really want skis called Hellfire and Scream? Has skiing become some sort of demonic cult? Karen, however, really enjoyed the little blue 145 Screams. She currently has Volkl 156s that are only two years old. Thus there’s no immediate need for screaming.
Before we knew it the noon hour was nearly upon us and we had to check out of the lodge. We left just as the clouds lifted for a crystal-clear view of snow-covered mountains. The forecast called for more snow Sunday evening through mid-week and cold temperatures all week long. Winter has arrived at Snowshoe.
For more information, visit www.snowhoemtn.com. The resort plans to have 30 trails open this weekend (Dec. 18, 2004).
Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.