My two daughters and I drove out for a quick overnight trip to Timberline Ski Area in the Canaan Valley area of West Virginia on Thursday morning, January 5, 2006. I suffered pre-trip trepidation for a few days preceding our departure while the Baltimore-Washington region mired in a lingering Christmas-New Year warming trend. Fortunately, I stuck to my game plan. We logged two surprisingly satisfying ski days on great terrain, experienced some colorful local establishments, and enjoyed the trail buffing benefits of frequent snow showers over both days of our visit.
Dodging balmy sprinkles on the drive west from Falls Church, Virginia, we stuck to the conventional 175-mile route out I66W to I81S to Rt55W to Rt32N. When we pulled into the Timberline parking lot at around 10 am on Thursday it was snowing lightly and there was a chill in the air; an outstanding welcome. Obeying posted speed limits more or less, we made it non-stop in 3 hours and 15 minutes. Hopefully, those spectacularly elevated sections under construction on the Corridor H highway project west of Moorefield, West Virginia will soon replace old Rt55? When this work is completed a legal sub-three hour trip to Canaan Valley from inside the Capitol Beltway could be the norm.
After the quick drive out to T-Line (as Timberline is known), we made a beeline to the ski demo tents set up beside the Thunder Draft triple chair. My girls and I used advance purchase lift ticket vouchers for the $2 Ski Chalet demo day on Thursday and the $3 Alpine Ski Shop customer appreciation day on Friday. This combo offered amazingly cheap riding, all on great new demo equipment for the better part of both days.
My first run was a warm-up down Twister, the long, intermediate trail newly added to Timberline’s layout this year. It’s a fine and slightly more challenging complement to Salamander, Timberline’s famous green circle run from the other side of the summit. I quickly sought something tougher, however, and the next run was down The Drop. It’s a black diamond slope which, at mid-morning on a Thursday after several days of warm and wet weather, still held untracked, ego-boosting, soft corduroy. My compliments to the T-Line trail grooming crew!
Catching our stride, the girls and I set upon running the array of interesting trails that fan out down the nicely pitched face of Timberline’s Herz mountain, elevation 4268’. Early in the afternoon we were joined by Jimmy Swann of Wheeling, WV. Jimmy is one of my new friends introduced via our mutual enjoyment of the DCSki website. Jimmy’s a fine, fast cruiser and holds a season pass at Timberline. He guided us down pretty much everything that was open at Timberline on Thursday; about 90% of the 36 trails on the mountain.
The only closures of note to me were the challenging black diamond run Off The Wall and, for all practical purposes, Timberline’s highly regarded tree skiing due to thin and crusty natural conditions off trail. Nonetheless, we had a very good day spent riding highly tuned demo skis on groomed loose granular snow. It was a nice reintroduction to TLine after nearly ten years since my last visit.
When the ski day ended we drove a couple miles south for dinner at the White Grass Cafe. As an occasional cross-country skier since the 1970’s I’d known about the White Grass Ski Touring Center for a long time, but the dinner in the Center’s cafe allowed me to introduce my daughters to the fun, quirky feel of the place. White Grass is run by a fellow I’ve never met named Chip Chase, but I’d sure like to shake his hand.
Over the last 25 years White Grass has established itself as the premier and virtually only ski center in the mid-Atlantic devoted exclusively to cross-country, telemark, and snowshoe touring. We’re talking most everything, but alpine and snowboarding. Anybody who can successfully pull off a mostly all-natural Nordic operation of the caliber of White Grass through a quarter century of our chronically fickle ski seasons must be an eternal optimist, a snow farming wizard, and a true son of Ullr.
Like any good business, White Grass has diversified and offers fun and unusual culinary fare (often with a natural foods touch) in a rustic motif. A nightly dinner is served in two buffet settings at 6 and 8 pm and runs $8.95 for all you can eat. Thursday featured corned beef & cabbage and a vegetarian tofu meatloaf with light mushroom gravy that was very good. Sides included mashed potatoes and green beans. We also had peppery tomato soup for an appetizer and delicious home-made key lime pie for dessert. I employed a tasty draft of Appalachian Ale to wash down my first and second helpings.
The Holiday warming trend was not kind to White Grass. About twenty kilometers of terrain remained open on Thursday, but the snow was spotty and the valley was pretty brown. At Grace time we substituted a silent prayer for snow (which was granted with three inches overnight). Our fellow diners ranged from highly hirsute young pinheads to 60ish corporate lawyers. Call it quirky, eclectic, or freeheeler’s heaven, but no examination of the local color of Canaan Valley is complete without a stop at the White Grass Ski Touring Center and Cafe.
After dinner we made the 15 minute drive north on Rt 32 into Davis, West Virginia for our overnight accommodations at the very quaint Meyer House Bed and Breakfast. Easy to find on Third Street near Thomas Avenue, our stay at the huge (4500 square feet), old Victorian B&B was highly anticipated by the girls. Polite and welcoming, hosts Jon and Cindy Robeson did not disappoint.
My daughters, ages 13 and 21, got all giggly and camera happy when we checked into the large and meticulously decorated “Peach” guest room on the ground floor. This room features a finely crafted fireplace circa 1890, a frilly double bed, and a dual trundle accommodating up to four persons. It is one of three beautifully appointed guest rooms available at historic Meyer House. Priced between a basic motel room and a characterless condo, I proudly recommend the Meyer House B&B to anyone looking to enjoy classy country comfort in the Canaan Valley area. It is within easy walking distance of Davis’ restaurants, shops and grocery.
Young professional transplants, Jon and Cindy migrated from Northern Virginia two years ago to live a B&B dream amidst the outdoor paradise of the Davis/Blackwater Falls/Canaan Valley area. Jon practices law (and skiing) and occasionally posts local weather data on the DCSki message board. Cindy wrote an MBA thesis on how to operate a B&B and displays superb attention to detail as a hostess. Before settling in for bedtime we watched a recent Ben Stiller film called Envy on the large screen TV in the Meyer House parlor. I couldn’t help thinking the Robeson’s are boldly living a dream that would generate much envy in many urban/suburban snowriders.
Friday morning we awoke to a couple inches of new snow swaddling the West Virginia landscape in its rightful January blanket of white. Cindy made us an extreme skier’s breakfast which included OJ, fruit cup with yogurt, a nutmeg muffin, delicious French toast stuffed with cream cheese, bacon, and plenty of coffee and hot chocolate. Fresh snow, good grub, a great hill just down the road, this old would-be ski bum was stoked for a second day at Timberline.
T-Line sported three or four inches of new snow when we pulled into the parking lot on Friday at 9:15 am. Just like Thursday, we proceeded to have a blast exploring the 1,000 lift-served vertical feet of this mountain. Again we were on new demo gear most of the time and led by Jimmy Swann, our adopted West Virginia ski buddy and possessor of local knowledge. This time I even got the opportunity to test new gear on fresh snow in the vicinity of a treed area on the mountain called Glade Runner. Great conditions were found all day on The Drop and other blue/black cruisers surrounding the Thunder Draft triple. Even the heavily used intermediate Dew Drop trail was in real good shape until quite late. It was tough saying goodbye at 4:30 pm on Friday as snow showers continued to fall.
As a long-time peruser of the information, articles and message board traffic on DCSki, it’s obvious to me that Timberline has a pained, but fanatical following. Lengthy online discussions covering a wide scope of weather, management, infrastructure, and travel issues almost always conclude that, regardless of everything this, this is one sweet mountain to ski. Having only made two brief prior visits to Timberline in the early and mid-1990’s, under less than optimal conditions, I always felt a little left out of the DCSki discussions about the area. Two fine weekdays on a ski hill can be mighty enlightening about a mountain’s positive attributes.
I found the Timberline ski operation to be very professional: good snow coverage and many open runs despite recent unfavorable weather, convenient and well-operated lodge and cafeteria, no disruptive lift malfunctions, and apparently great cooperation with local ski retailers. Because of the special demo day rates and ongoing college week discounts I suspect the slopes were busier than usual for weekdays, but lift lines were still negligible both days. I believe more demo days are scheduled later in January; check shop web sites.
I must give praise to Ski Chalet and Alpine Ski Shop for offering the discount lift tickets and their support for demo days. Kudos also go out to Timberline ski area, the manufacturer’s reps, and guys like Kelly of Ski Chalet who set up a really squared-away demo operation. Over the course of the two days I must have tried 8-10 pairs of skis with no hassles and lots of ski time. I think a pair of 175cm Fischer RX9’s were my favorite. Although other skis also seemed to forgive my ancient technique and suit mid-Atlantic conditions including the Dynastar Legend 4800’s, Atomic Izor 9.7, and Rossignol Zenith Z9. My college-age daughter’s favorite was the Atomic 9.6 Divas in 152cm. She also liked the Dynastar Exclusive Legend Fashion. It was hard for us to return to our own gear after experiencing such great rides all day. The demo experience gave us much food for thought on future ski purchases - overdue for all six skiing members of my family.
In conclusion, get thee to the slopes. As one of my fellow lift riders at T-Line remarked about mid-Atlantic weather and skiing, “they tend to build ski areas in the right places.” Meaning, during winter us Metro area folks are far more likely to find a skier friendly climate at one of our mid-Atlantic ski hills than anything we’ll glimpse out the kitchen window.
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.