It may be easy to imagine you’re out West at a giant ski resort when you visit Snowshoe Mountain, but a closer look underneath the powdery surface reveals a rich local history and a pride for the traditions and people who once called these 11,000 acres in Pocahontas County home.
Cupp Run, for instance, has nothing to do with the trophy you might deserve for successfully skiing and everything to do with Cupp being the last name of early settlers in the area. Ballhooter isn’t just a funny lift name with a catchy ring to it; it’s an old name for a logger who would roll or pitch logs down a mountain. The expert slope Shay’s Revenge is a throwback to the name of the old steam locomotives that carried tons of timber from these mountaintops to the rivers below. And the Junction isn’t just a restaurant, but tribute to the old rail yards and logging towns once nestled within this part of the Appalachian Mountains.
“Pre-ski resort, the area was known for the only thing it was used for, a huge piece of timber property,” explained Shawn Cassell, Snowshoe Resort Mountain’s digital marketing and public relations manager.
The lumber boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s harvested so much wood from the area, it changed the landscape.
“Really, it was an ecological disaster, the way they clearcut the mountain,” Cassell said. “It had flooding issues, and by the 1950s and '60s, there were just little piles of brush everywhere. This nasty overgrowth without the canopy of trees to shade out the nasty brushy stuff, it was rough.”
But nature ran its course, and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, trees were making a strong comeback. That’s when Dr. Thomas Brigham, “The Father of Southern Skiing,” began scouting the region for another ski resort location.
“So, Brigham was flying over in these scouting planes, trying to find the best place,” Cassell continued. “The topography was interesting. It had what he was looking for, northeastern facing slopes, higher elevation, it would hold snow well. … It was late May or early June, and there were still snow drifts along the top edge of the mountain. So, it had natural snow, everything he was looking for.”
And that included close proximity to some major markets, like Washington, D.C. (The majority of Snowshoe’s visitors have always come from the D.C. area, Cassell said.)
Using old logging roads to access what he saw from the sky, Brigham explored more closely, made the purchase, and started to build.
“And every day, they would ride up to the top of the mountains to watch the sunset, Cassell said. “They decided the view from the top was so unbelievably awesome that they would do this one upside down.”
To this day, some still call it the “upside down ski resort” because its ticketing and rental centers, lodging, shops and restaurants aren’t at the bottom of the hill, but way up on top.
“It offers an amazing view for most of the lodging and everything,” Cassell said. “It’s interesting to go out and be skiing before you even get on a chairlift.”
Today, the mountain boasts three unique ski areas with more than 60 trails for skiers and snowboarders. In the summer, it’s a destination for mountain biking, with 40 trails perfectly suited for fat tires. Snowmobiling, tubing, biking, swimming, golfing and more await visitors who wind the country roads leading up to the resort that encompasses the second highest point in the state, at 4,848 feet.
Ownership has changed over the years. Snowshoe Mountain Resort is currently owned by Denver, Colo.-based Alterra Mountain Company, which owns 12 other well-known destinations in the United States and Canada, but various owners over the last five decades have each brought their own unique touches to help make Snowshoe what it is today.
“We have changed hands several times,” Cassell said. “Brigham was great at building resorts, but he was never very good at keeping them. I guess the financial burden of building them always put him in a bad spot.”
In the 1980s, Silver Creek emerged as competition right next door.
“So there was this rivalry and some pretty silly stories that come out of that,” Cassell said. “Snowshoe owners would park dump trucks in front of the sign to Silver Creek.”
Eventually, a Japanese owner in the 1990s decided the two resorts were stronger together.
“The Tower Investment group bought Snowshoe and immediately also bought Silver Creek and put them under the same umbrella,” Cassell explained. “They invested a lot of money and they trusted decisions made by locals.”
By the late 1990s, IntraWest owned the resort and began crafting it into what it looks like today, with Snowshoe Village.
“They built a nice, upscale destination kind of village, like you would see out West,” Cassell said. “They really took it from a ski area to a ski resort.”
Alterra purchased the resort a few years ago.
“Everybody feels very optimistic and positive about where things are going,” Cassell said. “They do own these other famous resorts, but they want Snowshoe to be Snowshoe, not a footnote at the bottom of a website.”
And the ideas are churning. Though nothing has been decided and Covid has slowed progress, there is talk of adding lifts and trails, maybe adding a long, meandering blue trail to a side of the mountain known for its experts-only appeal, Cassell said. For now, though, Snowshoe is focused on making the most of its upside down location in an upside down time.
“Things are going to be different this season,” Cassell said. “We have a lot of guidelines to follow now, state guidelines and industry guidelines.”
Being open this past summer, when Covid drove many to choose outdoor recreation over traditional travel, Snowshoe gained a valuable jump on the need for signage and other steps necessary to ensure social distancing and safety.
“We’ve had to get out signage, change indoor spaces by removing tables, lowering capacity. Anywhere lines are likely to form, like lift lines, we’re asking people to wear masks. We want people to wear masks in those lift lines or in the Village, anywhere they’re around other people,” he explained.
Lift line mazes have been adjusted to allow for 6 feet of spacing on all sides.
“It may make the lift line look longer than it really is, but we have to do that,” he said. “One of the more impactful measures is the capacity limits in general.”
You won’t be able to decide to go to Snowshoe on a whim this season when the weather simply looks ideal, he stressed. Capacity limits aren’t just for restaurants, but for the number of people allowed on the mountain, so checking the website and making reservations is critical.
“We have a limited number of lift tickets available each day,” Cassell said. “We’re not limiting season pass holders, but everyone else needs to book in advance.”
“This season it will be more important than ever before to make your plans early and book in advance,” the website says. “We will be carefully managing our capacity by limiting the number of lift tickets, lessons, and adventure activities available from day-to-day. All lift tickets must be purchased in advance. Play it smart. Make sure you're squared away before you arrive.”
Cassell said that, regretfully, because of the daily capacity limits, the resort won’t be able to offer its “3-for-all” pass this season.
Snowshoe’s world-class mountaintop restaurants have had to adjust, too. Reservations have always been recommended for dining-in, but this year, they are required — if the restaurant is offering dine-in at all, Cassell said. To adapt, the restaurants are offering to-go carryout service, with pick-up available from any resort restaurant at Shaver’s Centre Food Court once you order with an app.
“That’s one cool thing we’re doing for the restaurants,” Cassell said. “We’re adding outdoor seating in some spots, but there will be limited opportunities to do that in the Village. So we’re encouraging to-go food from here on the mountain with a new app.”
From the resort’s website, snowshoemtn.com, visitors can plan in advance and download an app that will allow them to order from any of the resort’s restaurants and pick up the food at Shaver’s Centre at a designated time.
“They can drive or catch our bus to Shaver’s Center, and we hope that helps people take advantage of it,” Cassell said.
Those with lodging will be given the necessary links within their pre-arrival emails.
“The best thing anyone can do is plan ahead and stay tuned,” Cassell said.
The drive to the top of the mountain is worth it, but no one wants to get there and be turned away, he said.
“When you’re driving here for the first time, you’ll probably ask yourself, ‘Are we there yet?’ The roads to get here are pretty crooked, but it’s well worth the drive, and the drive is beautiful,” Cassell said. “Time and time again, people tell us that they are blown away by the wow. They did not expect this place to be sitting on top of this mountain.
“They arrive and they discover that the ‘West Virginia Almost Heaven’ saying feels like it must have been given at Snowshoe.”