Timberline, Whitegrass, and Canaan Valley Resort
Story and Photos by David McCue
The Mountain State of West Virginia has four major alpine ski resorts and during winter storm events they often gather up most of the best snow in the Mid Atlantic; the whole region has great skiing but I have an especially soft spot for the high Canaan Valley. Two of our best alpine resorts are there with a world class cross-country area tucked in between. These places thrive on deep natural snow and when winter storm warnings start stacking up its where I want to be. And so it was last weekend; if it’s going to be biblical, why not head toward Canaan?
The Canaan Valley is best known for its pristine wilderness. The Dolly Sods, Canaan Wildlife Refuge and Blackwater Falls are spectacular places all year; in winter throw into the mix two alpine resorts, Timberline Four Seasons and Canaan Valley Resort; then between the two and virtually adjoining them both is the magnificent Whitegrass Touring Center.
Miles of trails and ski runs stretch like a web and the silk and gossamer are woods and glades. This is the main reason why the valley is my personal favorite for skiing after a storm. To peer around every Spruce and Beech, to pass over small falls and creek beds you need deep snow, a good attitude and an open mind, and you need the people with love and commitment to the region to open that up.
Like so many of us I watched the storm forecasts and computer models last week until my eyes actually flickered on their own. The bullseye kept moving but I made my bet on Thursday afternoon, threw skis in the car and pointed it north toward Davis, West Virginia. Anytime I can ski off a lift into a fresh 2 to 4 inches I’m a happy camper– this was projected to be 2 to 4 FEET. I was delirious. In the end the totals in the Valley were around 28’, so if not Biblical, epic will do.
The first rule of epochal snow storms is to be in position before the event, never be stuck on the outside looking in unless you have a very good reason, meaning your best reason for the next 3-5 years. I drove up Thursday, so Friday morning I was waiting like a kid before Christmas at Timberline.
I spent the morning skiing groomers as the snowflakes began, great runs top to bottom, but always looking up and waiting for the real deal to commence. Which it did. All day.
And throughout the next.
Timberline has fast steep trails and twisting black diamonds; they have some of the most solid alpine runs in the region. However it was the glades that struck me when I first got there several years ago, it was the best resort tree skiing in the mid-Atlantic and a great training ground. If you wanted to step up and try your skills in an undesignated way there were more challenging areas to be found. This year Timberline committed even further to this identity with some clearing and opening of terrain that has long been available on a wink and nudge basis.
Canaan Valley Resort has also devoted itself to making some of their freelance tree skiing more official.
And of course if you love trees and have the lungs and legs for it Whitegrass feels almost endless.
It should be noted that I write this at some personal risk; while I don’t expect personal injury I may get hit with a lot of cold shoulders. People are very proprietary if not secretive about their trees. In fact I was riding the lift with two patrollers at one of the places, talking trees, and mentioned that I might be posting something on a website; silence and dour looks ensued until one said, “Look, just say the woods are full of bears”, his buddy added, “and say ours don’t hibernate.” I understand the concern but I think trees are self-regulating to a degree; they are beautifully intimidating and demand a different skill and respect. I want people to come experience this place; I think the secret stashes will be safe.
Another unique aspect of the valley is that Timberline and Canaan’s mutual proximity allows you to mix up your trip even in a single day. You can do a half-day at each, they are about ten minutes apart, or alternate days if you want to stay longer. For some reason this plan though strategically brilliant, is underemployed. Sometimes when I mention skiing at Canaan to Timberline skiers, or vice versa, they get a distant expression as if thinking of some village hundreds of snowy miles away that their illiterate ancestors might have visited. This is all very strange because purely in terms of skiing, they are such natural companions.
There is a laid back vibe at both of these places that makes them distinct from their corporate neighbors (Timberline is family owned and Canaan Valley is part of the West Virginia park system).
Not much is slick or sleek about the Valley and that’s true of the skiing; no detachable quads and not much focus on terrain parks. I would say that aside from the Double Secret Probation Trees already alluded to, Canaan is a family and intermediate mountain and Timberline is a more advanced skier’s mountain. Neither has fast lifts, but they also have lower crowds; at Canaan in particular you will never wait longer than it takes to sing Jingle Bells.
By the way I think everyone should sing Jingle bells every time they are in a lift line, just start it up as you reach the ropes, others will certainly join in. At any rate any quibbles are minor; I have had some of my best days ever skiing in the valley and would not trade a powder day there for anywhere else I have been. Timberline and Canaan, taken together with Whitegrass; this whole package is something unique in my experience, when it all comes together it casts a spell you never shake.
Canaan Valley Resort Gallery
Let me put in a final nail, although I am probably already dead for life to any long time valley skier who has read this far; Timberline and Canaan are a lot closer than you think and have less crowds than anyplace you will pass on the way. Though located in the far north of WV the nearly completed corridor H project has opened up easier access. I live outside of Graham, NorthCarolina and am now just six hours away. Next time you are planning a trip check it out; and when you finally come up, please don’t tell folks I sent you.