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West Virginia is tops for skiing

By Randy Johnson
Correspondent

If reaching the slopes almost entirely on cruise control sounds good to you after a long work week, aim for West Virginia’s Winterplace (www.winterplace.com). It’s all high-speed highway on Interstate 77 from Charlotte. The resort boasts it is “2 minutes off I-77 at Exit 28 Ghent” in Flat Top, W.Va. – 190 miles; two hours and 50 minutes.

Cross country close to home

Northern West Virginia’s Canaan Valley (www.skithevalley.com) is a big drive (6 1/2 hours, most on Interstate), but there’s also big snow and the best, most reliable cross country (aka, Nordic) skiing in the Mid-Atlantic and South. This high valley surrounded by federal wilderness land gets 150 inches of snow annually. Best of all – between two Nordic-ski-oriented resort state parks, and the White Grass Ski Touring Center (www.whitegrass.com), one of the entire East’s best private cross country ski centers –this is the place to go for Nordic skiing. White Grass has miles of set track (meaning machines imprint grooves in the snow to make going cross country a breeze) and a dozen cozy shelters on easy to expert trails amid spectacular scenery. There’s also a professional ski school with top-notch rental skis and snowshoes, ski shop (the best place to buy in the region) and a gourmet cafe. Both state parks are linked by trail and have their own Nordic ski centers that also have set track. Both parks have cabins beside cross country trails, and hotel rooms and restaurants at inviting main lodges. And ... there are two big downhill resorts in the valley, too (accessible on one ticket).

The kingpin ski destination

Snowshoe Mountain Resort (www.snowshoemtn.com) is the region’s premier destination – in part because at just more than a five-hour trip: far enough away to make a stay necessary. It’s worth the drive. Mother Nature helps, with 180 inches of annual natural snow – more than double the snowiest N.C. slopes. The resort does the rest, with more than 250 acres of skiing – about double the size of the biggest competitors in the region. There are three distinct ski areas, and two are easily linked.

Snowshoe is truly “life the top.” Most of the resort’s lodging and facilities lie across an almost 5,000-foot summit, so a winter wonderland is almost guaranteed. (Tip: Winterize your car before going.)

Slow-lane skiing

Snowshoe’s bustling mountaintop will seem far away if you stay at Elk River Touring Center, though it’s just a short five-mile drive. The Elk River Inn & Restaurant (www.elkriverinnandrestaurant.com) complex sits in a valley below Snowshoe. It’s a great way to escape the ski-resort atmosphere but still have easy access to the slopes. The inn has a comfortable and the restaurant and pub are local favorites. The best part: Elk River’s far milder climate and quieter setting also include plenty of snow and great cross country skiing and snowshoeing. There’s a nice trail system around the lodge, and not far away, the summertime Highland Scenic Highway – at 4,700 feet – is snowed closed in winter and there are miles of easy-to-intermediate trails perfect for snowshoeing and cross country touring. The touring center is a four-season secret, with great mountain biking and fly fishing in summer.

Snow machine South

As the snowiest spot in the region, Snowshoe options include activities you’d expect to find out west or in New England. Snowmobile and snowcat tours are two of those. Snowmobile tours explore the slopes and even adjacent backcountry areas. Rides can cross the spectacular ridge trail along Cheat Mountain where the resort has its Sunrise Backcountry Hut (dinner and overnight accommodations available). Snowcats stick to the slopes. But if you think skiing is a thrill, wait until you’re heading downhill in one of these machines!

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