This was probably one of the craziest ski adventures I’ve ever experienced. Driving thousand of kilometers for many hours through a hurricane in an unlikely ski destination “potentially” buried in snow. I had skied hurricane generated snow at Wildcat in late October 2005, in what would become month #1 of a monthly ski streak, but New Hampshire is almost local compared to West Virginia. The situation was also potential more hazardous this time around.
First off, I would say that this trip wasn’t taken likely. Hurricanes aren’t fun, I’m happy that I live in a part of the World that is rarely subject to the catastrophic destructive force of severe weather events. I feel extremely gracious to those that welcomed us in West Virginia, we were just visitors, visitors in a devastated area. The people at the resort were extremely helpful although they lived extreme stress living in this situation. We entered the disaster area prepared to be self-sufficient.
For those who are living through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy or those who have live through a natural disaster will understand. The part of West Virginia we saw reminded me of Upper New England, Eastern Ontario or Southern Quebec during the great Ice storm when many millions went without electricity in early January 1998. The effects on the lives along the coast were much worst. West Virginia got hit with their biggest snowfall ever.
Once our trip was over, we could leave back to our respectful homes with heating, electricity and all amenities. It wasn’t the case for these people. I feel we brought smiles to some faces (especially thinking of Chip, White Grass Cross-Country and Backcountry Ski area owner) seeing a bunch of crazy people driving from so far away for their snow. Maybe it was reassuring for them that, after all, people could live and enjoy the elements.
WEATHER AND OCTOBER OPTIONS :
The remote possibility of skiing a “distant” part of Appalachian started showing up on radar with 10 days left in October. Having missed an opportunity to ski artificial snow at Killington due to “normal life” getting in the way; I was hoping someone would blow snow in the last stretch of the month or some snow would fall somewhere between Ontario to the Gaspé Peninsula. Some people said that I should consider taking a plane go west to keep the monthly ski streak alive. I decided that I couldn’t continue this ski streak if it require to constantly take the plane. I had done Colorado’s WROD once back in 2007 and I wasn’t willing to repeat it. Once is fine, two is stupid when you don’t have unlimited time or resources.
When it showed up on radar, the odds of this storm would produce a significant amount of snow was like the San Francisco Giants coming back from a 1-3 deficit in the one series and make it the World Series. As the days passed, no other options were showing up:
a) Sunday River and Killington didn’t make snow in their last cold weather window.
b) Too warm for real snow in the higher altitudes in the Northeast
c) Odds for snow further West in Ontario became weak.
d) And Sandy related snow somewhere from Western New York to West Virginia started to fizzle out in the north.
GOING WEST !!!
It became clearer at 5 days out that Sandy would produce snow. Some were skeptical (discussion on NYSB forum), either mentioning that the storm was going to be “a million miles from the coast” or “only produced a couple of inches of slop”. Snow weather gurus like Lionel from FIS and powderfreak weren’t seeing inches, but feet of snow. The only concern, a major concern, was that a hurricane was going to hit the New Jersey then possibility move in land into Pennsylvania (see map above).
MAD FRAKENSTORM PAT PLAN AND SKI:
This was the plan as it stood on Sunday evening.
1) There is going to be snow. It is staring tonight, Sunday. West Virginia is where its going to be. Nowhere else it would seem to be significant. SickBirdRider aka Mr. Multiiglisse got his wish, he’ll be able to drive his wife to Toronto without the extra snow. Mattawa’s Mount Antoine is no longer expecting anything and Timmins is too far and accumulation is…what?
2) Heavy winds and snow Monday night till Tuesday. Don’t want to be get when storm and high wind will be at its worst.
3) Calmer on Wednesday, Halloween.
Leaving Ottawa Monday after work. Sleeping along the way, there is no way to leave here before the storm hits in West Virginia and I was 12 hours away.
Tuesday : Tagging with MattChuck2 in Central New York which isn’t the shortest way from Ottawa to West Virginia and driving down in one car. I didn’t want to drive all that long distance solo into a hurricane where road issues are possible. I have my winter tires and carrying shovels. We’ll see once we arrived in West Virginia what were we were going to set base. We have an alternate route as we might not be able to take the shortest drive between 2 points as Hurricane is forecast to be right in the middle.
There are two areas that we are looking at: Davis (alt. 3100′) in Canaan Valley which has better access. Snowshoe in the bullseye was an extra 2 hours and access to the resort might be difficult due to snow and road closures. Resort (4800′) is that the top of the ski area.
Wednesday: Ski in calmer weather, maybe in Canaan Valley if it’s good and the road are really bad to drive to Snowshoe.
Thursday: Ski again then drive back home.
Friday: Back to work…maybe
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS…
Left Ottawa after the evening rush hour. The car was being pushed around by the strong winds along Highway 416, almost lost control when crossing the Rideau River and Upstate New York
What was it going to be tomorrow as I would get closer to Sandy? I was a hundreds of miles away now? Let’s just say that the US Custom Officer wasn’t impressed with my decision of driving towards Albany and the hurricane that night…and eventually to West Virginia. Continued strong winds in the St. Lawrence Valley, construction detours, torrential rains and down tree limbs made it complicated. At one point, I gave up and detoured to drive away from the Adirondack twist to get to Interstate 87. Once on the Interstate, things really calmed down and I could ever see the strange clouds formation and moon. Arrived in Albany passed midnight, tomorrow’s drive should be twice as long and more challenging, I thought. Sandy is supposed to move into Pennsylvania then turn north towards the state of New York, right in the middle of our ideal itinerary.
Tuesday morning, October 30
After looking at the weather forecast and surprised to see the projected wind next to the eye of the storm. Matt thought we should drive straight to West Virginia regardless of Sandy’s location. We had our skis, skins, avy gear, winter tires, shovels, granola bars and a 2 kilo jar of peanut butter. We were ready, we were stoked. Totally stoked!!!
We had planned on stopping at a grocery store, but the only stops were at Subway’s which we become on breakfast-supper and gas and one more last stop for gas south of the Mason-Dixon line.
The drive was fairly easy, with little wind and some rain, but nothing like the previous night. Heading towards the hurricane, the road was deserted. Matt used his phone to checkout the weather only to find out that the centre of Sandy was at 120 miles east of Pittsburgh was pretty close our current location. Matt was getting updates on WV road closures. Tried calling Canaan Resort, but didn’t reach anyone either. We could see from their website that the Golf course was closed until November 1st due to the weather. He managed to speak to someone at Snowshoe Ski Resort, but it was probably a call center because they didn’t to know what Matt was talking about when he talked about potential road closures; he was transferred to a black-hole of the forever rigging phone. We’ll see when we get there, we were just a couple of hours away.
Crossing the river into a nightmare of any urban planner; the town of Keysey WV was a melting pot a few beautiful building stranded in the middle large roads, strip malls and vacant lots. The areas outside town were more pleasant with trees, views on green fields and our first sights of snow on lawn and in the mountains. The pristine Vermont type scenery was going to end once we started to gain altitude through a series of switchbacks. Weird sights welcomed us at the top of our climb which included wind mills, huge eerie power plant, blasted mountain top mining and unfinished construction on a super highway with stand-alone huge towers pylons the side of towers for the future of the high raise super highway partial built; all this with in full grey winter mode.
Major snowdrifts, blowing snow and whiteout conditions. stranded cars and plows moving snow around, but not necessary making the matters better. Our Ontario plate car was one of the rare vehicule and probably the only non-SUV on that road; not sure we would have made it over into Canaan Valley without the snow tires. Davis WV on the other side of the mountain was dark and looked like an abandoned ghost town. Snowbanks and no lights, but the road fairly clear. We did some reconnaissance of the area while we still had some daylight, first Canaan Ski area followed by Timberline. Access roads were snow-covered, but we managed to make it with winter storm driving skills. We saw one set of ski track at Canaan. There were over 18 inches at the base of both areas and it was still snowing. Although we had limited visibility, Timberline looked like it had the best terrain. Unlike the Canaan ski area, the Timberline Lodge door was unlocked. Besides from the perceptible steeps, Timberline verts was 1000ft versus 850 for Canaan. Both ski areas top off at around 4250ft.
We tried to find someone and wandered in the dark inside to see about a possible place to stay. We heard some voices on the second floor inside the cafeteria. Three men were in front of the fireplace, at first we thought they were squatters, but they happened to work at the area. The first thing they asked us is if we had some cigarettes. They mentioned that Canaan Resort might have a generator, they didn’t seem to eager to accommodated us.
We arrived in a dimly lit lobby of the Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center; employees were busy managing a crisis. They were somewhat surprised that some people would look for a room. The hotel had only 2 other guests at the hotel. They didn’t have any heating or lighting in the rooms and Matt asked if they had a poweroutage price? The response was: “Is $20-room / $10 a person, okay?” Hell, yeah!!! We came back to the lobby to eat our second half of our Subway sandwich and called it an early night. There was nothing on TV.
We had entertained the option of heading down to Showshoe, but after what we saw today, it was clear that we weren’t going to move. The major West Virginia ski resort might have a greater vertical (1500’) and higher summit (4800’), but it was also an extra two-hour drive to the south when the roads are good. The setup at Showshoe is similar to Le Massif where you start from the resort is located at the top of the mountain. Everything around Canaan Valley looked real good. Showshoe might possibly have more snow, but we had more than enough to make it a great day and our lodging was unbeatable.
WEDNESDAY / HALLOWEEN AT TIMBERLINE
Overnight the room temperature dropped 5c to a nice 10c. I didn’t sleep with a sleeping bag, but it was going to use for our second night. It was still snowing with an extra 6 inches that were added to the 2-3 feet totals. Used the 2kg Peanut Butter for our breakfast and sandwiches for lunch. There wasn’t any stress driving on the snow covered road until Matt yell…DEER!!! We would find out that deer are pretty common in this part of West Virginia, deer road kill seemed common in these parts. I guess that would explain why they are so many “Welcome Hunters” signs everywhere. We crossed a green plate from Vermont that morning, don’t think they were hunters?
As we drove into the Timberline lot, we were asked about cigarettes by the same guy and he informed us of the danger of pre-season skiing (no patrol, etc). There was one other truck in the unplowed lot. We weren’t the first ones, we saw a bootpack and tracks, but we wouldn’t see them on the hill. We had forgotten our map of the ski area at our room, but we had a vague idea of the layout on the mountain.
We started skinning from the car at 10am and followed the tracks. Instead of heading straight towards the steep face we decided we would use a few lines in the woods. The woods looked nice, headed up at towards the bottom of the double black Off the Wall trail where another bootpack was set. We decided to maybe ski down to a mellower trail for the skin up.
We would later discover that we ended up setting tracks in 2 feet of snow on the 2-mile Salamander, officially claimed to be the longest trail in the South; it might also be the flattest. The snow was blowing in our faces on half that trip. After a peanut butter sandwich at the summit, we opted to ski down a trail called The Drop, an excellent choice. First tracks!!! It was like skiing on powdery silk, it was so great. This trail had an excellent pitch. Once it got mellower we cut through for a few turns in the woods and decided to do the tour on Salamander again. I didn’t have much issue with the cardio this time; it was more the cramps to the legs that slowed us down. We saw a Pittsburgh couple bootpacking Off the Wall. Seemed like hard work. Our climb took less time now that the track was set, although there was blowing snow. The poles with small baskets weren’t pretty much useless as they would sink so deep. It was all leg work.
For our second run we went down on a narrow steep run that we eventually end up the main expert run along the liftline. We saw another set of tracks and ran into maggots Moeghoul and ML242 from TGR/NYSB who had just arrived from NYC and VT towards the bottom of our second and last run. We had been in touch with them, so we were expecting them.
Back at the car, I found change for a nickel on the trunk of my car: 5 pennies. ML242 said it wasn’t them. Was there someone else from TGR at Timberline that day? As Matt was relaying information to various people from the NYSB and TGR ski forums. We found out that many people were looking into heading down. Although I didn’t see it until afterwards, Matt’s update of our trip made was being feed via NYSB’s ski forum thread : Timberline WV Oct 2012: Matt and Pat’s Roadtrip.
This post just made about 10 different people drop their shit so they can leave for WV tomorrow.
Excitement of Matt’s live feed was felt across the eastern ski forums like TGR where maggots started descending on WV. Eastern Maggots were on their way or already in the area. Here’s FIS’s West By Ullr Virginia TR of skiing at White Grass, I guess that might have been the Vermont plates that were crossed that morning.
Like the cigarettes man, we needed to find some beer!!!
To be continued…Stay tuned for Part 2.
Matt’s blog post : Skiing Sandy – Timberline & Whitegrass, West Virginia
Matt’s TR/feed on Harvey Road (NewYorkSkiBlog) : Timberline WV Oct 2012: Matt and Pat’s Roadtrip
To answer a few questions I’ve been asked: