When we booked our five-day ski trip for two families on a balmy mid-Atlantic January 1st we got more than a few skeptical looks. The number one question from our shorts and t-shirt clad friends was: “Will you be able to get a refund?”
But we reasoned Snowshoe in February is sure to have snow. We were not disappointed when we arrived February 11, 2007. After living with the resort’s web site and Weather.com on our computer favorites list for most of January we slowly watched the belated snow arrive and the number of open slopes increase. By the beginning of February Snowshoe was 100 percent open.
We arrived Sunday afternoon and checked into Allegheny Springs to discover that condo #240 had an awesome view of the Ballhooter lift and summit area and was a few steps and a flight of stairs from the slope-side locker room and ski storage. In short: very convenient.
We picked up our rentals Sunday and were impressed with the new (at least to us) Expedition Station rental area complete with boot drying equipment and helpful staff. We could not wait until morning so we decided to night ski at Silver Creek. We timed our arrival at the Village shuttle-bus stop perfectly to walk right on the bus and in 10 minutes we were taking our first run of the season, a nice nighttime cruise down Cub Run. The temperature actually rose a little from the daytime and the wind was nil, making for a very nice skiing experience. The slopes were virtually empty and my brother-in-law, Steve and his son William and I hit every one of the 11 open slopes numerous times. We got in between 15 and 20 runs before they raised the ropes at 9 p.m. and then we skied right up to the bus door, walked on and were back in the cozy condo in a few minutes. I always find the free shuttle efficient.
Monday was equally nice conditions and we thoroughly enjoyed Snowshoe’s new Soaring Eagle detachable quad lift, which is the $3.3 million replacement for the old Widowmaker lift. The time up Widowmaker has been cut two thirds. There were no lift lines and from bottom to top was a mere 3-minute ride. J-Hook, Hootenanny and Widowmaker trails were all in light powdery shape. We took the narrow cross mountain cruiser, Flume to reach the northern area of the main mountain and our four kids thoroughly enjoyed the wide beginner slopes, with a few steeps to help them build their confidence. Yew Pine, Log Slide and Skidway are all long, wide, excellent beginner slopes that offer new and timid skiers a chance to build their skills away from the short runs of the “bunny slopes” with all the ski schoolers.
After being spoiled by the speed of the express quad we quickly tired of the slower triple chair lift of Powder Ridge and headed to Ballhooter quad express for some more quick rides and good trips down Gandy Dancer. A drink beside the fire pit at the Boathouse wrapped up a great first day of the trip.
The Village at Snowshoe offers several dining options from the Cheat Mountain Pizza parlor to the $30 entrees of Village Bistro. We chose Foxfire Grille. As with previous years we were not disappointed and our party of four escaped with an $80 tab including alcohol.
Tuesday started off with nice slope conditions despite a light drizzle. The drizzle turned to an ice storm with heavy fog around noon and here lies the downside of the detachable quads. In freezing rain they can freeze and several people reported being stranded on the high-speed lifts for close to an hour in the ice storm before being manually brought in. The rain had already chased me to the pot of chili in the condo so I had a warm view of the Ballhooter riders shedding their sheets of ice.
A nice advantage of the slope-side condo is checking conditions from the living room window and balcony. Wednesday’s view was bleak. The balcony revealed a windy 10-degree day and the slopes were encased in the remnants of Tuesday afternoon’s ice storm. Upon inquiring about conditions, a ski patroller honestly declared: “It’s groomed ice.”
Not something you would pay to ski, but since our tickets were already paid for I ventured out. Conditions were hard, crusty and virtually un-skiable on the steeps. I felt the overnight work of the groomers as several slopes vibrated my legs like I was sliding down rumble strips on the side of the interstate. However, I was pleased to discover it was snowing fairly steadily in the northern sections of the mountain so I spent considerable time on Powder Ride and Powder Monkey lifts finding a thin layer of powder to soften the icy surface. My daughters, Hanna, Sally and my wife, Lisa, soon joined and the conditions improved throughout the day. Again, no lines allowed maximum skiing.
The final day of the family vacation always brings a dilemma. We need to pack up our cluttered family of four after five days, check out and drive four hours. Do we really have time and energy to ski? A sunny sky and fresh powder answered the question when we awoke. We were tired and had a long drive but still got in a solid four and a half hours of skiing and hit most areas of the main mountain several times. Natural snow and good snowmaking Wednesday night left the mountain perfectly covered with light fluff. As we had each day of the trip we skied without lines. Around 3 p.m. Thursday the first “lift line” of our entire trip appeared at the base of Ballhooter and I took it as a sign our day was done.
The bitter cold of Thursday (wind chill around zero) took its toll Thursday on us all, but none worse than our Suburban. When we returned to the packed car the battery was dead. The Snowshoe police were tied up and unable to offer a jump. A check with the Snowshoe garage revealed they would jump me for $20. I was pleased that a helpful lifeguard at the pool said she would resuscitate it for free. Secretly, though, I had wished it would not start. Another day atop Snowshoe is never a bad thing.
Night skiing at Snowshoe’s Silver Creek area:
Born and raised in the D.C. area, George Lyle is the County Attorney for Henry County in southern Virginia. a former newspaper columnist, and mediocre but enthusiastic skier.