"When you write that column tell 'em conditions are terrible; tell 'em there is no Snowshoe. This is a pot of gold for those of us who ski here and frankly I'm kind of greedy about it," said Don Beebout of Richmond.
Here I go out on a limb. After living eight years in New Hampshire and skiing most of northern New England, I found last week end's conditions and beauty at Snowshoe resort in West Virginia better than an average day of skiing in New Hampshire and equal to an average day in northern Vermont. And the Snowshoe regulars I talked to said those conditions were typical.
Snowshoe provides an alternative that area skiers should consider before blindly taking off for a New England vacation. The reason is the quantity and quality of the snow at Snowshoe, which is located in the middle of the Appalachian plateau. The average annual snowfall is 180 inches -- last year it was 233 and so far this year it's 160. Every northwest wind carries moisture from the Great Lakes, and as the air passes over the plateau the whole air mass rises, cools and precipitates a light dry snow with a high air content.
To a snow connoisseur, that is vintage stuff. It almost has the qualities of fine old Rocky Mountain moisture: fast, powdery, resistant to icing up and so dry it squeaks. By contrast, most eastern snow has a higher moisture content with less air, and therefore tends to form the boilerplate ice that plagues eastern skiing.
Snowshoe is also as beautiful as any resort I've seen. It is on the top, rather than the bottom, of the second-highest mountain in West Virginia because the top of the mountain produces rime ice -- a delicate, cloud-created Alpine frost that blankets the trees on the upper part of the mountain. Wake up to a bright morning, look out the window and you'll see a world of contrasts: black-and-white trees touched with evergreen and lacy frost, blue sky, puffy clouds below, and snow. The quiet is broken only by the chatter of skis. Finally, the natural wood architecture of the slopeside lodges and condominiums blends into the spruce and hardwood forest, which has been cut sparingly.
When comparing Snowshoe and New England, bear in mind that Snowshoe has a two potential disadvantages. First, it's a new resort; only a third of what has been proposed is actually built.This means that there is not yet as wide a choice of trails as major New England areas offer and that the number of skiers, although limited by a ceiling on ticket sales, are concentrated on fewer slopes. The concentrated pressure on week ends produces some icing on the difficult slopes toward the end of the day. But no popular ski area can avoid that problem, and Snowshoe does an excellent job of grooming the trails every night. New lifts, trails and accommodations are being added.
The second disadvantage is that Snowshoe is the only resort in West Virginia with a vertical drop (1,500 feet) comparable to those of New England resorts. So you can't ski several large resorts during a vacation --but few of us can afford that anyway.
At five to six hours from Washington, Snowshoe is more resort than day trip. It offers midweek packages that cut costs of lifts, lodging, lessons, rentals and meals to as much as 25 percent below the usual lower midweek rates. Even on the weekend, lift lines run 10 to 15 minutes, which is much shorter than at closer areas.