Excuse for an Excursion: Get Out and Ski!

By Alex, PAWV VISTA

Winter is in full force in West Virginia and that means it’s winter sports time. West Virginia has several ski resorts including Snowshoe, Timberline, Canaan Valley, Oglebay, and Winterplace for downhill and Whitegrass and Elk River for cross-country skiing.

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Here’s a look into the history of Canaan Valley and West Virginia skiing:

During the winter of 1949-50 skiers from The Ski Club of Washington, D.C. (SCWDC) drove through West Virginia looking for snow and the next year started working on putting in a rope tow in Canaan Valley. This ski area, called Cabin Mountain, Driftland, or Little Tuckerman’s fits into the very early stages of United States skiing history. Two other private ski areas, both called Weiss Knob, were also started in Canaan Valley in the 1950’s. These early areas spawned a total of 13 West Virginia areas: first, Bald Knob Beckley in 1958, then, Oglebay Park in Wheeling and Chestnut Ridge near Morgantown in the 1960’s, next, Canaan Valley Resort in Canaan Valley, Alpine Lake in Terra Alta, Snowshoe near Marlinton in the 70’s, and finally, Silver Creek near Marlinton, Winterplace near Beckley, Timberline Resort in Canaan Valley, and Tory Mountain near Harman in the 80’s. The early Canaan Valley ski areas also stimulated the West Virginia Department of Commerce to commission a feasibility study of skiing in West Virginia in 1965. Checci and Company pinpointed four locations as the best in West Virginia for commercial ski areas. These areas were: Cabin Mountain in Canaan Valley, Job Knob near Harman, Elk Mountain in Randolph County, and Spruce Mountain in Pocahontas County.

In 1970 Murray Dearborn who was operating Tyrol, a ski area in New Hampshire, saw an invitation to bid for a ski area concession from the state of West Virginia. At first he considered it a joke, ‘skiing in West Virginia!’ he thought. However, snowmaking was becoming a necessity, not a novelty, and Tyrol had no water, nor access to any, so he stopped by Canaan Valley during a road trip. He was impressed with the facility and followed up on the invitation to bid. He won the concession and the area opened for the 1971-72 season. The grand opening was held on February 11-13 with ski demonstrations by Ruedi Wyrsch, Gary Kiediasch and West Virginia’s skiing bear. Dearborn had a tough first two winters because of lack of natural snow, however, his persistence and his philosophy of making Canaan Valley Resort an integral part of the Tucker County Community, led to success for Murray and the ski area.

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Canaan Valley Resorts Ski Area greatly increased its ski able acreage, snow-making and, of course, the number of skiers. Many ski business firsts occurred at Canaan Valley, over the years. In 1972, John a West Virginia native came to Canaan by way of Stowe, Vermont. He, with the help of Ted Fries, also a West Virginia native, started one of the country’s first blind ski programs at Canaan Valley Resort. Hundreds of blind persons have learned to ski with this program, which is still operating at Timberline. He also started an amputee ski program, a deaf ski program and held one of the country’s first 5 Winter Special Olympics in 1979. His ski school was the first in the country to allow instructors on Nordic equipment to teach alpine lessons. The ski patrol was also one of the first to allow patrollers on telemark equipment. Canaan Valley also pioneered ski classes for college credit with four West Virginia colleges offering ski physical-education credit. Several world-class skiers have skied at Canaan, including World Cup downhiller Holly Flanders. Skiers from the area have gone on to become race directors at Aspen Highlands and Copper Mountain, CO, and to hold supervisory positions in many other large ski areas. Canaan Valley has produced excellent powder skiers. In the 1970’s, skiers started climbing the mountains around Canaan and skiing powder through open woods and down right-of-ways, including Bald Knob. The last thirty years have produced an average snowfall of 167 inches at the 3400’ elevation of the north face.

Canaan Valley has had a long and rich ski history and at this time offers the best skiing in the East south of New England. The skiing at Canaan Valley and Timberline Resorts combined with the abundant snowfall and beauty of the area make Canaan Valley an excellent ski vacation experience. This area has also consistently attracted people who love the sport and believe in the quality of the Valley’s skiing.

Skiing has improved the area’s overall prosperity and quality of life. Many people have been able to remain here and find employment that otherwise might have had to move away. The large numbers of skier visits have spawned other businesses and have increased West Virginia’s tourist industry.

Come and visit for yourself. Go ski!

From “Skiing from Top to Bottom: The History of Skiing in Canaan Valley” by John Lutz

For a more complete version of the history, go to: http://www.canaanvi.org/canaanvi_web/uploadedfiles/events/past_events/lutz_paper.pdf

Visit http://www.wvcommerce.org/travel/thingstodo/outdoorrecreation/skiing/default.aspx for more information on skiing in West Virginia.

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