A biweekly staff review of East Coast and regional lodgings.
Come on, Black Bear Resort, light my fire.
In the nippy night air of West Virginia’s Canaan Valley, my nose and ears, naked to the elements, were turning Rudolph red. My boots were wet from tramping over snow mounds recently delivered by the Sandy Express. My fingers were hardening into mini-popsicles.
In other words, I was freezing — but delightfully so. I knew that heat was on its way: Once I opened the door to Room 133 on Grizzly Way, I was going to melt faster than a snowman in a tanning booth.
The property, near the ski resorts of Canaan Valley and Timberline, captures the yin and yang of winter: It encourages guests to go numb from playing outdoors, then draws them into the warm embrace of the indoors. Forget the extra socks; just toast those little piggies by the fireplace.
The resort is arranged like a small Arctic village, with the main lodge as the central meeting place. Here, guests can gather round a mammoth stone fireplace flanked by wooden skis and bear carvings (set far enough away to avoid an inferno), rich leather couches and shelves of books ideal for self-imposed rest days. From the long porch, which overlooks the silent pool, I checked the snow conditions of Timberline, eyeing the broad skunk stripes running down the mountain. Stand-alone cottages called pedestals come in a variety pack of small, large (with or without a Jacuzzi), luxury and super deluxe. Some of the hobbit homes form a circle, tribal-style, around a sprawling lawn with a playground and a fitness course. Other structures play hide-and-seek in the dense woods. An inn with three floors of suites crowns a steep hill with Olympic sledding potential.
The units are privately owned; like snowflakes, no two are the same. Yet they do share some similarities, such as amenities (fireplace, mini-fridge, coffeepot, two-person Jacuzzis, outdoor ski rack) and decor (bears and moose predominate).
My suite — a single room with lightly demarcated areas for sleeping, lounging and dining — bore a whiff of ski chalet, especially when I lit the fire (one idiot-proof log is included in the price). The fiery flames added another blanket to the already snug space, which beat off the chill with plush off-white carpeting, a spare quilt in the closet and a generous heating unit. Near the fireplace, in the cabinet housing the TV, the mystery owners had curated a collection of books (tear-jerkers and heart-thumpers), magazines (O, National Geographic) and movies from the TNT bin.
Pets are allowed, but if you didn’t BYOPooch, cozy up to any of the bears populating the place. Don’t worry, they don’t bite. But they do knit, fish, read and cuddle with squirrels. They also hug trees, as demonstrated in the many photos hanging on the walls; dispense toilet paper; and hold toothbrushes and towels. Who knew that black bears could be such good domestic help?
According to the guestbook on the coffee table, 2007 was a rough year for Jacuzzi-bathing. Two visitors had noted difficulty entering and exiting the tub, an intimidating Everest for those with short legs. Somebody besides another guest must actually read these journals, because a step now guides timid feet to the rim and the bubbling abyss below.
Though I was charmed by my room, especially when the fire was roaring, all was not hunky-dory. However, with a bit of irrational rationalizing, I could dismiss the flaws. For example, only cold water flowed from the bathroom sink; washing up for bed, I imagined the bracing splash closing my facial pores like shutters in a storm. (Note: The next day, I reported the issue to the front desk, which promised to look into the matter.) I also could not find an ice machine, nor did I recall seeing a tray in the fridge. I flipped the negative switch to positive by filling my empty bottle in the sink, then setting it out on the porch in nature’s ice cube maker.
The hot beverage selection was biased toward coffee drinkers; I couldn’t locate a single tea leaf. I did, however, find baskets and boxes filled with packaged sugar. Calling up my imaginary Girl Scout, I prepared a steaming cup of sweet water. Bonus: I wouldn’t be up all night from a caffeine overload.
In the morning, I crawled out of my cave of plaid linens like a preppy bear awakening from a long hibernation. I stretched my paws and went hunting for food, tracking down a packet of cinnamon, walnut and raisin oatmeal above the microwave and toaster. I made myself a cup of hot sugar water and carried my breakfast picnic to the porch.
Sitting outside in the warm sun, I considered the day’s mountain of possibilities, but slowly succumbed to the resort’s lull. I poured another pack of sugar into my mug, closed my eyes and felt the wintry mix of sun and cold turn my cheeks the healthy pink of a Sweet’N Low packet.
Black Bear Resort
247 Lodge Dr.
Suites from $120 per night, $100 per night for two nights or more; pedestals from $271 with a two-night minimum.