Snowshoe Mountain Resort, nearing 40-year celebration, makes the most of a magnificent West Virginia view
February 3, 2013 3:00 PM
Courtesy Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort, about a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh.
Heading down a slope at Squaw Valley, Calif., near Lake Tahoe.
Courtesy Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort, with its top-of-the-summit facilities, in West Virginia
By Lawrence Walsh Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
SNOWSHOE, W.Va. -- Mark and Alice Poore were cleaning out a cluttered farmhouse they were renting in 1977 when they found a long circular mailing tube with the original plans for Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
The plans showed that Thomas Brigham, the founder, wanted to build the usual base facilities in the basin area of the resort and not at the top of the mountain where they are now.
The spectacular sunsets kept drawing Brigham to the summit.
They prompted Manyon Millican, the vice president of marketing, to encourage Brigham to "sell the view, Doc, sell the view."
And they did.
Brigham, an orthodontist far more at home outdoors than in a dental office, and Mr. Millican, a pharmacist by profession, teamed up with others to attract visitors to the "upside-down" resort they called "an island in the sky."
The resort opened in December 1974 and during its first season drew 26,000 people. Although it's gone through several ownerships and bankruptcies, it's been on firm financial footing under its most recent owner, Intrawest, since 1995. It has now hosted more than 11 million skiers and snowboarders and will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.
PG Map: Snowshoe Mountain Resort (Click image for larger version)
Getting to the Snowshoe property wasn't easy at first.
Mr. Poore and five friends set out from Virginia in a tan Volkswagen microbus in September 1974 to look for a new ski area they had heard about somewhere in east-central West Virginia.
When they asked for directions in Cass, 10 miles east of Snowshoe, "no one knew what we were talking about," Mr. Poore said. They looked at a map and spotted a sign that led to a one-lane dirt road.
The road was best traveled in those days "with chains, a chain saw and a gun," said Ed Galford, the vice president of operations who started at the resort as a snowmaker in 1974.
Mr. Poore, his friends and the microbus eventually came to a house near Route 219 that served as the area's administrative offices. Inside they met Brigham, who offered to give them a tour.
They clambered into his "big boat" Jeep and wound their way up a convoluted 6-mile dirt and ballast road to the mountain's 4,848-foot summit -- the second highest point in West Virginia.
Brigham led them into the Shavers Centre, a large wooden building that contained the cafeteria, rental shop, ski school and ski patrol.
Jean-Claude Killy, who won gold medals in the downhill, slalom and giant slalom at the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble, France, served as the resort's ambassador for a brief time. He reportedly designed Cupp Run, Snowshoe's advanced run that has a 1,500-foot vertical drop. His photo hung on the wall beside Richard Nixon's in the nearby Slaty Fork post office.
When Mr. Poore returned to join the ski school in mid-December of 1974, the resort's nine slopes and trails were covered with 2 feet of snow. He filled the trunk of his Pontiac Firebird with rocks for traction to climb the access road now known as Snowshoe Drive.
The Poores moved to the area in 1977, wore skis when they were married on the snow on March 18, 1979, and built a house nearby. Their son, Keith, coaches the junior ski team. Their daughter, Emily, lives in Bend, Ore.
Mr. Poore, 65, who has held a number of management positions in the ski school and the ski patrol, continues as a member of the ski patrol. Mrs. Poore works in the conference sales and service office.
The resort had no on-mountain overnight accommodations when it opened. The closest lodging was 23 miles down Route 219 to Marlinton or 50 miles up Route 219 to Elkins.
When I made my first trip there, the proprietor of the general store in Slaty Fork told me the "Widow Reynolds" might have a room to rent. Dorothy Reynolds did. It was near the resort's access road and was reached by crossing a swayback wooden bridge over a creek. I was leery of the bridge, so I parked beside the road.
The room cost $8 and came with a warm brick wrapped in a towel to place at the foot of the bed, lots of blankets and a lumberjack's breakfast with homemade biscuits and jam. She cooked pot roast for dinner.
A huge kettle of water simmering atop a potbelly stove provided the only hot water in the frame house. I dipped a big kitchen pot into the kettle and carried the steaming water to the clawfoot tub. It took a lot of trips to put a few inches of water in the tub. I used the kitchen faucet to refill the kettle.
Mrs. Reynolds, an independent soul who used a 22.-caliber rifle to keep trespassing varmints out of her garden, wasn't afraid to speak her mind. When I called from Pittsburgh to thank her for her hospitality, she upbraided me for leaving "too much" -- $25 -- on the kitchen table.
Mr. Galford, 59, who learned to ski at the resort, said there now are overnight accommodations for up to 9,600 on the mountain and up to 1,200 more in the valley via Snowshoe Drive.
Intrawest has invested $88 million to transform Snowshoe into "the premier destination mountain resort in the Southeast," he said.
It has succeeded
The resort now has 60 slopes and trails with logging and railroad-related names on 251 acres, including 18 runs at Silver Creek; 15 lifts, including three high-speed quads; an average annual snowfall of 180 inches and 100 percent snowmaking. Terrain: 42 percent beginner/novice, 30 percent intermediate, 28 percent advanced.
Brigham developed two other resorts -- Sugar and Beech -- in North Carolina before Snowshoe. A visionary known as the "father of Southern skiing," he died in 2008. His Snowshoe legacy lives on.
If you go ... Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort is at 10 Snowshoe Drive, Snowshoe, WV 26209-0010. It's about a 4-hour drive from Pittsburgh.
Directions: Interstate 79 south to Weston, W.Va., Route 33 east to Elkins and Route 219 south.