DAVIS, W.Va. -- Following a snow-challenged 2010-2011 ski season, West Virginia's biggest and oldest cross-country ski area is off to its earliest-ever start, courtesy of superstorm Sandy and 37 inches of snow.
"We've skied here in October a few times before, including last year, but until now, it's just been a staff and locals kind of thing -- we try not to let any snowfall go un-skied," said Chip Chase, operator of White Grass Touring Center in Canaan Valley. "But we've never been able to officially open so early before."
Monday marked the seventh consecutive day that White Grass's entire 50-kilometer trail system was open. Nearly 500 Nordic skiing enthusiasts spent the past weekend kicking, gliding and telemarking their way through it.
"The atmosphere was really upbeat and holidaylike," said White Grass co-owner Mike Sayre. "We had a large crew of people come down from Vermont, upstate New York and Ontario, where they just got rain from the storm. We got 37 inches of snow to start with, and then it snowed some more for the rest of the week. We even had some flurries this morning."
Chase said White Grass, now in its 31st year of operation in Canaan Valley, was once able to open as early as Nov. 17, thanks mainly to the resort's practice of snow farming -- capturing drifting snow with portable wood lath fences. Thanksgiving weekend is the resort's traditional opening date.
"We still haven't got some of the things for our shop that we ordered, but we're doing all right," said Sayre. "We rented over 100 pairs of skis on Sunday, and had a big day on Saturday, too."
While downed trees and tree limbs that White Grass staffers have so far been unable to remove continue to cause detours on some trails, "the customers have been really understanding," Chase said.
On Monday morning, about 25 skiers were on the trails at White Grass, and nearly 15 kilometers of trails had been groomed.
"The surface was frozen on top earlier this morning, but it's softened up since the temperature's up to about 33 degrees now," Sayre said. "We've got a really nice packed-down base."
The National Weather Service has a slight chance of more snow in the forecast for Canaan Valley on Wednesday night, and "a Nor'easter that's coming on Thursday might track far enough west to bring us more snow," said Sayre.
"We've slowly gotten the kitchen up and running, and we had a lunch menu available this weekend," Chase said. The White Grass Café is open for lunches, but won't offer a dinner menu until mid-December.
Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelham...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5169.