It's a modest advantage, sure enough, but there's one category in which the Snow-shoe ski area has got it all over such glittering resorts as Vail and Sun Valley. At Snowshoe, when you get up in the morning you're already there. That is, you're already on top of the mountain, in position to ski the first run of the day without waiting in the lift line, which everybody knows is the coldest ordeal ever devised to torment mankind.
Snowshoe just sort of happened this way for no other reason than that the terrain seemed right for it. There it sits in East-Central West Virginia, surrounded by the Monongahela National Forest, in the section of the state that hunches up into the Allegheny Mountains. The resort is promoted as "the island in the sky," which figures; it's perched at 4,750 feet atop Cheat Mountain. Spilling from its doorstep are 10 miles of downhill trails covering 100 or so acres, running on down to the valley floor at 3,250 feet, and what the area may lack in dizzying height, it makes up for in cover—most of the trails have snowmaking apparatus. Indeed, when major Eastern ski areas are bone dry, as they were much of the last two seasons, Snowshoe can be up to its thorax in freshly made snow because it's in a cold pocket.
True, the location takes a little getting used to. West Virginia—West Virginia?—doesn't exactly leap to mind as any sort of skiing paradise; mentions of the state are more likely to conjure up thoughts of the stately old Greenbrier and ladies and gentlemen in Lacoste sweaters swinging golf clubs, or of steely-eyed miners. But it is cold—afternoons average 15° above from December through March, nights from zero to 10 below—and as long as the mountain is there, one might as well frost it like a big cake and ski it.
Tramping around the place on crisp autumn days, one begins to see the overall scheme: Snowshoe expects to become a Greenbrier On The Hill, a year-round playground for the well-to-do in that part of the country. And there seem to be a lot of affluent people around, in spite of the fact that the resort is pretty much in the middle of an economically depressed area. Snowshoe is experiencing a $12 million-a-year construction boom—condominiums, townhouses, ski chalets and the like—and with this past summer came the final touches: a swimming pool and a weight room.
In thumping for its year-round status, Snowshoe has had something going almost every week, from tennis clinics to horse shows, even a party called the Hillbilly Chili Cookoff a few weekends ago. When you assemble the best of the regional cooks to go head-to-head over pots of chili, it makes for a colorful, aromatic and slightly boozy time. This could never, never happen at the more elegant spas—that richly thick, bitingly spicy smell of cooking chili hanging densely in the air while nearby, a bluegrass band named Stompin' Crick twanged out old hill-country tunes.
While the promotions are O.K., the main lure of Snowshoe is skiing. The slopes range from gentle to tame, as might be expected on a less-than-lofty mountain, but, surprisingly, there are a couple of runs that qualify as real kidney-busters. A thing called Choker is listed as expert, while Knot Bumper is super-expert—not so much for its steepness (a 25% grade), but because it's a fall-away run that's been carved into the side of the main ridge. Indeed, just about everything at Snowshoe is a ridge run, trails dropping away from the mountain's backbone; not particularly hazardous, but guaranteed to bring you back to the lodge after a day's skiing with the vague feeling that one of your legs has become shorter than the other.
The final bit of adventure offered by the area is the cold, cold fog, which seems to be an absolute, standard, flat-guaranteed requirement for West Virginia winter mornings. It's lying there thickly when you awaken, and until the sun burns it off, there's a definite sensation that you've wandered onto the movie set of Heaven Can Wait. This in turn produces line after line of skiers wearing yellow-tinted goggles, another other-worldly effect.
Snowshoe is on its way. And even as you read this, the local hares, abundant in this part of the country, are starting to turn white in anticipation of the winter. Hence the name.