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Cross-Country in Canaan: The Land of Milk and Honey

“Behold, the land of Canaan.” According to legend, this was the exclamation made by fur trader George Casey Harness as he stood atop Cabin Mountain, W.Va. It was the mid-1700s, and as he gazed out at the sprawling wilderness of old growth spruce and laurel, he was reminded of the Old Testament’s Canaan, “the promised land of milk and honey.” In the eyes of an adventurous entrepreneur like Harness though, this Canaan Valley was much more than a land of milk and honey: it was the jackpot. Just a few years later, the Industrial Revolution would plant seeds of innovation and progress into the minds of men everywhere. For Canaan, that meant the loss of nearly every towering tree to saw and hatchet. The nearby town of Davis acquired the nickname “Stump Town” for the large swaths of land that, once shrouded by dense forest, now lay exposed, dotted with remnants of a former time.

When the lumber industry all but died in the area, a new, and much more sustainable, means of revenue came to the valley: skiing. Tales of the region’s lengthy snow season had trickled throughout the East, and by the mid-1950s, the first commercial ski area in the South was established on Canaan’s Weiss Knob. Present-day Canaan Valley is now one of the most recognized ski destinations in the Southeast, bringing downhill, telemark, and cross-country skiers alike to the snow-capped peaks from mid-December often until as late as March.

The locals in town will be the first to assure you that even if you spent a week in the valley, you wouldn’t be able to see everything the area has to offer. With the help of White Grass Touring Center owner Chip Chase and Jessica Scowcroft, spokesperson for the Tucker County Convention & Visitors Bureau, we have compiled a three-day Tour de Canaan that lets you experience the best of what this quiet West Virginia valley has to offer. In Canaan, timing is everything, so aim for January or February when the area usually has a steady amount of snowfall. We recommend making this trip during a three-day weekend when the night scene is as active as your daytime skiing. Be warned: with the exception of the resorts, most places only accept cash or check.

Day 1

Check in at Timberline Four Seasons Resort. Unlike typical resorts, Timberline is a quaint ski destination run by a close-knit community of powder lovers who are eager to show you down the slopes. Lodging is offered within steps of the lifts, making it easy to get up and get shredding early in the morning. If downhill is your thing, check out the Salamander run, a two-mile trail that drops 1,000 vertical feet. For the Nordic and cross-country crowd, get a one-way ticket to the top of the slopes and hit up the 17 kilometers of backcountry trails that take you into the backside of Dolly Sods Wilderness Area. From there you can take Forest Road 80 to the Cabin Mountain Trail and experience a view of the valley similar to what Harness must have seen nearly 200 years ago.  The Cabin Mountain Trail heads back down the mountainside into Timberline’s neighbor, White Grass Touring Center. Be sure to pay your day fee for skiing on the White Grass trails before taking the Timberline Trail back to the resort.

After skiing, head into the town of Thomas for a locally-sourced burger at Tip Top Café. Coffee shop by day, burger and beer joint by night, this unique hole-in-the-wall only serves burgers on Friday, but it’s well worth the visit. Top it off with a Moscow Mule made from ginger beer and Hellfire bitters. It’s refreshing with a kick.

Chip Chase, Jess Daddio, and friends of BRO and White Grass enjoying the view from Weiss Knob
Chip Chase, Jess Daddio, and friends of BRO and White Grass enjoying the view from Weiss Knob

Day 2

After checking out of your room at Timberline, drive a few miles down the road to the Breakfast Nook. Grab a cup of coffee and one of their melt-in-your-mouth homemade biscuits before heading over to White Grass Touring Center. There you will likely get the chance to meet local legend and White Grass owner Chip Chase. For over 30 years, Chase has been exploring Canaan Valley by ski and knows the area’s cross-country ski scene best. If he’s free, get him to show you the way, but you can just as easily get around thanks to their impeccably maintained trails. Coded green, blue, and black for varying degrees of difficulty, the trails at White Grass weave up and down the mountainside and are dotted with warming huts stocked with woodstoves and snacks. The view from Weiss Knob is spectacular, but the exposed bald is windy so be sure to bring extra layers. Only plan on bringing one bottle of water so you can refill it along the way at the Fountain of Youth, one of the few mountain springs you’ll encounter along the way.

When you return to the center, be sure to grab a meal at White Grass. Using mostly local, organic ingredients, the café features everything from hearty soups to veggie burgers. Since you’ve been burning off those calories on the slopes, you might as well treat yourself to a pitcher of nearby Mountain State Brewing Company’s beer while you’re at it. The Miner’s Daughter Oatmeal Stout is my favorite. Check in down the road at Canaan Valley State Park and stay at the campground, in a furnished cabin, or one of the luxurious rooms in the newly renovated lodge.

Day 3

On your last day in the area, you’ll have to decide between more downhill skiing or more cross-country skiing. Canaan Valley State Park has its own downhill ski area and the lodge offers shuttles to and from the lifts. The ski area is also home to the longest snow-tubing run on the East Coast, which makes for a great family activity. If you want to continue to explore the valley by cross-country ski, check out nearby Blackwater Falls State Park. Although the trails are not groomed specifically for cross-country skiing, you’ll only need a few inches of snow on the ground to cover the roots and rocks that litter the trail. The Blackwater Falls themselves are an easy roadside destination to hit on your way out of the park, and if you happen to still be in the valley come sunset, Lindy Point Overlook offers a great place to catch the view.

Local Legend

Chip Chase is a man of small stature but enormous personality. You can read his 30+ years of ski experience in the weathered lines around his face. When he isn’t cracking a joke or singing a favorite Adele song, he’s giving you pointers on your step-step-turns and pizza wedges. His enthusiasm for both the sport and the area are contagious, and it’s nearly impossible to leave White Grass without a smile on your face. When asked what he likes most about his job, he says, “On the weekends, my staff runs the ski center, and all I do is hug people and I walk them to their cars,” a testament to his ability to make out-of-towners feel like family after just one visit. 


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