Ski season kicked off in the mountains over Thanksgiving weekend with natural snowfall earlier in the week, and enough sustained cold temperatures to fire up the snow guns.

Snowshoe, W.Va., and Seven Springs, Pa., had several runs open last Friday, just in time for holidaymakers to burn off that extra slice of pumpkin pie. But warm air intruded, rain poured, and now both resorts are closed — such is life in the Mid-Atlantic Appalachians.

Map showing Mid-Atlantic ski areas and average snow amounts (Jordan Tessler/Capital Weather Gang)

But don’t despair, this start-stop is common early in the season. Usually by January most ski resorts in southwest Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia are close to 100 percent open. And with many ski resorts to choose from, which ones should you be heading to? If all you care about is where to find the deepest powder stashes, I present the top 5 snowiest resorts below.

While the top five vary in terrain, vertical drops and accommodations, what they have in common is that they are all perched along the windward spine of the Appalachians, west of the Allegheny front, at a high elevation, and within reach of the Great Lakes snow machine.

Snowshoe, W.Va., is the crown jewel of powder skiing in the Mid-Atlantic.

“They receive the most natural snow at 180 inches per season; they have the largest vertical drop of 1,500 feet; [and] they offer the most skiable terrain at 244 acres,” says skisoutheast.com. Snowfall increases with altitude and Snowshoe’s summit is the tallest of the five, topping out at 4,848 feet. And the further you go up, the colder it gets; ensuring what falls as liquid at lower resorts falls as snow almost a mile high.

Only a couple miles apart as the crow flies, Canaan Valley and Timberline, W.Va., are tied for second. Sources provide differing snowfall totals for these two neighboring resorts, but according to retired NWS meteorologist Robert Leffler, 160 inches per year is a good estimation for both.

A major reason flakes fly here in abundance is because “this large, elevated area ranges in elevation from 3,000 to 4,800 feet and is located adjacent to the highest portion of the Eastern Continental Divide. It is not an isolated mountaintop but a large broad elevated surface with 2,200 square miles above 3,000 feet”, said Leffler. If cross-country skiing is your thing, the area also happens to have one of the best touring facilities around called Whitegrass.

In another virtual tie, Wisp Resort in Western Maryland and Seven Springs, Pa., both average around 130 inches of powder a year. The summit elevation and regional topography are almost identical at these two resorts 30 miles apart. The mountains slope gradually and the summits are the lowest of the top 5, around 3,000 feet.

But they are also the closest to the Great Lakes, the source of lake effect snow. Leffler believes that lake effect snow events could contribute up to 15 percent of their annual snowfall, with the caveat that it’s never been actually quantified in research.

Below, I present a table displaying statistics for the major ski areas within about four hours of Washington, including resorts not in my top five, but a shorter drive:

Resort Average snowfall Peak elevation Base elevation Vertical drop
Whitetail, Pa. 40 inches 1,800 feet 865 feet 935 feet
Ski Roundtop, Pa. 35 inches 1,355 feet 755 feet 600 feet
Liberty, Pa. 45 inches 1,190 feet 570 feet 620 feet
Seven Springs, Pa. 135 inches 2,994 feet 2,240 feet 750 feet
Wintergreen, Va. 34 inches 3,515 feet 2,512 feet 1,003 feet
Bryce, Va. 30 inches 1,750 feet 1,250 feet 500 feet
Homestead, Va. 50 inches 3,200 feet 2,500 feet 700 feet
Massanutten, Va. 35 inches 2,925 feet 1,770 feet 1,155 feet
Wisp, Md. 130 inches 3,115 feet 2,415 feet 700 feet
Snowshoe, W.Va. 180 inches 4,848 feet 3,348 feet 1,500 feet
Canaan Valley, W.Va. 160 inches 4,280 feet 3,430 feet 850 feet
Timberline, W.Va. 160 inches 4,268 feet 3,268 feet 1,000 feet


You still have time to get your boards waxed, but be positive and “think snow.”