I can say, fairly conclusively, that this has been the BEST week of the season for snow conditions. With cold weather and off-and-on snow all week, every time I got out on the slopes I had a great time. So here goes, my week of skiing in a nutshell. Read on!
I went to Winterplace on Monday the 29th, and it was by far the best day of skiing I’ve had there all season. They had 21 trails open, including the black diamond trail Plunge and the intermediate trail Snowbowl. The conditions were packed powder/groomed/granular, and they varied across the mountain. They had the snowguns going everywhere, and were making tons of snow, including Turkey Chute (more on that later).
If you’ve never been up to Winterplace and you like wide open terrain, it might be worth your trip up Interstate 77 to check it out. While the trails are definitely shorter than many you will find in the region, I’m not sure there’s anything that compares to Snowbowl/Drop Off when they are both open (the exception being if Cat opens its out of bounds territory). The two trails are side by side, and Snowbowl is one of the only “bowls” in the area. Together they create a massively wide trail, and it can be a lot of fun to create various ways to ski down it. If you like wide arcing GS style turns, you really can’t beat Drop Off, given its width and steepness.
Wednesday the 31st saw me off to Snowshoe, and what I got was very possibly the best day of southeast skiing for me ever! I pulled myself out of bed at 4:45 AM and climbed into the car for the 3 hour drive up, hoping to get there right when they opened. A word to the wise if you are driving to Snowshoe: never base your decision on what car to bring on the weather in your area. Pocahontas County has some crazy weather patterns, and storms that bring flurries to most of the southeast will absolutely dump snow in both Pocahontas and Tucker county WV. As soon as I started up the mountain just past Marlinton, WV I hit the snow. The roads had at least an inch of snow covering them, and I was only at about 3200 feet! In any event, as I made my way through Slatyfork and started up the mountain to the resort, I noticed that the snow gradually got deeper…and deeper…and deeper…to the point where at the top I thought, “There’s no way that weather report from last night was right, because they got way more than 1-3 inches.” Sure enough, when I checked the snow report as I was buying my tickets I saw that Snowshoe mountain got 8 inches of snow! That’s the kind of crazy snowfall that I’m talking about; I wouldn’t have believed they got that much of the white stuff if I hadn’t seen it firsthand.
Naturally I was almost giddy to get out on the slopes, because it was going to be the biggest powder day the southeast has seen yet. Now I’ve said this over and over again, but it bears repeating:
Get. There. Early.
I was standing at the top of Widowmaker when the patroller took the ropes down, so that meant that I got to be the first person down besides the two patrollers setting up the slope. So…8 inches of freshies….wide open trail. Awesome.
However, it was at that point that I made some discoveries:
1) I am a big guy- 6’5”, 195 pounds. My skis are 177 cm, with an 80 mm waist. There was no way these things were ever really going to float that well.
2) Widowmaker had not been groomed in a couple of days. While the powder made it look freaking beautiful, under all that snowy goodness were a couple days of hardpack moguls.
3) When the above two statements are true, maybe it’s not best to bomb down the run with some big turns.
Needless to say, my first run ended in a MASSIVE digger that left me covered in powder head to toe and my head spinning a little bit. So, after lesson learned, I went back to the top and tackled it with some shorter radius turns, prepared for the bumpy goodness underneath. The snow at some points was at least up to mid shin, and was dry and light. The bottom of the run had some crusty stuff, but overall it was fantastic snow for the southeast. Definitely check out some of my pictures from Wednesday to see how nice the powder was, even after some people had been through it.
Even after the powder had all been tracked out, it was a fantastic day for skiing. Upper Cupp wasn’t open, but they had Upper Shays to Lower Cupp open, and it was simply a great run. Shays is by far one of the best slopes in the southeast for those big GS turns, and it didn’t disappoint. What’s cool is that the lower half of Cupp then gives you the opportunity to do some short turns, and then I recommend you check out the trees to the right hand side of the trail where it gets flat at the bottom- Snowshoe doesn’t really have any glades, but you can make a few turns through the trees if you find the right line. They are spaced pretty evenly, and I definitely saw some people making their way through the short little glades there.
All in all it was my best day of the season so far, and that was seconded by a local I talked to on the lift. He said it was the best day of the season at Snowshoe so far, and with blue skies and fresh snow I could understand. They keep getting snow day after day (43 inches in the past 17 days!!) and its only looking up. Make sure to bundle up though- it was -2 degrees when I got there, and the highest temp my altimeter read was 23. It’s generally a lot colder up there than most areas, so be safe and make sure you and your family have covered up all exposed skin to protect against frostbite.
A short aside: speaking of my altimeter, I picked one up from www.steepandcheap.com recently. If you don’t know that site, I suggest you check it out. They have different deals on outdoor gear running all day, and as soon as they sell out they post another item. I’ve picked up a ton of stuff for 40-75% off from them.
In any event, the altimeter read off some pretty cool stats. Normally I’m not really a fan of people bragging about how much vertical feet they’ve skied, because I’ve often found that the best skiers are the ones who are most humble about their skills, but I wanted to give you skiers of the southeast some ammo against skiers of the west and northeast. For anybody who gets grief from family or friends about skiing in the southeast and how lame it is, tell them its possible to get over 40,000 vertical feet of skiing in a single day here! My altimeter said that I had descended a total of 41,072 feet on Wednesday, which is pretty cool.
Thus ended my trip at Snowshoe on Wednesday, and luckily for me I got a chance to go back to Winterplace on Thursday night with some friends of mine. After 7 ½ hours of skiing at Snowshoe the day before, my legs were a little fried, but there was no way I was going to pass up a night of skiing with friends. The conditions at Winterplace weren’t bad- it was mostly groomed/packed powder conditions, and luckily none of the snow machines were running. There were no lift lines, like any other midweek period, and we skied onto the lifts all night.
I’m going to tell you now about a kid to keep your eye on in the future: his name is Cory Lilly. He’s a local skier at Winterplace, and he’s only in 9th grade. The guy is an absolutely sick skier, and is an absolute blast to ski with. When not in the park you will find him hucking anything he can find and jumping any and all of the rollers around the slopes. He recently placed first in the Rail jam at Snowshoe, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him doing really well in freestyle competitions around the state in the future. It was a lot of fun to follow he and his friends around as they showed me the best lines to pull jumps and hucks around the resort; this is where the Snowbowl /Drop Off trail merge can be a blast.
Now for some predictions that will probably have become true by the time this trip report runs: Winterplace will be 100% open by next weekend at the latest. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see them at full strength as soon as this weekend, but that really depends on the groomers. They have put down a ton of snow on every unopened trail, including Turkey Chute, which had been partially groomed down its center. I wouldn’t be surprised to see everything there open very soon, including Wood’s run, one of the most scenic trails on the mountain.
To end this long-winded report I want to respond to an email I got from a reader. He was asking if I could recommend when to hit the slopes to avoid crowds, and what resorts would be best. Here was my response:
“…my biggest recommendation is to try and make a trip during the middle of the week, outside of holiday weeks. The weekends, even at Winterplace, are absolutely packed, and will probably always be. I don’t have as much of a handle on the NC resorts, but I can tell you (as you saw with Sugar) that they will be packed on the weekends as well. When I was at Winterplace yesterday morning there were NO people on the slopes for the first 30-40 minutes, and thats not an exaggeration; I didn’t see anybody on the lifts until about 9:45, and throughout the day there couldn’t have been more than 50 people total at the resort. If you have to go on the weekends, I suggest you think about spending the extra time to drive up to Snowshoe, WV. The lines might be just as long, but they move people through really quickly, and their high speed detachable lifts are very quick bottom to top. They also have a lot more terrain than any NC is going to offer (by a significant margin) ; I have never regretted a trip up there, no matter the lift lines.”
Again I want to reinforce this idea: Go during the week if you can. I skied onto the lifts at Snowshoe all day when I went, and the same applies to Winterplace when I go. The midweek is the best time to go as far as crowds are concerned, and there are rarely any lift lines longer than 5 minutes.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to look for my next editorial article coming soon!
Be sure to check out the full sized versions of his Photos of the Day: