- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

An image of Hank Williams Jr. pinto-patterned cowboy hat, amber sunglasses, spangled vest was on a continual loop running through my mind. But instead of posing the "Monday Night Football" cliche, he asked whether I was ready for some skiing.
Hank popped into my mind's eye when I rushed over the lip of a snow swale, and his raucous voice thundered in my ears as I skidded down a particularly steep face.
By the time I had reclaimed control of the DVD player that was my brain, Hank had faded to a Snowshoe Mountain promotional film clip. The air was crisp, the snow perfect, the sky blue, the crowds thin. What more could you ask from the largest winter playground in the Middle Atlantic region? I was abusing long-dormant muscles during my first ski encounter of the season, while Snowshoe was showing her best personality.
Unlike previous Decembers, Snowshoe was in midseason form. All the chairlifts were operating, and more than 75 percent of the terrain was open. Snow depths on the slopes were measured in feet, not inches, and the snow carpet stretched from treeline to treeline along Snowshoe's trails.
The wind was fierce at times, gusting to 49 mph one day. But that is to be expected at Snowshoe's 4,848-foot summit. And there was that morning fog that plagues the West Virginia high peaks. But proper attire a long, windproof parka, fleece neck gaiter and rose-tinted goggles made the time spent out in the elements comfortable. With the regularly spaced rushes of adrenalin, the entire experience could be deemed enjoyable, if not fatiguing.
Cupp Run, Snowshoe's challenging, double-black diamond trail, captures the essence and personality of Snowshoe in its 1.5-mile plunge to the valley floor. Cupp is unrelenting with no level sections, just steeper degrees of down. On the chairlift ride back up the mountain, I reflected that Cupp must be what a downhill race course is like. That assessment is a tribute to Olympic champion Jean-Claude Killy, who designed Cupp Run in the 1970s.
The more than 50 inches of snow so far this season have opened cross-country skiing and snowshoeing from the Snowshoe Mountain Adventure Center. Either activity is a peaceful departure from the Alpine skiing and snowboarding of the main mountain.
As I drove home Sunday, I wondered whether any other skiing excursion this winter would measure up to my Snowshoe experience. It looks like it will be a long season trying to find out. Information: 877/441-4386; snowshoemtn.com.
Top dollar at Stratton Stratton, in Vermont, has the country's highest one-day lift ticket price: $72. The price applies to Saturdays and holidays, traditionally the busiest days of the season for ski resorts. The Sunday "walk-up rate" is $69. The $72 Saturday and holiday ticket surpasses Vail and Beaver Creek in Colorado, which have a top one-day price of $71. The average lift ticket price nationwide is $49.44, according to the National Ski Areas Association.
While $70-plus lift ticket prices might make credit cards blanch, the pricing is consistent with other travel and vacation costs you pay top dollar if you want to travel or lodge or ski that day. All resorts offer a variety of discounted plans that bring down the cost of skiing for a day. If you are able to plan and do some shopping around, you can avoid paying high lift ticket prices.
Learn to ski Until Tuesday, Liberty Mountain Resort in Carroll Valley, Pa., has a learn-to-ski/snowboard package for $15. The deal includes a lift ticket, rental skis or snowboards, boots and poles.
The Burton Snowboards demo van will be at Liberty today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with new boards and bindings available for testing. Be sure to bring a photo ID and a credit card (for security reasons; there is no charge to demo the boards). Information: 717/642-8282; skiliberty.com.
Night skiing at Wintergreen
Wintergreen Resort in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains has night skiing until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and until 10 p.m. the rest of the week.
Skiing and snowboarding are only two of the activities available at Wintergreen. There are two snow tubing parks, indoor tennis, a spa and, if conditions permit, golf. For New Year's, several parties are planned at various venues throughout the resort. Information: 800/266-2444, 434/325-2100; wintergreenresort.com.
Timberline's New Year's celebration Timberline Four Seasons Resort in Davis, W.Va., will celebrate 2003 with a New Year's Eve party. A buffet dinner, dancing and a midnight snack will be featured for about $37 a couple or $20 a person.
Timberline will have a College Ski Break from Jan.6 to 10, with discounted lift, rental and lesson rates for students. Information: 800/766-9464; timberlineresort.com.
Take the express at Winterplace
Contact Winterplace in Flat Top, W.Va., a day before you plan to arrive with your ski and snowboard information and your equipment and lift tickets will be waiting for you. Winterplace's Express Ski Service can be accessed at 800/977-3754. Information: 800/607-7669, 304/787-3221; winterplace.com.
Snow Sports appears on Sundays in The Washington Times during the winter. Contact: bclapper@washingtontimes.com.

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