West Virginia winters offer more than just downhill skiing

Matthew Graham

Ice skating is just one of the off-the-slope activities at Canaan Valley Resort.

West Virginia is renowned for fantastic skiing at four mountain resorts: Canaan Valley, Timberline, Winterplace, and Snowshoe. These resorts boast an annual snowfall of up to 180 inches a year, and consistent cold temperatures allow for an abundance of snowmaking. All of this snow and cold weather gives winter lovers more than enough opportunity to ski or snowboard down hundreds of slopes of powder and packed powder.

But, not all the action in West Virginia involves swooshing down a ski slope. The Mountain State is a land for serene cross-country skiing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice skating, and many unique chilly adventures.

Cross-country ski rentals and miles and miles of trails are available at Timberline, Canaan Valley, and Snowshoe. The Elk River Touring Center, 5 miles from Snowshoe, offers a more intimate setting for first-time cross-country (also known as Nordic) skiers away from the crowds. The center features an easy 3-mile loop that borders the national forest, plus 21 miles along the Highland Scenic Highway.

The largest Nordic area is the White Grass Touring Center in Canaan Valley. The center maintains more than 37 miles of trails and offers rentals, sales, and instruction for both Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.

White Grass also specializes in telemark skiing. Tele-skiing frees up a skier to explore ungroomed back-country terrain because it frees up the skier’s heel. Telemark skiers utilize deep alternating knee bends on free-heel bindings (instead of conventional fixed-heel bindings) to carve graceful turns on steep terrain. This style of skiing combines the flexibility of cross-country skiing with the adrenaline rush of downhill skiing.

White Grass offers rentals and instruction and features miles of trails on open plains and steep forested mountains.  

Ice skating is just one of the off-the-slope activities at Canaan Valley Resort.
Ice skating is just one of the off-the-slope activities at Canaan Valley Resort.

Learn to snowshoe

For snowshoeing, Snowshoe Resort obviously is the place. There are 27 miles of marked trails through the forest of Cheat Mountain.

Follow the path to the Sunrise Backcountry Hut for a cup of hot cider or hot chocolate, or stay for dinner and a night out in the woods. The charming log cabin sleeps eight and has two bedrooms, a loft, and a bathroom. Other trails lead to lakes, valleys, and a mountaintop fire tower. Unstrap the snowshoes and climb to the top for a crisp, breathtaking view of the resort and the surrounding countryside.

Blackwater Falls State Park in Tucker County, also in the Canaan Valley, likewise offers cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. However, the most fun to be had at this small state park is sledding. The park features the longest sledding hill — a 1/4-mile long — on the East Coast.

Insider tip: A big surprise to many is that the hill is groomed and is serviced by a conveyor lift. No having to walk back up the hill.  

Unlike snow tubing parks where the tubes are confined to lanes, this is a genuine sledding hill that is open to explore and may require steering. Sled rentals are available. A warming hut offers snacks and hot drinks.

Visitors also can try another of winter’s favorite pastimes — ice skating. The covered outdoor ice rink at Canaan Valley Resort features views of the valley on one side and the Allegheny Mountains on the other. The Greenbriar Resort in Southern West Virginia boasts a new 140-foot by 70-foot outdoor rink with an adjacent fire pit.

For those who wish to explore the winter wonderland with a little power, Snowshoe Resort offers snowcat and snowmobile tours. 

The snowcat (a snow groomer) offers the warmth of a heated cab as riders plow through the snowy landscape during and exciting after-dark tour. (Hold onto your seat as the cat heads nose down onto the steeper slopes.) On the nighttime snowmobile tours, kids (46 inches or taller) may join their parents as passengers zooming through the mountainous terrain.

 

Winter horseback rides

If you’d rather take in the winter scenery from atop a horse instead of skis, the Autumn Breeze Stables at Snowshoe Resort offers year-round trail rides.

In the Canaan Valley, Kim Bennett at Mountain Trail Rides is the second generation in her family to provide the service.

There’s plenty of off-the-slopes activity to keep you busy wherever you go in West Virginia this winter.

 

For more information:

West Virginia Tourism: gotowv.com

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