An outdated World Wide Web address for the Fagowees International Ski Club was listed in the ski charts in the Nov. 15 Weekend section. The new Web site is at www.dcfagowees.com/. In addition, the new Web site address for Black Ski is www.blackski.org. (Published 11/16/02)
My skills on the ski slope are so near to nonexistent that they're not worth talking about, but I am an apres-ski champ -- I can find fun once the ski boots are off like nobody's business. In the name of full-service ski coverage, I've checked out the region's ski resorts and found three that have nightlife offerings worth noting: Snowshoe in West Virginia, Seven Springs in Pennsylvania and Wisp in Maryland. While you're schussing down their black diamonds, try to conserve a little energy for all the stuff that happens once the sun goes down.
Built atop the Cheat Mountain ridge in central West Virginia, at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, Snowshoe's greatest asset is its sunsets. How smart to put the resort village at the top of the mountain instead of the shadowy base of the slopes!
And once you're done watching the evening sky, your nighttime to-do list at Snowshoe is longer by far than at any other resort within easy driving distance of Washington. Granted, a five-hour-plus mountainous road trip might not seem easy to some, but if you want the total 24-hour package, Snowshoe is worth it, with more than a dozen bars and restaurants, a comedy club, live music venues, heated outdoor pools and more all in walking distance of the main lodge.
The mountain's most convivial spot -- especially right after the slopes close at 4:30 -- is the Yodeler's Pub, which has a happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30 every day. It's a short walk north of the "village" area (the central lodge and retail area), on the second floor above the elegant Red Fox Restaurant. There's a long flight of steps to get to it, so be sure to scrape the snow off your boots or else risk a tumble.
The 20 stools wrapped around the central bar are attractively backed with bent branches, as are the chairs at the dozen small tables in the room dominated by huge picture windows looking out into the trees. If you're lucky, it will be snowing as the sun goes down, and you'll be sitting under the pub's high wooden ceiling holding a Barn Burner cocktail (hot cider with Southern Comfort and a stick of cinnamon). There are several custom cocktails on a menu you'll find on the table (a three-sided hunk of log, with drinks listed on all sides), with names like Cozy Monk, Bloated Blizzard, Hopscotch, Mountain Momma.
Free baskets of hot popcorn are handed out to everyone (or you help yourself), the smell somehow perfect in that setting. The jukebox cranks out songs by the likes of Ryan Adams, Dionne Farris and David Gray. Late on weekend nights, live bands push aside some tables and keep things lively at the Yodeler until 2. It's a well-thought-out spot that deserves its popularity.
If you stop in downstairs at the Red Fox for dinner, try some expertly cooked wild game. The other choice for a really nice sit-down dinner, Good Time Bobby's in the Mountain Lodge, is a respectable steakhouse that also features seafood.
Across the hall from Bobby's is the Comedy Cellar, which features Roy Riley, Snowshoe's self-proclaimed "director of fun." I was expecting the worst, but Riley is a really funny comedian.
He plays doorman and usher first, getting you seated in the nicely designed space (wood beams, soft-cushioned banquette seats, a stage with a backdrop of painted moonlit landscapes), then he gets on the microphone and brings on the laughs while servers get you drinks and plates of standard bar food.
Riley is a fast talker whose gimmick is chatting up the people in the front row. You know the drill: "Where are you from? Cleveland?" and "What do you do? A dental technician?" But he's fast on his feet and rarely falls back on boilerplate humor. He makes hay with one patron's profession: "You say you artificially inseminate cows???" he howls gleefully. Riley is on hand nearly every night of the week during the ski season. He also books nationally known touring comedians, who come on after his set.
You can get good solid comfort food at the Junction, a restaurant and bar in the center of the village, and after dinner it becomes a live music venue. The footrest wrapped around the base of the bar is a steel railroad track, while enormous wheels from an old steam engine decorate the wall by the kitchen. And there's a nice big fireplace in a sunken area that's more like a living room than a dining room, with comfortable couches and chairs, and walls lined with historic photos of the region: sawmills, logging camps, coal miners.
There are frequently live bands at the Junction, mostly playing cover tunes to a "boomer" demographic, but you'll find a younger and rowdier crowd across the village square at the Foxfire Grille. Earlier in the evening it's another fine place for a hot toddy and sunset watching, but later it's a full-on party. There are fireplaces tucked into corners with a few comfy chairs nearby, but this is more of a bar-stool place.
The bar is overhung with very cool dangling lights with huge filaments that glow a warm yellow, and against a far wall a kid from Virginia Tech plays a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune on an acoustic guitar. The crowd cheers him on.
For the serious late-night party crowd, the Connection is the place. It's an enormous room with vast ceilings, a huge stage, three bars, a disco ball, a DJ booth, several pool tables and way too many beer banners flying from the rafters and pillars.
The DJ is good, segueing nicely to keep people moving on and off the huge dance floor, mixing eras and styles. There's no band tonight, just an emcee on stage reminding the several hundred people that the "I'm Too Sexy for My Shirt" dance contests (one for men, one for women) are about to start.
And this, too, from the emcee: "Cuervo shooters from Caroline! She's walking around with them, in something all skimpy-like! Just grab her as she goes by!" Caroline puts on a brave face and plunges into the crowd with another tray of drinks.
If you need to get back outside after dinner, I suppose you could head out for some night skiing or night tubing, but I like the guided night snowmobile rides. Pray for lots of natural snowfall so you can take the nearly hour-long Cheat Mountain Ridge tour, otherwise you're relegated to zooming back and forth on the slopes that have been covered in man-made snow. That's pretty fun, too, learning to handle moguls and such. The point is just speeding around outdoors in the stinging night air.
Stay well behind the snowmobiles in front of you. If not, you'll be smelling the fumes of that horrible two-stroke fuel instead of the pine trees. As it is, your clothes will be reeking anyway, from simply sitting on the machine.
The best thing to do on a snowmobile, though, if there's enough natural snow, is scoot the couple of miles along the ridge to the Sunrise Backcountry Hut. A glorious cabin set deep in the woods right on a cliff overlooking the Shavers Fork of Cheat River, the Backcountry Hut is offered as an overnight rental (it can sleep up to 14 people), a package that includes a personal chef to fix dinner and breakfast, not to mention get the wood stove, water pump and generator going. You arrive by snowmobile, snowshoe, truck (if there's not enough snow) or foot (a nice trek if you're up for it), and you're a million miles away from the rest of the world.
It's an extraordinary experience, especially with the whole personal chef thing. What a luxury! He cooks sirloin or salmon steaks, pours the wine, makes the coffee, while remaining professionally unobtrusive. You can go out just for the evening for dinner, but you should try to stay overnight. The stars become your primary form of entertainment -- them and some board games and the folks you came with.
"There's two types of cowboys out here in the West, one made for settling, and then there's the rest," sings John Hilligoss in a rich operatic baritone.
Hilligoss, better known as Mountain John, strums his old guitar on a stool in the corner of the Bavarian Lounge, framed by stone walls and wood beam ceilings. He's got his big black cowboy hat pulled low, and his white beard hangs down to near his gut.
"Sit tall in the saddle, shoot straight 'til you die," he intones gravely. When the song is done, he lets out a yelp and grins at the folks packed into the bar. You could be high in a Rocky Mountain lodge somewhere listening to Mountain John sing his songs, original tunes with titles such as "Yukon Tim," "Big Horn Mountains" and "Cowboy Hat."
The truth is, you're at Seven Springs Mountain Resort, a year-round destination in Champion, Pa., a four-hour drive from Washington. In the winter months, Mountain John is a Seven Springs fixture who's been troubadouring for the ski bums and bunnies for more years than most want to count.
"It was 27 years ago I hired him," says William Aldom, the resort's bar manager, known to all as Willie Joe, "and in five minutes I wanted to fire him 'cause he drove me crazy with the things he'd say, but he's never left. And he'll be here forever." Aldom is laughing as he says this, and as if on cue, Mountain John hollers loudly into his microphone: "Be sure to order up some whiskey, take off your clothes, put on your G-string and start dancing on the bar!" Whistles and cheers ensue, but no one immediately takes him up on his suggestion.
Aldom rolls his eyes and grimaces, but there's a smile on his face. He knows things are allowed to get a little, ahem, frisky after a hard day on the slopes and a few drinks. But he makes sure things don't get too crazy. Again showing good timing, Mountain John launches into a family-friendly medley of "Yankee Lady," "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Me & Bobby McGee," "Sloop John B" and "Day-O."
The Bavarian Lounge is on the fourth floor of the Main Lodge, the epicenter of nightlife at Seven Springs. But the best thing to do when you get off the slopes is stay away from the lodge and head to Helen's. An excellent restaurant set in an old stone house that was once the home of the resort's founder and his family (it's named after his wife), Helen's is about 200 yards from the Main Lodge, but it seems far, far away.
Dinner is served in what was the living room of the house, old stone and timber everywhere, and you should give yourself two hours to make it a leisurely one. Order a beef chateaubriand for two at $70, carved at tableside. Or some bear, elk and venison sausage. Or some broiled salmon with lobster claws. Aching for some duck foie gras or wild duck strudel after a day on the moguls? Helen's got 'em, and a nice wine list to match.
In a recent addition to the house, you'll find the bar/lounge area encased in floor-to-ceiling picture windows. Sit around the piano, listen to the piano man and look at the slopes all lit up for night skiing. It's a magical spot.
There's a fireplace on one end of the room and a bar that's sunken below floor level, so you sit on very short stools around its three sides and look down on the bartender. Kind of odd, but you get used to it. Two televisions with closed-captioning keep you up on news and sports (and snow reports), but mostly you ignore them and ask for another hot buttered rum.
In the Convention Center adjacent to the lodge, after you've taken the brisk walk back from Helen's, consider the roller rink, a 10,000-square-foot space that's open late. I go for the in-line skates and zoom in circles on the smooth wooden floor, feeling way too full for such things, but I hardly fall at all -- and take extreme pleasure from that little fact.
Past the roller rink is the craft center, which hosts craft shows on a regular basis. But on weekend nights it is the site for the very thoughtfully planned "Teen Dance." Inside the vast room (unfortunately lit more like a cafeteria than a dance hall) there are some 200 kids who are really happy to be away from their parents but who still seem a little bored. That's teenagers for you, right? Most are sipping sodas and eating hot dogs, but the DJ -- spinning predictable teen hits and hip-hop-lite -- has coaxed a few to start dancing.
On the ground floor of the lodge is the Foggy Goggle, an enormous L-shaped space packed with a few hundred people milling about the freestanding fireplaces or sidling up to one of the many bars. You'd better not sidle up to the fireplaces though. Signs hanging from them read, "Caution: Certain types of ski clothing may melt if too close to the fireplace." Sounds like someone found out the hard way.
Park yourself on one of the handsome Amish-made bar stools and sip a cold brew and watch the proceedings. Several DJs take turns playing hits, and patrons dance wherever they stand. An adjacent area that's got simple picnic tables is soon to be turned into a more cozy lounge area, according to Aldom, and that will go a long way toward alleviating the college dorm vibe of the lodge.
Down the hall from the Foggy Goggle is the Banquet Hall, where the package tour folks get their own festivities every Saturday night, called the Last Run party. There's room for 1,300 people, and there's usually a band plus DJs. Down another long corridor is the Bear Trap Game Room (you'll find it by listening for the loud bleeps and honks). It's packed with dozens of electronic games, arcade amusements and much more. It'll give you a headache, but for a little while it's a barrel of fun.
If you have to go outside, there's lots of night skiing and a very nicely lit tubing run, but the best outdoor nighttime activity is floating in a hot tub. There are four of them for rent by the half-hour, and they can hold six people. You find them by wandering through the indoor swimming pool area (next to the game room). At a desk on the far side of the pool, the attendant hands out towels and you walk down some steps and out the door. Getting out of your clothes in the cold night air is the hard part, but you can do it unself-consciously as there are tall wooden fences around each hot tub. Sink into the hot, bubbling water and feel your aching muscles relax a bit. Stare up at the sky, watch the steam from the tub rise up into the stars. It's the best way to end a day at Seven Springs.
Up by Deep Creek Lake in the Maryland panhandle, there are blueprints for a $20 million Adventure Sports Complex to be built adjacent to the Wisp ski resort, and the owners of Wisp have added their own big plans. They basically want to reconstruct the entire resort on the top of the mountain, as the folks at Snowshoe did, and add more amenities and entertainment options. That will be a good thing, because while there's a lot of overnight visitors, there aren't a lot of dining or night-life choices.
To find anything decent, you've got to go off the resort property.
A couple of miles south on Route 219 is the Point View Inn, right on the lake. It's got a nice dining room, but the fun is in the Boardwalk, a freestanding wooden octagon-shaped bar, with windows on six sides that look out on the lake and sliding doors onto a wooden deck.
The bar is in the middle of the room, a couple of couches and small tables lining the walls, a fireplace and a more-than-adequate jukebox. There's a tiny stage for acoustic acts on weekends, and the joint gets very busy during happy hour.
Farther south, on the Maryland Highway, is the Long Branch Saloon, a honky-tonk roadhouse that is a lot of fun if you're in the mood to get rowdy. It's basically a huge rectangle cut in two, with one room dedicated to snooker, pool and video games (and a very long bar), and the other room set up essentially as a dance floor. There are tables so you can sit, eat bar food and watch the dancers go 'round on the wood floor made from old, long planks. Bands perform in this room, setting up behind two sliding doors that are painted with scenes from Old West saloons.
Across from the Garrett 8 Cinema on 219, next to Uno's restaurant, is the Honi-Honi bar, a freestanding building that would like to be something of a tiki bar but tries to be all things to all people. There are some video games, a popcorn machine and model airplanes, but the best thing is to grab a drink and head out on the deck overlooking the woods.
The Black Bear Tavern, on Route 219, is another freestanding club that's got two parts: Tavern and bar on one side, nightclub and dance hall on the other. The decor of the dance club side is a little too chrome-heavy and '80s-looking, but there's a stage in the corner, and bands perform there every weekend. Pay attention to the sign that says "No ski boots allowed inside -- Wet floors are very slippery!" No lie. The linoleum floors had people slipping around even without boots.
I prefer the tavern side. It feels like a real hangout, with a sports bar vibe: televisions, dart board, pool tables, windows on the lake with the ski slopes back there all lit up for night skiing. Those people zooming down the slopes look as if they're having more fun than I am.
Part of the problem is that the nightlife activity around Wisp is just that: around Wisp, and not at the resort itself. With the promised new construction at the top of the slopes over the next couple of years, you can bet there will be lots of nightlife choices designed to keep the skiers from straying too far from the mountainside, then Wisp will be an ever stronger "destination" location.