A ski resort with terrain for all levels and closeby lodging, lots of apres ski activities and a good ski school make for great vacations on snow.
Singer-songwriter John Denver said it all: “Take me home country roads.” Home, in this case, may well be the four ski resorts in the Mountain State. All have their own charms, but the King of the Mountain here remains Snowshoe, a complete resort rivaling anything in the Eastern region. It is indeed a true destination ski resort and tops in the Mid-Atlantic region.
All of the state’s ski resorts are located in the Appalachian Mountains where winter comes early and sticks around. The good news is all of the resorts are within a one-day drive from major cities such as Pittsburgh, Penn., Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio. You'll find ski schools at all of the areas.
The late John Denver did so much for the state’s tourism that a decade and a half after his untimely death in a glider plane crash, his words linger in almost every description. West Virginia country roads and Mountain Mama are simply “Almost Heaven.”
Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County is a self-contained, full-service ski resort destination with the need for a bit of driving experience getting there (it’s been described in some quarters as “hairy” during a snowstorm). The area is well known for being "upside down" with its village facilities at the top of the mountain and skiers and snowboarders heading downhill. The closest cities are Elgin to the north and Martinson and Lewisburg to the south. This is West Virginia's largest ski resort by far.
That said, you got here and are ready to have fun. The resort marketers like to say Snowshoe “is part pure adventure, part cushy comfort, 100 percent fresh-mountain-air happiness.” That’s pretty much on the mark. It's an ideal resort for a family ski vacation.
First the skiing and snowboarding: There are three distinct regions to enjoy and each has its own mountain personality: Snowshoe Basin, Silver Creek, and Western Territory.
Snowshoe Basin has seven lifts, including two high-speed quads. Beginning skiers can play on easy runs like the Log Slide and Whiffletree. Then, move on up to the more intermediate, but moderate trails, like Gandy Dancer, Stemwinder and Moonshine.
Advanced skiers and boarders will get their kicks riding the 800-foot vertical drop on black diamond runs like Knot Bumper Glades and Grabhammer. Lower Shay’s Revenge is a double black diamond run for experts only.
The Silver Creek area has beginner trails like Cubb Run and the Knifeblade and intermediate trails like the Slaymaker and the Buck Saw. Expert skiers and boarders will play in the Flying Eagle Glades, Bear Claw and Flying Eagles, where 12 trails are open for night skiing. Adults and kids can fly down one of five snow tubing lanes at The Coca-Cola Tube Park. There is also Kid’s World and a snowboard school located in Silver Creek.
The Western Territory carries a 1,500-foot vertical. Then, hop the Western Express high-speed lift to get back to the top for another downhiller. 1.5 miles of downhill skiing should satisfy your need for speed. Shay’s Revenge has 52 percent steeps.
Need some glamming up after a day or two on the slopes? The village of Snowshoe has a luxurious spa. Dining offerings are many. Steaks, barbecue and fancy sandwiches are among the food options. For some offbeat fun, head for the Sunrise Backcountry Hut in a spruce forest two miles out in the backcountry. Don’t let the “hut” thing fool you, it’s a terrific restaurant and you can spend the night, too.
Timberline Mountain is located in Davis, W. Va. in the Canaan Valley along the higher range of the Allegheny Mountains. The summit is at 4,268 feet and the vertical drop is 1,000 feet. Normally you can count on good snow with the snowmaking system. The stunning views are always there.
Beginners (and better skiers, too) love to cruise the longest ski trail anywhere in the region. Salamander is two miles of greeny-green skiing and riding wending its lazy way down the mountain. Intermediates find wide trails while more advanced players can have fun in the five gladed areas for dedicated tree skiing, weather cooperating.
Timberline is two miles from Canaan Valley Resort, its Davis-centered neighbor, but this is the place for intermediate skiers and advance skiing and riding fun. Recent new owners are making a difference in the facilities.
Canaan Valley Resort, dating back to 1968, is actually a West Virginia-owned state park, managed by an out-of-state company. Skiing and snowboarding is important, but there’s much more to this interesting resort. The terrain is covered by 75 percent snowmaking. Regardless, it is certainly family friendly resort.
The story here is the virtually endless recreation and family fun to be found year-round as it is indeed a four-season destination. Canaan Valley is the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains with a base elevation of 3,100 feet.
The skiing and riding is on 43 slopes and trails (11 open at night) on 90 acres and is fairly well divided with beginning and intermediate trails leading the way. Most of the beginners’ runs are clustered near the bottom of the mountain. Trails marked black are on the easier side of the designation. There is one snowboarding park. The vertical drop is 850 feet and there are five lifts. The longest run here is 1.5 miles.
Canaan Valley Resort sits on a plateau overlooking the valley, offering truly sweeping views. There’s an 160-room lodge, 23 cabins, and 34 campsites. Cross-country trails, too.
Winterplace Ski Resort is small, but fun, for beginners (38 percent of its slopes) in Ghent, in Southern West Virginia, some 200 miles west of Charlottesville. The better news? It’s just five minutes off I-77. The ski area, which opened in the 1980s, has 90 acres of ski terrain with a 603-foot vertical. Go for the 1.4 mile intermediate-level Panorama Run.
There are 27 slopes and one terrain park. Lodging is a bit limited, but if you stay at the rather large Cabins at Winterplace (or not) head for breakfast at Mountain Mama’s café. (Should you get tired of all the John Denver references, ski in another state… well, maybe not Colorado.)
There’s less than a mile of skiable terrain and one lift at Oglebay Resort. That means skiing near Morgantown (1.5 hours away) and while the fun is there for so many other activities, forget a ski trip here unless, well, you’re already here or just want to get out of town to slide.
West Virginia has relatively easy access to skiing and snowboarding, along with tons of year-round recreational fun. It’s the only state that falls entirely within the vast Appalachian Mountain Range with peaks reaching over 4,800 feet. Snowshoe, Timberline, and Canaan Valley bring skiers and snowboarders from some of the largest cities in the Northeast, including Pittsburgh, Pa.; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Md. and Richmond, Va. Winterplace visitors come from Charlestown, W.Va., but it’s about a six-hour drive.
There are four major resorts: Snowshoe Mountain, Timberline, Canaan Valley, and Winterplace ski resort. There’s some “minor league” skiing at Oglebay Resort.
Don’t even try to make this comparison. Snowshoe is the state’s premier resort that features three distinct ski regions, 60 trails, progressive terrain parks and accessible natural glades, all serviced by an efficient chairlift network. The Village of Snowshoe includes excellent restaurants, hopping bars and a nightclub. They also have an eight-lane tubing park, snowmobile tours and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Winterplace ski resort is a small, basically out-of-the-way resort with some wide beginner trails found all over the mountain. Intermediates and advanced skiers won’t find much challenge here. It can be a fun ski area for a day if you want to make the trek. But, Snowshoe is king of the mountains.
Figure on coming between mid-December until early or, if lucky, mid-March. Most resorts try to open in time for Thanksgiving, and with the powerful snowmaking capabilities and a bit of help from Mother Nature in the form of cold temps, they often can succeed.
The amount of snowfall varies from place to place in the state. December is the first month of winter and snowfall in West Virginia. Temperatures across the state range from highs of 42F to lows of 17F. January twins up as both the coldest and snowiest month. Temperatures across the state vary from highs of 43F to lows of 13F degrees In January, while snowfall varies from 10 inches in the western regions to 15 inches in the eastern regions. February to March means an end to serious winter with sporadic snowfall with temperatures ranging from highs of 47F to lows of 15F.
West Virginia is affordable in terms of both skiing and lodging when compared to New England or the Western destinations. Snowshoe will hit your wallet just a little bit more, but the old saw that “you get what you pay for” applies here.
Canaan Valley is the closest to Washington, D.C. at 179 miles, about a 3.5-hour drive. Close behind is Timberline at 180 miles, about a 3.5-hour drive. Snowshoe is a bit farther at 220 miles, about a 4.5-5-hour drive. Winterplace is the farthest from D.C. at 323 miles, about a 5-hour drive.
Well, they may not be typical "ski towns", but there are a couple of fun places to consider visiting during your ski trip.
Davis is an old lumber town. It also has the distinction of having the highest elevation of any town in West Virginia. Explore the old town and historic buildings. Skiing at Canaan Valley Resort is just .03 miles away. The town has some very good restaurants and craft beer. Don’t miss Hellbender Burritos and Blackwater Brewing Company.
Elkins has an old-fashioned flair 45-miles away from Snowshoe. Start with a scenic train ride on the vintage New Tygart Flyer that takes you through the stunning mountain landscapes and lands you back in town for dinner Note: Train only goes as far as Tygart Junction in Nov. and Dec. Try the classic Custard Stand diner. Consider a stay at the historic Graceland Inn. Enjoy a campy, old-time variety show at the American Theater or Gandy Dancer Theater. Take in some good old folk sounds and arts during the Augusta Heritage Center’s bluegrass and old-time workshop weeks.
Visitors booking flights to West Virginia should fly to Huntington or Charleston. From either city, you can book flights to surrounding airports, like Morgantown Municipal Airport (MGW), Mid–Ohio Valley Regional Airport (PKB), and the Tri-State Airport (HTS). The airport closest to Snowshoe Mountain resort is Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg, about 48 miles away.
All of West Virginia airports are categorized as small or nonhub airports. They have only domestic and regional flights to U.S. cities. There are 7 airports in West Virginia which passengers can use for commercial and charter flights. Yeager Airport and Tri-State Airport are very busy. Air service is provided by American, Delta, Spirit, and United Airlines.
There are 10 Amtrak stations in West Virginia and two routes that travel in the state: Capitol Limited and Cardinal. Both of these routes are long distance, so rail service is limited. Driving is generally the way if heading to the hills from major Eastern cities: Washington, D.C. is 324 miles; from Virginia it’s 240 miles and Maryland is about 330 miles.
Understand that West Virginia has enough skiing for the average family and mom won't have trouble tracking the kids here for the most part. But it truly only has one major ski resort – Snowshoe – that’s on par with what you’d expect in New England and Colorado, Utah and California.