Go west, snow lovers!
Go west, beyond the Continental Divide — the Eastern Continental Divide, that is — for fantastic skiing and snowboarding.
Running along the Appalachian Mountains, the Eastern Continental Divide separates the watersheds along the East Coast. On the west side of the divide, water flows to the Gulf of Mexico. On the east side, water makes its way to the Atlantic Ocean. More importantly, the mountains west of the divide in West Virginia, western Maryland, and Somerset County, Pa., are in the Snow Belt. Storms, crossing the country, pull in moisture from the Great Lakes, hit these high mountains, and blanket the region in fluffy white snow every winter.
An annual average of 160 inches of snow falls in the bucolic Canaan Valley of West Virginia. It’s the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains and includes three great ski resorts — Timberline, Canaan, and White Grass. It’s one of the rare areas in the country that offers as much cross-country skiing as downhill skiing.
Timberline includes 39 slopes, two terrain parks, and a 1,000-foot vertical drop. More than one-third of the 91 acres of terrain is for advanced skiers. Long moguled runs, steep chutes, and six glades (free skiing areas within the trees) make for high-adrenaline fun. And, beginners aren’t left out, being able to cruise the 2-mile-long easy Salamander Trail — the longest trail in the Mid-Atlantic. In addition, there are 17 kilometers of marked Nordic (cross-country) trails. The resort features two pubs and a 22-room slope side lodge, with several Jacuzzi suites.
Canaan Valley Resort boasts 43 trails, a terrain park, and an 850-foot vertical drop. Most slopes are wide and well-groomed and are designed more for intermediate skiers. For fun off the slopes, explore the 30 kilometers of Nordic ski trails, work on your double axel at the covered outdoor ice rink, or hop on a tube and skim down the runs on the 1,200-foot-long tubing hill. The bare bones “econo” hotel-style lodge is gone. The new 160-room lodge includes a bar, café, and a warm, inviting lobby with numerous spots to kick back and swap ski stories after a day on the slopes. (canaanresort.com)
Insider tip: To get the most out of both resorts, check out the Ski the Valley pass — an adult two-day weekend, high-season lift ticket that includes access to both resorts for $103.
Between Canaan and Timberline is the renowned White Grass Touring Center. This mecca for cross-country skiers includes 20 kilometers of groomed trails on natural snow. And, while in the valley, don’t miss the Blackwater Falls Sledding Hill — a 200-foot high, 1/4-mile-long groomed sledding hill with a magic carpet lift.
To the north of Canaan, Wisp Resort (Maryland’s only ski mountain) is a winter playground. In addition to the 32 trails and two terrain parks, the resort offers snow tubing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, and riding the mountain coaster — a gravity-propelled coaster that has riders zoom along a metal track through twisting turns in individual cars. A ski-in/ski-out hotel includes 63 rooms, 103 suites, and an indoor pool. Nearby attractions include dog sledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and ice fishing on Deep Creek Lake.
Wisp Resort and Canaan Valley are each only about a three-hour drive from the Washington, D.C., area. Likewise, Seven Springs Resort (33 trails) and Hidden Valley (31 trails) in Pennsylvania are only a little more than three hours from the nation’s capital. Looking further south in the Snow Belt, the oft-overlooked Winterplace Resort (27 trails) in southern West Virginia is a five-hour drive. And, the area’s largest ski resort, Snowshoe Mountain (60 trails, a 1,500-foot vertical drop, and about 180 inches of snow each year) can be reached in less than five hours.