WEEKEND AT SNOWSHOE MOUNTAIN RESORT
An insiders guide to an ever-expanding West Virginia wonder.
If you havent been to West Virginias Snowshoe Mountain Resort lately, then youre not qualified to crack any jokes about the Mountain State or the state of skiing there. A blizzard of big bucks dumped on this well-known resort has made Snowshoe bigger and better than ever. But it takes insider knowledge and experience to plan the ideal weekend at the new and improved Snowshoe.
First, a confession from a diehard West Virginia fan. My father was born in West Virginia and I grew up in neighboring Virginia, just ten miles from the West Virginia line. Ive skied every mountain, run virtually every river, hiked or biked most trails, and explored practically every inch of the state. I love West Virginia and Ill happily confess that Im pretty darned biased about it.
Those who have visions of locals wearing garbage bags for parkas can check their misconceptions at the state line. In the last decade, West Virginia has turned into a true four-season outdoors mecca for those in the know. With world-class whitewater, rock climbing that draws lots of Europeans, monster mountain biking, and a plethora of winter sports, West Virginia is now packed with visitors and residents sporting modern clothes, gear, and very non-southern accents. Save your Hefty bag for carrying those smelly ski clothes home.
My big-time bias for the state has made me a true insider when it comes to planning perfect winter weekends for friends visiting Snowshoe. I know where to eat, sleep, and ski. Just ask my many mid-Atlantic friends whove been blessed with one of my fine-tuned weekend plans.
A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON
Last season, Snowshoe celebrated its 25th year of operation by marking a new beginning in the history of the resort (and mid-Atlantic skiing). Before you head up Cheat Mountain to Snowshoe, a little lesson in its past will make you appreciate the historic changes now transforming the resort.
Snowhsoe was founded by Dr. Thomas Doc Birmingham, who had already found southern ski resort success with Sugar and Beech in North Carolina. Doc was enticed by Cheat Mountains height (500 feet above any New England ski area) and the near 200 inches of snow that the area averaged. He loves to tell the story of naming the resort after the elusive Snowshoe hare that graces these mountains, rather than calling it Cheat Mountain Resort and proceeding to scare skiers before they even got there.
Way back in 1974, the resort opened with three chair lifts and nine slopes, including the Jean-Claude Killy-designed Cupp Run. It quickly expanded, with slopes and facilities sprawling all over the top of the mountain in the 70s, 80s, and early-90s (the resort base is at the top of the mountain here). With the purchase of nearby Silver Creek in 1992, the resort had grown to an incredible 56 slopes and 11 lifts.
Snowshoes second quarter-century of growth is going to be even bigger. Intrawest, developer of the likes of Whistler/Blackcomb, Stratton, Copper, and Tremblant, has poured more than $100 million into Snowshoe since purchasing it in 1995. This includes more slopes, more night skiing, new lodging, more restaurants, new activities like snowshoeing, shopping, slopeside services, and more. Thus, the weekend (and weekday) forecast is brighter than ever up on old Cheat Mountain.
CALL IN SICK
The first thing I ask friends who are planning a weekend at the new Snowshoe is whether they can either go during the week or extend their trip to include a few weekdays. Like many eastern resorts, Snowshoe is unavoidably more crowded on the weekend. If you can make the entire trip or at least part of it during the week, its well worth it. Youll be rewarded with a lack of lift lines, easy parking, and less-crowded dining and other activities.
Along with trying to include weekdays, I strongly recommend extending a Snowshoe trip to more than two nights. Snowshoe has grown into much more than a place to make as many downhill runs as possible before heading back to work. Theres enough to keep you busy for many days on and off the slopes.
DO YOU HAVE A RESERVATION, MAAM?
My ideal Snowshoe plan also includes making some reservations before your trip. Its well worth any slight lack of flexibility once you get there. Trust me.
The first thing to reserve in advance is a room at the inn (or, in Snowshoes case, the condo). Condos are definitely the way to go at Snowshoe, with a wide range of choices all over the mountain and down at Silver Creek. Though they may cost a bit more, the space and amenities gained (including things like kitchens, fireplaces, and living rooms) make a big difference in any experience.
Snowshoe veterans all have their favorite condos and houses, but Im already a big fan of the new options. Ask for a junior studio, studio, or a one- or two-bedroom unit in Rimfire Lodge, which is right in the heart of the new ski-in/ski-out mountaintop Village Center. Its an ideal base at the heart of the action. If youd rather be away from the hubbub, inquire about the quieter Camp Four two- and three-bedroom townhomes at the edge of the slopes.
Both of these new condo complexes will work well for families, though the units down at Silver Creek are also very popular and convenient. If you want more of a European-style hotel experience, its tough to beat the Whistlepunk Inn, which takes me back to my Army days in the Alps. When making your reservation, be sure to ask about packages that include accommodations, rentals, lessons, discounts, and more--Ive found some real savings in past packages up at Snowshoe and that means more money for food, drink, and gear.
Once you have a place to stay, you need to make dinner plans. It may seem silly to book reservations for meals beforehand, but its not. My long-time favorite (The Red Fox) is typically sold out on weekends and the new upscale choice (Elis) will quickly become similar as word spreads. So, just trust me, and make late-evening reservations for Elis on Friday night and The Red Fox on Saturday night. When choosing your time, dont forget the lights blaze Silver Creeks slopes well into the night.
Finally, if you plan to try a new winter sport (it was snowshoeing for me last season), make a reservation for a massage at The Whistlepunk Spa (ask for Mary Magnason). Whistlepunk also has an outdoor hot tub and an indoor pool. Further up the mountain, H2O Zone rents out private hot tubs and also offers massage. Whichever place you choose and whether you go for a massage or one of the hot tubs, youll thank me in the morning.
For all of these reservations, one call cant really do it all, but the Snowshoe operator can connect you with all of these folks (see The Essential Snowshoe). Once youve made your various reservations, relax in the knowledge that your time at Snowshoe is in capable hands (including your massage). Just dont forget that Hefty bag.
If you are coming in on Friday, try to arrive by mid- to late-afternoon. Youll avoid lines at check-in (they efficiently do this at the base of the mountain) and youll have time to get the lay of the land.
Once up the mountain and in your accommodations of choice, head to Silver Creek to get any creaks out of the old ski legs during a session of night skiing. This resort within a resort has 14 slopes lit, making for a fun first night. The runs stay torched until 10pm, so late dinner reservations arent a bad idea.
A lack of lift lines means you can crank out lots of quick runs here. The black slopes arent lit (yet), so save them for uncrowded quickies later in your stay. The longer blue runs like Fox Chase and Cascade will provide perfect warm-ups.
Other options at Silver Creek, which always remains less crowded than Snowshoe proper, include: a very popular tubing hill for kids and kids at heart, the most elaborate terrain park on the east coast, and the regions largest all-snow halfpipe (more than 300 feet). Off the slopes, the massive self-contained Silver Creek Lodge offers anything you need to rent, buy, eat, or drink. If youre not eating at Elis later, the open-hearth pizzas in the Bears Den are Silver Creek specialties.
Its nice to unhurriedly check all this Silver Creek stuff Friday night, knowing its there for later in your stay. Silver Creek still remains one of my favorite secret parts of Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
After your outing at Snowshoes little sister, keep your reservation at Elis. Part of the new Rimfire Lodge development of accommodations, shopping, dining, and services, Elis is the creation of former Greenbrier executive chef Robert Wong. Specializing in regional cuisine in an upscale mountain lodge atmosphere, Wong brought The Greenbriers tradition of West Virginia hospitality and fine dining up the mountain to Snowshoe. Youll be thankful for the reservations (and the food).
If youre up to it, Connection nightclub is open until 2am and features a live band, while quieter Rosas Cantina generally has low-key trios or the like. If you like to laugh, the Comedy Cellar is one of the mountains most popular attractions. Hilarious host Roy Riley brings in guest comedians from throughout the U.S., packing the place for several shows each weekend (one on Friday and two on Saturday). For smaller crowds, the Comedy Cellar has a 9pm showtime (8:30pm and 10:00pm shows and an early arrival essential on Saturdays). In any case, hit the hay early so youll be awake to experience Snowshoes best slopes at their best.
Set your alarm and get up early. Plan on having a quick breakfast in your condo or heading down to Auntie Pastas for more hearty fare (the omelettes are my favorite). Just try to be over at the top of Snowshoes Western Territory by 8:30am, when the ropes drop for famed Cupp Run and the new sister slope, Shays Revenge.
When veteran Snowshoe visitors talk about their favorite runs, its Cupp Run (and now Shays Revenge). With 1,500 feet in vertical drop and up to 60% steeps, theres some serious terrain in the Western Territory. A new quad (reducing lift times from 20 to six minutes) and the addition of Shays Revenge make the area better than ever.
If you get there early and its been groomed, be prepared for some of the best skiing in the east. Even if conditions arent optimal, this is definitely the place to spend your morning(s). Cupp tends to be smooth and fast, while the bumps on the second half of Shays will take their revenge on almost anyone. Last season, Snowshoe reclassified the lower half of Shays as double black diamond (theres a cutoff lane over to Cupp if the bumps prove too much).
After a morning in the Western Territory, the lunch options are many. One neat new possibility that many Snowshoe visitors dont even know exists (you have to ski the Western Territory to get there) is Arbuckles Cabin. Located at the bottom of Cupp Run and Shays Revenge, this little place offers up creative hot stews and a wide variety of beers and other beverages. If the sun is shining, theres no place Id rather be after skiing the Western Territory. Theres a huge deck, which features music and cookouts on weekends with good weather.
For the afternoon, head over to the main side of the mountain to experience the bulk of Snowshoes slopes. Ive generally found that the further away you get from Snowshoes largest lodging and dining areas, the smaller the crowds on the slopes and lifts. My perfect afternoon of skiing would include a long easy run down the likes of greens like Skidway or the Flume series and then some quality time on the mountains best blue and bumpy run, Ball Hooter (the lift by the same name is also generally less crowded).
Finally, as the day heads toward dusk, get over to the edge of the mountain with some runs on steep Widowmaker and rides on the fast Widowmaker quad. The steeps here will probably bring your day to a burning close.
If, like me, your days on the slopes sometimes tend to end earlier than sunset, there are plenty of other options. If Snowshoe has some natural white stuff (and theyre more likely to than anywhere in the mid-Atlantic), try snowshoeing on the trails they use for hiking and mountain biking. One other new option added by Intrawest is a horse-drawn sleigh ride to the summit.
The evening can mean more fun under the lights at Silver Creek, a spa visit (especially if you tried something new), or some time at one of the regions best happy hours (from 4:30pm to 7pm in Connection). Just be sure to save time and stomach space for dinner at The Red Fox (remember those reservations I made you make?).
The Red Fox is long-established as one of the regions top restaurants. Owners Margaret Ann Smith and Brian Ball offer an elegant European chalet atmosphere and a variety of regional cookery, including some of the best game and fish dishes youll find on or off any mountain. Ive never had a bad experience at The Red Fox and neither have the several dozen others Ive sent there over the years. For the complete Red Fox experience, be sure to have a cocktails or after-dinner drinks in Yodelers Pub.
If this is your night for the Comedy Cellar, you wont be disappointed (just go early). By the way, Roy and other professionals can tell some great West Virginia jokes, but out-of-state visitors who value their ski legs may want to refrain from the practice.
If you didnt hit Cupp Run and Shays Revenge Saturday, be there by 8:30am today. Its best to get in several runs before the late-risers show up later in the morning. Afterwards, breakfast at Auntie Pastas or Skidder Restaurant is an ideal reward.
Ive found that the longer you can stay on Sunday, the better. Head back over to the main side of Snowshoe and youll find that the slopes start emptying and the lift lines evaporate as you head into the afternoon. Even if you have to check out of your accommodations, parking is generally easy and you can use the changing rooms to get out of your ski clothes (dont forget that Hefty bag). Its well worth a few hours of driving in the dark if you want to get some uncrowded runs in.
One other reason for staying Sunday is to check out the complimentary shaped skis demo and lesson they offer at 4848 Mountain Performance Shop. Snowshoes rental program now offers 100% shaped skis.
Of course, smart Snowshoe visitors like me actually try to stay at least through Monday. Even if its just for a few more morning runs in the Western Territory, it makes an ideally planned weekend at Snowshoe even better.
The Essential Snowshoe
Information Snowshoe Mountain Resort, P.O. Box 10, Snowshoe, WV 26209; (304) 572-1000.
Getting There Snowshoe is within a half-day drive of half the population of the U.S. Its just five hours from Washington, DC. Its located on Route 219, 48 miles south of Elkins and 65 miles north of Lewisburg and I-64.
Stats Vertical rise: 1,500 feet. Skiable acreage: 200 acres. Lifts: 11 chairlifts (4 quad and 7 triple). One additional handle-tow serves the tubing area.
Sleeping In Price is no object: The new Rimfire Lodge and Camp Four condos are by far the best bet. The European-style hotel rooms at the Whistlepunk Inn are fine for the non-condo community. For a family-reunion: There are lots of houses to rent, as well as the condos above and those at Silver Creek. On a budget: The Inn at Snowshoe is at the base of the mountain, but the savings probably isnt worth it. On top, Spruce Lodge is the cheapest choice.
Dining Out The Red Fox and Elis are highly recommended for dinner. Auntie Pastas is perfect for a casual breakfast (omelettes) or lunch (pastas), as is The Bears Den (open-hearth oven pizzas) down at Silver Creek. Snowshoe abounds with other eateries.
Kid Care Snowhsoe accepts ages 2 and older at the Edelweiss Building between 8am and 5pm, while Silver Creek Lodge welcomes those 12 weeks and older from 8am to 10pm. Of course, a wide range of instruction and on-slope programs are available for families.
Family Fun Silver Creek is the best bet for families and the expanded tubing park is the perfect place. The Kids Kamp, with Brr Rabbits (4-6) and Mogul Busters (7-12), offers extensive lessons.
Boarding Scene Silver Creek has the regions best terrain park and halfpipe.
Off Campus Friendly Elk River Touring Center at the bottom of the mountain offers cross-country skiing, a creative restaurant, a lively bar, and weekend entertainment.
Hands Free If you choose an on-slope condo, ski-in/ski-out is easy.--WLS