It all started eight years ago with a red t-shirt from Alta, a ski resort just outside of Salt Lake City. The shirt’s graphic—a small silhouette of a skier mid-turn, framed under the intentionally faded script of the resort’s name—evokes the aesthetic that dominated most ski merch back when I first learned to ski in the mountains of Colorado in the mid-70s. I loved the retro design, but more importantly I knew that images speak louder than words, and would wear it around my then one-year-old niece Sadie constantly. I’d talk about skiing as often as I could over the subsequent years, and whenever I returned from a trip out West, I’d sit her on my knees and replicate the swoosh-swoosh downhill motions, tossing in the occasional lift to mimic leaping off a cat track or mogul. It was a less-than-subtle campaign to get her to try skiing, and it worked.
She cut her teeth on one cold day in February when she was six at Liberty Mountain, a small ski resort in Pennsylvania about an hour from our home town of Washington, DC. And when she started referring to that tiny mountain as her favorite, I knew it was time to initiate to the next step in my master plan: a weekend trip to a resort that could give us more than Liberty’s 620 vertical feet.
Naturally, the resorts on Colorado’s Front Range that served as my training grounds
beckoned. But that felt like going from learning to walk to convincing Sadie to run a marathon—to say nothing of the logistical hassles. Thankfully, Snowshoe exists.
This West Virginia resort boasts the largest vertical feet in the Mid-Atlantic. And while I knew the chances of her skiing down the 1,500 vertical feet within the Western Territories section of the resort would be too ambitious for someone who hadn’t conquered a single blue run, I knew from past experience there that the resort’s 244 skiable acres would offer her plenty of options, including—hopefully—her first taste of a blue, and a whole bunch of joy that comes from staying on the mountain, rather than hopping in her child seat after skiing all day. Of course, that her parents, my
father, and I would also get to ski those 1,500 vertical feet didn’t hurt matters, either.
My confidence for a successful journey was further reinforced by the $4 million investment that the resort made for the 2018-19 season, including improvements to both snowmaking and grooming. All the runs were open by the time we made the long drive in early February of this year.
Snowmaking efficiency at Snowshoe arguably ranks as the second-biggest headline for the resort. It recently became part of a family of other resorts run by Alterra Mountain Company, who introduced the Ikon Pass this year. Marketed as a direct competitor to Vail Resort’s Epic Pass, Ikon lets pass-holders ski at Snowshoe and a host of other top-notch locations including Winter Park, Steamboat, Copper Mountain, Squaw Valley, Alta and Snowbird, and Jackson Hole—just to name a few. Heady company for a mid-sized West Virginia ski resort and a far cry from my childhood, when my parents bought discount lift tickets at Denver grocery stores before driving into the Front Range.
Of courses, globe-spanning ski passes are hardly the only thing that’s changed since I first yanked on a pair of ski boots. Ski gear has also made leaps and bounds since my day of hand-me-down duct-taped ski gear, especially in the kid’s space. Witness Shred Dog, which has managed to thread the needle between over-priced kid-specific ski apparel and the legion of sub-par children’s products, sold at a steep discount, the offer none of the protection a kid needs when on the slopes.
Shred Dog achieves this balancing act by crafting high-quality apparel with the features found in a more expensive expensive product—waterproof/breathable fabrics, powder skirts, pit zips—and sells the apparel directly to consumers via their website, a business model that drastically reduces the overall price since they aren’t burdened with the distribution costs associated with getting their product into brick-and-mortar retailers. They’ve also initiated a Co-Design program, which lets their customers (the parents and the kids) weigh in on the features that are most important—everything from colors and styles to tech elements.
That said, their girl’s Xena Hard Shell ($150) has everything Sadie could want. The
waterproof/breathable jacket comes with pit zips, ample pockets, articulated elbows, adjustable Velcro- secured cuffs, a powder skirt, goggle pocket, reflective details, and a double front zip that seals in heat (and lets you zip in their Akita Insulator jacket). The sleeves can be lengthened or shortened as needed, a clutch detail if Sadie’s growth spurts continue—a constant that inspired us to size up for a looser, less athletic fit.
The dog’s head logo certainly helped foster her affection for the shell, but she took full advantage of the pit zips during her first day on the slopes as temps hovered in the relatively balmy mid-30s. She spent that first day in ski lessons while her parents, my father, and I plied the runs on the front side, lapping runs on the Flying Eagle lift while local ski teams raced down the black Widowmaker.
After a lunch at the rough-and-tumble condo of leftover pizza from the first’s night’s foray to Cheat Mountain Pizza, we graduated to the Western Territories, home of that 1,500 vertical feet stretched across black and a double-black runs that’ll cure skeptics about the quality of skiing in West Virginia. Loads of snow, wide-open runs, a lack of serious lift lines, and the grand Arbuckle’s Cabin, a warm refuge at the bottom of the Western Territories with an all-too-inviting sun deck, dominated out afternoon.
At two-and-a-half years of age, my youngest niece Vivian was too young to ski, so she teamed up with my mom and wife to conquer the tube park anchored around Snowshoe’s sister mountain, Silver Lake. And she adored riding the free shuttle around the resort. Modest adventuring, to be sure, but one that required a Shred Dog jacket of her own.
Not to be outdone on the gear front, I scored her (and Sadie) a pair of Sunski sunglasses. Much like Shred Dog, Sunski specializes in making high-quality products affordable for mere mortals, and includes two kids models—the Mini Dipseas and the Mini Headlands ($38)—suitable for a child’s face, with polarized lenses and complete UV protection.
The rest of our time at Snowshoe was spent wandering the pedestrian village that sits at the top of the mountain; unlike a typical resort, most of the lodging and restaurants reside at the summit, rather than the base, which affords a playful (if sometimes windy) snow-globe feel when the clouds start spitting snow.
The design of the village itself can be traced back to Snowshoe’s days as an Intrawest resort, who modeled their “main streets” after the walkable villages in Europe, and it’s still a fantastic way to get to a resort and find everything you need—shopping, restaurants, bars, the lifts, even groceries—a short distance away. Special thanks go out to the Old Spruce Café and Tavern, a cozy restaurant/bar that carries a friendly local’s hangout vibe and the place where my wife was able to score a few teaspoons of the cumin she’d forgotten for the turkey chili that served after that first, long day. One that left Sadie exhausted and giddy for more time on the slopes.
Alas, a 4.5-hour drive back to DC meant that Sadie would only get a half-day that Sunday, one spent skiing meandering greens with the family as she followed me over small risers on the sides before braving her first blue, a short run called J Hook. An angled fall line that made her nervous until she could see the bottom of the lift, whereupon she started linking turns, skis pointing like a slice of pizza, all the way to the bottom. The only real hardship was getting her to stop.
“Just one more run” is a familiar phrase for all skiers. But it’s hard to communicate to a nine-year-old that there’s always just one more run. Nevertheless, I suspect that her enthusiasm for the sport will far outlast that moment of bewildered disappointment and anger she felt as we headed to our cars that afternoon, especially because next year I aim to get her out west.
She’s already got the gear. And who knows. By then maybe Vivian will be ready to clip into her first pair of skis.
But enough of my input. Sadie phrased both the gear and the trip as “insanely fantastic.” And that’s the best testament ever.