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2013 Dec

Hit the Slopes in Canaan Valley

Skiing is challenging for me, but my kids absolutely love it. That’s why I started skiing in the first place. It’s the perfect family vacation. Kids love skiing because they’re fearless—and they can go fast. Zipping down snowy trails is a thrill, no matter what age you are: the wind in your face, the sun shining down (if you’re lucky), and the adrenalin pumping through your veins.

I have this problem, however. I’m afraid of breaking my neck. Yet year after year I find myself on the slopes once again, trying to conquer my fears while the rest of my family has a blast. On my last ski trip to Canaan Valley Resort Park in West Virginia with husband Peter and son Ross, I decided to work on relaxing as I skied. It’s a lesson I need to learn not only on the slopes, but in other areas of my life, as well. Trying to do something that’s hard to do, like skiing is for me, teaches perseverance and tenacity. Remember the Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” And you know what? Pretty soon, you can!


Finding Canaan Valley Resort, about a seven-hour drive from Tidewater, can be a little tricky. Snow was forecast in the mountains, so we left home about mid-afternoon feeling a little uneasy about driving twisty mountain roads after dark with snow coming down. (Note to self: next time leave in the morning!). There are two ways to get there: north, west, then south OR north, west, then north again. We opted for the northerly route, where a new highway gets you darn close to the resort. Unfortunately, our GPS wasn’t aware of this road, so we got lost a couple times before finally getting to the resort about dinnertime.

Canaan Valley Resort is actually housed on a state park and welcomes visitors year round with campground facilities, a newly renovated lodge, and a number of cabins nestled in the woods. Peter, Ross, and I stayed in one of the resort’s cabins, which are basic but well equipped with a kitchen, stone fireplace, and plenty of room to relax. One thing you won’t find in the cabins is a TV, but to be honest we didn’t miss it. Sitting in front of the fireplace after dinner and sipping on a glass of wine was enough entertainment for Peter and me. Ross, who’s a teenager, probably would have liked to watch TV, but instead (!) contented himself with reading a couple books we brought along.

We awoke the next morning to the sounds of a resort staff member shoveling snow off our front stoop. Wow, what service! We looked out the cabin windows to see a winter wonderland spread before us. Snow blanketed our cabin, our car, and surrounding trees with a fluffy white frosting. Canaan Valley gets an average of 180 inches of natural snowfall each year, so it’s really an ideal place to ski. Two other things I liked about the resort were the reasonable lift fees and lack of crowds. Granted, we were there midweek, but I was amazed at how much wide, open space there was and  how many pristine trails beckoned.

Personally, I didn’t go down that many. I stuck to the beginner trails and was completely happy. Even before attempting those, I took my annual lesson. Since we don’t ski that often, I like getting a lesson and being reminded about proper technique. My instructor was great and told me I was more than ready to hit the bunny slopes.   


If you and your family are newbies to skiing, you’ll definitely want to check out Canaan Valley’s lessons and children’s programs. The resort recently opened a dedicated beginner teaching area called Critter Crawl, a wide gently sloping trail that’s perfect for learning to ski. Kids’ programs are available for ages 5+ and a child care program is offered to kids ages 2-6. Older children, ages 9-15, will love participating in the Mountain Adventure, which offers lessons in the morning and afternoon and plenty of time to practice.

If your family gets tired of skiing, there are lots of other great activities to enjoy. One afternoon we took Ross to the ice skating rink, and while he’s not an experienced skater, he did well on the ice—perhaps it’s his Dutch genes. Peter and I decided to opt out—the ice looked pretty hard—and instead stood in front of the warm fireplace and watched Ross twirling about. Soon a family of deer ambled by, wary but curious. The animals are protected since the resort is on state land, so they don’t have much to be afraid of.

Other activities include a new 1200-foot tubing park, snowshoeing, and airboarding, a new twist on sledding that actually mimics bodyboarding in the ocean. Grooves on the underside of the airboard allow riders to make sharp turns and stop quickly in the snow. We didn’t have time to try airboarding, but it looked like a lot of fun. The resort also offers family activities at their nature center include hikes and crafts. Kids will love taking a horse-drawn sleigh ride—complete with jingle bells—or maybe you and your spouse should arrange child care for the kids and take a romantic sleigh ride—just the two of you snuggled up under a warm blanket.

The resort offers a variety of dining options, including Hickory Dining Room, which offers weekend and holiday buffets. Bear Paw Food Court is the perfect spot to take a break from skiing and enjoy a quick bite—a pile of hot French Fries anyone? One evening, the three of us went to Laurel Lounge, which serves pub-style food. We enjoyed 50¢ wings, served with three tasty sauces—the garlic one was hands-down our favorite. Laurel Lounge is a cozy spot with a big fireplace and a nice wine list.


Out on the slopes, we had two perfect days of skiing. Sometimes the snow fell with a vengeance. Other times, the sky brightened a bit, the sun peeked through, and suddenly the snow would sparkle like diamonds.

I stayed on the beginner’s slopes both days, whereas Peter and Ross went on to more challenging trails. One of the green slopes—Timber Trail—quickly became my favorite. It descends along the outer edge of the resort for a mile and a quarter, meandering through the trees, gently sloping for the most part. However, there was a steep spot that filled me with anxiety every time. The more I worried about it, the more tense I got as the section approached. I tried singing in my head, deep breathing, and other tricks to still my beating heart, but I still choked almost every time, coming to a complete stop and not sure how to continue without ending up face first in the snow. With infinite concentration, I managed not to fall each time, but it was hard work! Normally the trail is perfect for beginners, but during our visit with the heaps of snow that fell, parts were a little steeper than normal.

But I survived. In fact, when Peter and Ross would join me on Timber Trail, I stopped worrying so much and relaxed more. When the steep part came, I just pretended not to notice—and guest what? I skied like a pro and barely even paused during my turns.

I will never be a great skier, but I really love being out in the fresh winter air, getting exercise, and spending time with my family. Canaan Valley Resort is the perfect place to learn to ski or improve your skills. Look for the slopes to open in mid-December and maybe I’ll see you there. Hopefully, I’ll be upright and smiling.

For more information, visit or call 800-622-4121.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and publisher of Tidewater Family Plus magazine. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.


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