High in the Alleghenies, West Virginia, lies one of the East Coast’s best kept secrets – Timberline Mountain Resort. Located along the flank of the highest large valley east of the Mississippi river, Timberline enjoys a climate similar to Vermont. The resort’s base elevation of 3,268 ft is among the highest in the East and an average of 190 inches snow falls at the mid-mountain 3,700 ft elevation.
At only three hours from Washington, DC it’s surprising more skiers bypass Timberline for Snowshoe Mountain. Of course, just about the only two things Snowshoe and Timberline have in common is that they’re in West Virginia. Snowshoe has a modern, mountaintop planned unit development and high speed lifts. Timberline has slow lifts and a decidedly more old-school feel. But Timberline’s trump card is its terrain, which bests all but the Western Territory trails at Snowshoe. Not to be confused with Timberline Lodge & Ski Area in Oregon.
Timberline Ski Area
Timberline’s ski terrain is spread across a lone mountain face with two triple chairlifts providing access to the summit 1,000’ above. The chairlift at the looker’s right starts lower and finishes higher up the mountain. However, because both lifts are slow, many skiers prefer the triple chair on the looker’s left (the old Silver Queen triple transplanted from Crested Butte). The terrain breaks down into two main lobes, with the steepest terrain and a lone summit-to-base green found on the looker’s left. The looker’s right offers the bulk of the intermediate skiing.
Beginner Skiing at Timberline
Most of Timberline’s beginner terrain is located near the bottom of the mountain. A double chairlift services one main beginner slope (Woods Hole). More confident beginners can take the triple chair adjacent to the beginners double chair to the midstation.
From the midstation beginners can go to their right and ski the Winterset trail or to the left and ski a combination of runs back to the base area. The most noteworthy of Timberline’s green trails is Salamander. This two mile run gently snakes its way down 1,000’ from summit to base. It’s a perfect trail for more advanced beginners. True beginners will struggle not because the trail is too steep, but actually because it’s very gentle. Some poling will likely be required and snowboarders should keep up their speed throughout the entire run to avoid getting stuck.
There are also a number of small, green connector trails that criss-cross the resort, but they are without exception flat and best used to get from place to place as opposed to being real trail worth a separate run.
Intermediate Skiing at Timberline
Most of the intermediate skiing is located on the looker’s right side of the mountain. Three long blue runs offer the intermediate skier plenty of choice and challenge. All three runs afford long views of the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge for almost their entire length.
Upper/Lower Dew Drop and Upper/Lower Almost Heaven are the older of the resort’s blue offerings and when mixing and matching upper and lower sections can be skied as 4 unique runs. On the outside of the mountain, the new Twister trail is our favorite. It’s longer and more winding that the other two runs. The lack of trail junctions really lets more advanced skiers open up the throttle. It’s perhaps the longest and best leg-burning blue run in the Mid Atlantic.
Advanced & Expert Skiing at Timberline
Expert skiing is one of Timberline’s true strengths. Unlike many resorts in the Mid-Atlantic which overclassify their terrain, Timberline’s double black diamonds are steep enough to merit the designation. In fact, Off the Wall, The Drop and Cherry Bowl would all be considered steep even by New England standards.
White Lighting is the resort’s signature single black diamond run. The wide open slope runs besides the chairlift and the Southeast’s best skiers like to strut their stuff on the trail because a long runout provides ample space to scrub speed after a speedy decent.
Backcountry Skiing & Off Piste at Timberline
Many will find it surprising that there can even be off piste skiing south of the Mason Dixon line, but Timberline offers both in bounds gladed terrain and guided backcountry skiing. Ski instructors will are available to guide skiers into the terrain surrounding the resort boundary.
An average of 190” falls every winter at midmountain and despite being offset somewhat by a stronger, lower latitude sun a skiable base builds up in the woods almost every winter. For those interested in alpine touring, nearby White Grass is also an excellent choice.
In bounds, Timberline has almost a dozen designated tree runs, ranging from well-spaced blues at the bottom to the vaunted Cherry Bowl Glades near the summit. The Cherry Bowl Glades is arguably the most challenging run in Dixie. This north-facing bowl is accessible from the Salamander lift and still appears on the trail report despite being absent from the map.
The skiing is comparable to New England with narrow lines between large mature hardwoods. When conditions are good, Timberline’s tree-skiing bests anything south of Vermont.
Nordic Skiing & Other Activities at Timberline
Besides downhill skiing, Timberline offers Nordic skiing and snowshoeing. 17km of trails are available around the base of the resort. Just five minutes from the resort, White Grass offers a larger Nordic and snowshoeing facility. Snowtubing is available at Canaan Valley.
Timberline Apres Ski Bars & Restaurants
The only on-mountain dining option at Timberline is the main base lodge. Downstairs, the Timberhaus cafeteria provides inexpensive cafeteria food. Upstairs, the base area bar offers waitress service and a selection of beer, wine and liquor. The food at both the cafeteria and bar is hearty, but unremarkable.
The base lodge offers a bar and restaurant which is open during the ski season. Nearby, the Deerfield Pub offers hearty fare are reasonable prices. The Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center has several restaurants serve American cuisine.
The best culinary experience in the valley, however, is undisputedly the White Grass Cafe. Open only during the winter months, the White Grass Cafe at White Grass Touring Center has been serving farm-to-table food since before the term existed. It’s cookbook (now in its seventh printing) has sold over 12,000 copies. Be sure to show up early to grab a table and to listen to the live music on weekend evenings, often Bluegrass or Americana.
There is little in the way of a formal base village and the base area is neither visually appealing nor well-laid out. The base area is a cluttered mix of condos, private homes and small, resort-owned hotels. The base lodge’s restaurant and bar is open during the evenings for dinner.
Accommodation at Timberline or Canaan Valley
The nearby Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center has been recently updated and offers the nicest rooms in the valley. On site, numerous private homes and condos are available for rent directly through the resort’s real estate arm.
Getting to Timberline
Getting to Timberline takes about 3 hours from the Washington, DC metro area. However, the travel time continues to drop as West Virginia’s new “Corridor H” road project progresses and converts formerly two-lane roads with stoplights into a major four lane divided highway.
Timberline Pros & Cons
+ Abundant natural snowfall
+ Excellent expert and tree skiing
+ Longest average run length in the region
– Slow lifts
– Limited on-site luxury accommodations
– Tired infrastructure in need of updating