Back when I was a senior in college, I took the next step in ski instruction by taking a registration clinic in order to be affiliated with the Professional Ski instructors of America(PSIA). The closest one to me at the time was at Canaan Valley Ski Area in West Virginia. As I made my way south over the Mason Dixon line, I was thinking to myself that this was a strange place to go skiing. My experience up to that time, besides skiing in Pa, was either north to New England or west to Colorado. What was this going to be like? The back roads through the Monongahela National Forest were twisty and dark and I had visions of moonshiners, junk yard dogs, and other Appalachian thoughts where I would be lost in some “holler” and never to be heard of again. I was surprised at the beauty of West Virginia and when I got to the Canaan Valley, I was overwhelmed with the charm and the friendliness of the area and the people. “How y’all doin?” was not something I had ever heard from a liftie before and the clinic went well. The clinic leader was from Vermont and he stated to me that he loved coming south to ski because the resorts make a special effort to make sure that the snow conditions are as good as they can be given the challenging conditions of weather in that area.
Fast forward and our Seven Springs crew made our way to Snowshoe Resort for the annual Cupp Run Ski Race. Snowshoe is a huge ski area with an elevation of over 5,000 feet. It has the topography of a small New England area and the Intrawest property is very well run with a lots of snowmaking capacity and a village that is built like Whistler at the top of the mountain. Our crew at the time was there for this annual race and although my ski instructor form in the race course was pretty, it never was fast. But I always had a good time traveling with some of our guys who were actually pretty accomplished racers. John Steitz, who had a pedigree of prep school and college racing, as well as the experience of coaching at Whiteface, went with us one year and won the race. His victory was pretty strong seeing that his main competition at the time was Hans Truckenbrod who was a Vermont based pro racer who always came south to cherry pick this classic race. Boy was he surprised when the “ragpicker” Johhny beat him and took first prize. John was not a slave to fashion as he raced in a wool hat with a hole in it from his dog eating it for breakfast. He also wore green wool pants and a flannel shirt. When he stood on the podium to collect his prize next to Truckenbrod, with his race attire and the third placed guy also looking splendid with his ski parka with sponsor patches, the photographer for Snowshoe looked at me and said, ” Well there goes the publicity picture.” We all laughed as our buddy the “ragpicker” cleaned house and took away the grand prize. Snowshoe puts on a great race and is a wonderful place to ski with surprisingly a lot of natural snow because of its elevation and the frequent southern storms that come racing through West Virginia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euxtPs3TUJ4
Another great memory for me skiing in the south were my trips to see Frank and Jan Habay in Charlottesville, Virginia. They took us to Wintergreen which is a beautiful ski area in the ridges above Charlottesville. After eating my customary southern breakfast with grits, eggs, sausage and gravy, I was excited to try yet another southern ski area. I had a friend, Mark Singleton, who was the ski school director down there who welcomed us and informed us that the World Cup and Olympic champions, Steve and Phil Mahre, were skiing there that day as a publicity event for K2 skis. We caught up with the Mahres as they were skiing on the two expert slopes and we got a first hand look at not only how powerful they were as skiers, but a good look at their humor which is legendary. You see, at Wintergreen, you can’t ski the expert terrain unless you ski down to two ski patrol members and show them your turns. They punch your ticket which indicates that you are skilled enough to ski there. The ski patrol makes an effort to keep people off those slopes that are not skilled enough to ski there. The Mahre brothers approached them at high speed and stopped right in front of them burying them in snow. As they frantically dusted themselves off preparing to take the tickets from the guys, they showed their anger and started screaming at the top of their lungs at the World Cup champions. As they discovered who they were talking to, their demeanor suddenly became sheepish as we all got a good laugh at the prank that was played on the local constabulary by a couple of guys who have raced all over the world.
Skiing in the south has a special charm. The Appalachian mountains are beautiful in their own right and the gentle elevation, accompanied by the legendary southern hospitality is a welcome addition to anyone’s ski portfolio. If you get the chance, ski the south. West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina may surprise you and the effort they make to stay open despite weather challenges shows their passion for the sport of skiing. You never know, you may see some Olympic champions in the lodge eating some red eye gravy and ham with some corn bread. Thanks for reading and enjoy the winter.