I wish every Sunday was Superbowl Sunday. Not because of a love for football. Rather it’s the love of uncrowded ski slopes. The past two Superbowls my wife, Karen, and I have enjoyed the slopes of Massanutten. Massanuttten, at a little over 2 hours from our home in Takoma Park, is the day-tripping resort that is often neglected. Everyone heads to Liberty or Whitetail. But the few extra minutes added on the drive to Massanutten means that it never gets nearly as crowded as Liberty and Whitetail. For skiers living in the Western burbs of Virginia, Massanutten is actually just as close.
Last year we met up with a friend from Culpepper on a balmy day of 65 degrees. We had worried that the slopes would be a slushfest. But somehow the groomers at Massanutten had done such a great job that the snow fell from our skis like Rocky Mountain powder. We had one of the best days skiing ever. How often do you get to ski in short sleeves in great snow in the mid-Atlantic? And the slopes were empty. We zoomed down each run and skied right onto the lift.
Hoping for a repeat of last year, Karen and I headed out to Massanutten again on Superbowl Sunday XL, undaunted by the recent spell of warm weather. All but one slope was listed as open with a base of 20-40 inches. But unlike last year where it had been warm and dry, it rained hard all day Saturday. When we arrived at the ticket office, the temperature was 32 degrees and they were blowing snow on one of the expert slopes, ParaDice. We warmed up on the beginner trail Easy Street since we hadn’t skied in almost two months. Apparently the very wet slopes had frozen overnight and the groomers ground the ice to create a layer resembling the crushed ice in a snow cone. Surprising, this worked fine on the beginner hill making it a really fast bunny slope.
We moved onto the intermediate slope Rebel Yell, getting off the lift at mid-station the first few times and carving our way easily through the ice crystals. We took the chair to the top of Rebel Yell. The upper portion of this trail is much steeper than the lower part. I think it may actually be steeper than the expert runs at the resort. We were afraid that the steep section might be a sheet of ice. But instead it was a deep layer of the ice chunks. We both found the frozen mush very difficult to ski, requiring a lot of effort to carve turns. We also tried intermediate trails Lower Dixie Dare and Mass Transit. The icy hard pack on Lower Dixie reminded us of night skiing at Liberty. And Mass Transit contained the thick heavy layer of ice crystals.
After only a couple of hours of skiing we started to fatigue. Still, we couldn’t ski at Massanutten without a few runs on ParaDice and Diamond Jim. These two expert runs have a vertical drop of over 1,100 feet, the longest of any slopes in Virginia and Pennsylvania. I worried that it might take all day to get down in the difficult “snow.” The lift was completely empty making it feel like a ghost ride on the way up. My fears proved ungrounded, as Diamond Jim was neither icy nor thick with death cookies. The snow was in better condition than on any of the other trails. I zoomed right down finding only a couple of icy spots. So on the next run I ventured under the snow guns on ParaDice as Karen took a break. The fresh layer of man-made snow was a joy. I just had to stop twice on the way down to clean the snow-spray off my goggles. It’s weird when the expert slopes are easier than the intermediate slopes.
As the morning turned to afternoon I could see more and more first time and new skiers riding up the beginner lift. But only a few souls braved the expert terrain. I didn’t mind. We finished the day by skiing down the expert runs to an empty lift while the rest of the world sat in front of the television watching pre-game shows. We called it quits mid-afternoon as our legs felt the burn. So we actually made it home in time to see the big game. We didn’t watch it and instead checked the weather forecasts for the coming week. Cold temps and great snowmaking all week. It should be great conditions at the mid-Atlantic resorts this weekend. If only they would have another Superbowl.
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.