W-flying snowsports action to downtown Morgantown.
Morgantown, a small college town in the northeastern corner of West Virginia, is one of the best ski towns in the Southern Appalachians. This might come as a surprise, since Mo-Town, as locals call it, doesn’t actually have a ski resort to call its own. Here are four reasons to back up our bold declaration.
Morgantown is the only city in the South that shuts down its main thoroughfare to hold a sick rail jam. The MoTown Throwdown, on Halloween weekend, has become one of the region’s most anticipated events, attracting the Mid-Atlantic’s best new-school skiers and boarders. The city closes two city blocks for the event and churns five tons of ice into blown snow, enough to cover three rails lent from Seven Springs Resort.
The Throwdown is a weekend affair, with a Friday night ski and snowboard film screening at the Warner Theater to get the kids pumped up, then a rail jam under the lights on Saturday night. The event kicks off the season for many competitive riders in the Mid-Atlantic, offering enough prize money ($2,000) to attract talent from as far away as Vermont. Two years ago it featured a live show from Mix Master Mike, of Beastie Boys fame. This year, Fife from A Tribe Called Quest, performed.
Prime Real Estate
Morgantown may not have a ski resort to call its own, but the town has pretty much adopted Wisp Resort, less than 45 minutes away in Deep Creek Lake, Md. Wisp pulled in nearly 200 inches of snow last winter and almost 300 inches of snow the winter before that, making it one of the snowiest resorts in the South. Even better, Seven Springs, in Pennsylvania, which has the biggest, most progressive park on the East Coast, is just an hour north.
“We’ve had a lot of good riders come out of Morgantown mainly because of our proximity to Wisp and Seven Springs,” says Josh Zerkel, a Morgantown native and West Virginia University sophomore. “During high school, I would bring my board to school and we would have a crew head straight to Wisp after class at least four days a week.”
Need more variety? There are six resorts within a three-hour drive of Morgantown, putting it in the center of the best winter terrain in the Mid-Atlantic.
Skinny Skis Too
Coopers Rock State Forest may be named for the fugitive who lived there for years (he sold barrels to locals while on the lam), but today it’s better known as a winter haven for cross-country skiers. The forest, 13 miles east of downtown, has 50 miles of interconnected trails and forest roads that see plenty of snow, particularly in the last two years. Get there early after a snow, or you’ll have to park a quarter mile from the gate.
“Starting in November, we’ll get 50 days of cross-country skiing,” says Gwen Jones, an avid cross-country skier living in Morgantown. “It’s the biggest state forest in West Virginia, and the coolest thing about it is that they close the gate at the entrance in the winter. That makes it a winter playground.”
Some skiers venture onto the singletrack, but it’s tight, twisting, and rocky. Most folks stick to the road, which rolls for three miles to the Cheat River overlook. Jones says the Snake Hill Wildlife Management Area, adjacent to the state forest, is even more popular with skiers, thanks to the seven miles of unmarked forest roads and large meadow with 30 acres of rolling, grassy terrain.
In a state that’s known for its conspicuous lack of young adults (youth between the ages of 18-35 typically leave the state in search of jobs) Morgantown has a hip, young vibe, which translates into a progressive snow sports culture. Credit West Virginia University.
“The town has been insulated from the economic crisis because of the school, and there are lots of young people, also because of the school,” says Gwen Jones. Add it up, and you’ve got a lot of people with the time, money, and energy to ski and board during the winter.
The WVU Snowboard team has become an incubator of talent, ranking as high as third in the country among college club teams in recent years. During big storms, you’ll find young skiers and boarders in the woods riding power line cuts, and in town tackling urban terrain. Two years ago, more than a foot of snow lingered in downtown Morgantown for a month, turning the city into a giant terrain park for local boarders.
“Typically, though, we get one big storm a year where we can ride in town,” Josh Zerkel says. “If you’re feeling really ambitious, our local ice rink lets us take snow from the zamboni shavings. We’ve got a few backyard parks set up around town.”
All good snow sessions end with a craft beer…or two. Morgantown has you covered with not one, but two, microbreweries. Morgantown Brewing Company, West Virginia’s oldest craft brewer, is run by WVU alum who have a knack for inventive beers. Try the Coal City Stout for the perfect winter brew, or hit them up on the weekend when they roll out their special small batch releases.
Davis’ Mountain State Brewing has opened their newest location just down the street from Morgantown Brewing Company. The copper top bar and wood-burning-pizza stove add ambiance, but you’re here for the beer, which is outstanding. Go with a Miner’s Daughter Oatmeal Stout, which is lighter than it looks, or, for an aptly named easy drinking brew, order the Almost Heaven Amber Ale.