Canaan Valley, West Virginia’s Winter Playground
By William C. Triplett
When you live in the ski-free zone of the immediate D.C. area, and you really can’t do more than one trip a season to the slopes out West or in Europe, it’s nice to have a half-dozen or so resorts within a few hours’ drive to continue indulging in your favorite winter sport, even if for just a day or two.
To the north lie Pennsylvania’s Poconos, where I’ve sometimes headed for a short jaunt. To the west, however, are the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, home to one of my favorite quick getaways, Canaan Valley Resort. It’s usually a quiet drive of maybe three hours, with long stretches of your vehicle being the only one on the highway in either direction. For me, it’s really a chance to decompress so that I can hit the trails fairly relaxed, forgetting about my next deadline for a while.
Because of its proximity, Canaan is also nice for Washingtonians and surrounding neighbors in that you can decide to go at the drop of a lift-ticket, a significant advantage given that weather in these parts can sometimes be schizophrenic. Snow and cold forecast for the next few days? Pack up and leave tonight.
The resort is part of a state park, so you really do feel removed – protected? – from the everyday world. The mountain is modest but respectable: Summit at 4,280 feet with an 870-foot vertical drop; one quad, two triples, and one magic carpet serving 47 trails fairly divided for beginners, intermediates, and experts.
The Gravity Triple and the Weiss Quad run almost parallel to each other on the far left side of the resort, if you’re standing at the bottom looking up. From these two lifts, you can access all the intermediate and expert trails. When I arrived on a Friday afternoon I saw the triple wasn’t running, and, given the glorious sun in a nearly cloudless blue sky, I feared a mosh pit of a lift-line at the quad.
Call me happily surprised and relieved to find the Weiss lifties almost lonesome, looking pleased when somebody finally skied in, ready to head back up.
I started with a couple shake-out runs beginning on the Timber Trail, an easy, loping boulevard immediately off the left of the lift that later snaked along the edge of the resort. Some gentle dips and turns followed, then I took the Timber Spur – a blue short-cut back to the lift.
After every ride up the Weiss quad, I steadily swept toward the right, coming first down Gravity, then Upper Valley Vista and Lower Valley Drop – all blacks with a nice pitch. From there it was onto Chute, Ski Daddler, Buck Run, Lower Canaan Curve and a slew of other blue groomers. Then it was the long right off toward the right edge of the resort, first following the Upper Spruce blue trail that led to the marvelously named black diamond Dark Side of the Moon. Glades were on tap, as were a nice mix of more blue and black trails, taking you down some eye-opening drops, then flats, then more drops…and more flats.
By the time the sun had passed behind the mountains and the shadows grew long on the snow, I was feeling like I’d had a pretty good workout – and a lot of fun.
The lodge has recently had a make-over, giving it a sleek, contemporary look and feel, complete with fitness center and indoor as well as outdoor pools. My room was spacious – with a king bed, a sitting area with sofa and chairs, a desk, and a flat-panel TV on a wall. Cabins are also available. There’s a sort of coffee shop and deli combo for light fare, but I had dinner that night in the restaurant, and then went to the lounge for the roaring fire and a drink, thinking about what I would do the next day.
Turned out the weather was changing its personality – to overcast skies and warming temps. No worries. Canaan is convenient enough that I figured I’d just head back home a day early, and whenever the weather turned cold again, it wouldn’t be hard – or long – to be back on the slopes.
Visit Canaan Valley Resort & Conference Center
William Triplett is the former DC bureau chief for Variety. Triplett has written about various destinations, from Scotland’s Inverness and Paris’s Pere Lachaise Cemetery to Shakespeare’s Stratford-upon-Avon and the Beatles’ old haunts in Hamburg. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Daily Beast, The Baltimore Sun and Capital Style.