|When you ski Timberline you’re in for a different experience
so you need to adjust your expectations. There are only three lifts and
13 trails. Yes, of course, as any ski resort, management claims 35 trails
by naming every little segment separately, but by any rational definition
there are 13.
This might sound like a glorified day slope, a scenic Perfect North. No. The secret here is the length of the trails. These are the longest runs in the region. There are no other trails in the region where stopping halfway down for a rest is a reasonable suggestion.
The reason Timberline only has three lifts is that two of them go all the way to the top of the mountain (yes, it’s quite a ride), all the trails fan out from there, and they all eventually wind their way back around to the front where they meet at the base lodge.
True, this creates a problem. On crowded days, the lift lines and general congestion along that base area becomes unwieldy. But the mountain spreads out the skiers so coming down the runs is usually not crowded.
|Any discussion of Timberline skiing begins with Salamander.
The greatest cruising run in the region, this magnificent trail winds from
the top of the mountain down the northeastern face, around the northern
shoulder and finishes up on the west side as it approaches the lodge. Salamander
is two miles long. And it keeps changing. Long, level interludes separate
steep drops, sharp turns, wooded sections and stunning views. Salamander
is rated Green because it’s wide enough to be forgiving, but some
of the steeps and turns will prove pretty daunting for novices. The S Turn
on the western side is especially entertaining and is a good place to stop
for a snack and watch the fun. Skiiers end up in the trees on the left,
over the hill on the right, sliding down the drop backward, and sometimes
taking off their skis and walking down.
Timberline is not the place to begin a skiing career. At least a few lessons and days experience elsewhere are needed. There are only a few Greens here and they’re marginal Blues.
| Winterset comes down the southern face of the mountain. Skiiers
drop off the Thunder Draft Triple Lift at the midmountain station and head
south. The first part is gentle cruising, but once it begins swinging around
toward the west face and the lodge run, it becomes more difficult. Winterset
is a narrow trail through the trees so there’s not much room for maneuvering,
and it steepens sharply dropping down off the shoulder. Then it levels off
for the final stretch. This trail offers a unique feature : it is the only
ski trail in the region traversing a tunnel. The road to the South Face
Chalets crosses over the trail here, so you ski through a long metal culvert.
Getting off the lift at the same midstation and turning north puts you on Fire Road, a pleasant cruise through the woods until you meet double black Drop coming down off the mountain. You then turn sharp left and hit a steep chute, which brings you out on the final leg of Salamander.
Woods Hole is on the map but is more of a ski school training hill or a warmup area than a real trail. It is right in front of the lodge and has its own lift, Gobblers Gulch.
Cat Tail is the only other Green on the mountain. It cuts off Almost Heaven, crosses Parkway, passes the snowboarding half pipe, and finishes up at the lodge. It’s not a bad Green, but is a curious one, since no lift accesses it, and the only way to reach the beginning is to come down a Blue from the midstation.
|Timberline only has four Blues but they’re
great. The best is Dew Drop, which heads South from the top of the mountain,
drops straight down heading West, and curls around to join Winterset right
at the base. Two cross country trails head off into the woods from Dew Drop
and a couple of hours later end up over at White Grass Cross Country Resort.
Good Intentions cuts off Dew Drop halfway down and takes a more northerly route to the same base. It’s a little steeper with less variety.
Almost Heaven roughly parallels Dew Drop, starting from the top and cutting down through the woods facing due West. It comes out right at the Thunder Draft Lift. Almost Heaven is a marginal black and too narrow to be very forgiving.
White Out cuts off White Lightning two thirds of the way down the mountain and wanders over to join Salamander for its final run to the lodge. It’s steep but wide enough to allow plenty of carving back and forth across the hill.
It is, however, the seven Blacks that really set Timberline apart. This is big time skiing. Snowshoe’s Western Territory is the only other terrain in the region that approaches these runs in length, variety and challenge.
|Perry Glades is a semi offtrail descent that comes down between Dew Drop
and Good Intentions over on the Southern face. It is a through the trees,
partially maintained route that requires plenty of natural snow. If your
skills are anything less than advanced, forget this.
But if you survive Perry intact, you might try its North Face counterpart, Cherry Bowl Glades. Another off trail, semi maintained route, this one is even tougher than Perry, mostly because it’s steeper and throws more obstacles in your face.
The others are at least regular trails well maintained and groomed. But they’re steep, narrow, unforgiving, and actually dangerous for anyone not in total control.
Thunderstruck is a top to bottom affair which is pretty demanding until it reaches the midstation, below which it mellows out into sort of a marginal high blue. The upper half is tight and tricky. Thunderstruck faces Southwest and picks up a lot of mid day sun, so it can ice up by 3 pm. If it does, it can be dangerous for all but the best.
Thunderdraft and Silverstreak seem to be chairlift maintenance right of ways which someone decided to label trails. Skiiers will be descending right below the chairs, offering entertainment for the riders. In addition to a fairly narrow clearance, these runs are further complicated by the frequent lift poles and the pressure of people catcalling and jeering any mistakes. Thunderdraft eases somewhat below the midstation, where it becomes Parkway and is a marginal high blue. Silverstreak continues to challenge all the way down to the lodge.
|White Lightning is a sprint straight down the westernmost,
steepest face of the mountain. From the lift to the Green trail Fire Road
which crosses it halfway down, it’s a classic steep. Below Fire Road,
it eases slightly into a marginal high blue, but assuming you kept on your
feet, you’ll be moving so fast by that point it’ll take you
the bottom third of the mountain to slow down before you emerge into the
congestion at the base. Assuming you’re a legitimate expert skiier,
your greatest risk on White Lightning may not be the terrain, but the Fire
Road crossing. Novice skiers emerge from the trees, slowly working their
way across your path, probably freezing as they see you bearing down upon
them. You could face five or six of these beginners caught on the trail
like deer in your headlights, and one or two of them could be down. Running
a Green across a black in full speed descent is a horrendous design error.
There have been several major accidents here. Be careful you’re not
|Veterans who have enjoyed the blacks mentioned thus far can move up to
Drop and Off The Wall, Timberline’s two high end tests. It labels
these double diamonds and this is not an exaggeration. The trail map has
a Southwestern perspective, so distorts the trails on the Northwestern and
Northern faces. The map makes Drop and Off The Wall seem to be gentler descents
than the other blacks. Don’t be deceived. These are hairy, relentless
dives off the cliff. These may be runs through the trees, but you’ll
notice the trees are barely hanging on. Consider Drop starts from the same
lift as Salamander and rejoins Salamander at the bottom. Salamander takes
two miles to get to the bottom, and some of that is steep enough to give
people trouble. Drop takes half a mile, and the very top and bottom are
gradual leadin and runout.
Off The Wall is just as challenging but not quite as long, as it rejoins Salamander just above the Westside S Turn. This is also fun. Once a day or so a top skiier new to Timberline will descend Off The Wall fine, then relax and wipe out on the final drop off S Turn.
For all of its outstanding trails, Timberline is seriously undercapitalized. Major upgrading is a decade overdue. Intrawest and others have considered buying the place, but been unable to come to terms.
|The lifts would be first on anyone’s priority list.
Timberline desperately needs bigger and faster lifts. This would be a great
place for large 60 passenger gondolas like the ones at Gatlinburg or even
Jackson Hole. If both of these lift routes had four gondolas rotating riders
to the top, that base area congestion would disappear. Then two chair lifts
could transport skiers to the midlevel.
The second critical priority here is a new base lodge. This is the worst lodge in the region. Small local day slopes like Perfect North and Paoli have better. This tremendous mountain needs a major league facility. And no remodelling will do. Timberline needs to level this lodge and build from scratch.
The third priority for Timberline needs to be a focused lobbying effort to get a decent highway built to link the Canaan Valley with the outside world. For a decade environmentalists have blocked the extension of the interstate from Elkins up to Davis. Most skiers are deeply committed to a pristine environment, and the Cranberry and Dolly Sods wilderness tracts must be preserved. But there must be a way to get a decent road in here. Currently, from the I-79’s Westin exit, skiers can reach Seven Springs (Pa.) or Wisp (Md.) in less time than Timberline.
|There isn’t much you can do about these issues. But you can minimize
the pain. First, get there early, preferably by 8:30 am. The congestion
at the lifts begins building around 1 pm, so you can beat that by skiing
from 9 until about 1:30. As you come in for lunch, the noontime crowd should
be thinning out.
The worst feature of Timberline’s antiquated lodge is the rental area. You will lose 60-90 minutes by trying to fight through its backup. So skip it. Down on Route 32, there is a fine Ski Barn, with better equipment at lower rates. Rent there, so you can hit the slopes promptly at 9.
If you bring a group, make all arrangements well ahead of time and make sure you have no last minute changes. Then be waiting when the group window opens so you can pick up your packet and head for the slopes. Do not get caught standing in the long group line after 9. If your group is staying at the dorm, you’ll check out equipment over at the separate checkout counter. But if you’re staying elsewhere, rent at Ski Barn so you avoid the lodge lines. Due to the road conditions, arriving early Friday night is not always possible, but if you can manage it, try to pick up your equipment from Ski Barn that night to save time the next morning.
Timberline advertises night skiing. We have not found this to be a good deal. None of the best slopes are lighted, and the remaining ones are icy and crowded. If you ski this mountain hard all day, you’ll be ready to stop by 4:30. Except for the lunch break, keep your kids out of the lodge and on the slopes in the daylight.