Photos Courtesy Canaan Valley Resort
It's official. I have broken my self-proclaimed President's Day Weekend curse. Although I ended up in the ambulatory-care center at VCU Health Center following this same mid-February weekend for two consecutive years after ski trips gone awry, I finally broke the hex last year.
And this was despite my best efforts to injure myself. When I told Canaan Valley Resort marketing manager Bryan Brown my history, he said, "I hesitate to mention this, but have you ever tried airboarding?"
I didn't hesitate: A new crazy, action-adventure sport? Sign me up!
Airboarding involves riding an inflatable sled down ski runs. It's tubing on speed. You get a running start, hold on to handles on either side of the sled and careen wildly down the mountain with nothing to control your path but the subtle shifting movement of your body and quite a bit of prayer. If I may borrow West Virginia's tourism catchphrase, it's wild and wonderful.
To get to the top of the mountain, you ride the ski lifts, and to get to the bottom of the mountain, you ride the same greens, blues and even blacks the skiers and snowboarders are using. (Look out below!) To slow down, you drag your feet (preferably in ski boots) or even your knees if necessary. To stop, you pretty much pick yourself up and turn yourself sideways, what our instructor called "the hockey-puck stop." Except for us beginners, it was more like "the turtle," because we ended up rolling the raft and riding on our backs.
Our instructor Chris took about 15 airboarding wannabes out for a one-hour lesson, and then we were let loose on our own. Our group had about equal numbers of men and women and one little boy. I knew it was a daunting challenge to take that first run when one gentleman insisted: "Women and children first."
Canaan Valley Resort (800-622-4121 or canaanre
sort.com) in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia is one of the few ski resorts in the country to offer airboarding, so my boyfriend Dave and I are particularly proud of the airboarding licenses we were issued following successful completion of the course.
But Canaan offers a lot more than airboarding. There is skiing, snowboarding, ice skating on a covered rink and horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Canaan is about 230 miles from Richmond, and the trip requires traversing some twisty, turning mountain roads, so getting there took us five hours, but just four to get home again.
On Saturday, we awoke to misty rain and major fog. Neither of us was too excited for the day's skiing prospects, but no one wanted to admit it. At the top of the mountain, we fortuitously met a Boy Scout who had skied Canaan many times. We adopted Lucien as our own personal guide and never made a wrong move on the slopes with this Baltimore high schooler leading the way.
I was more than a bit cautious initially because my last ski run (the previous year at Snowshoe) involved hobbling back to base camp with a quickly swelling right foot while carrying my ski equipment.
However, after two or three runs down the beginner (green) slopes, I was getting my ski legs back and was soon ready for blues and blacks. Canaan may not have high-speed chair lifts, but, as Dave often said, "They do the basics right." The runs were long and well-groomed. There were enough side runs and variety to keep things interesting for skiers of all levels.
And hey, if it wasn't challenging enough, you could always make your own fun. Dave, who grew up with skis on his feet in Austria, thought we could successfully navigate the snow under a ski lift, which turned out to be way icier than either of us bargained for. I did a beautiful belly flop and a snow angel there in the snow, but that was my biggest calamity of the weekend.
Unlike many ski resorts, there is not much in the way of rocking nightlife at Canaan. Instead of dancing the night away after dinner, we amused ourselves by seeing how close we could get to the nearly tame resort deer.
Sunday was a perfect ski day — cool, crisp and sunny. We did some light skiing but then lighted out of there early so I could get safely home, having successfully broken the curse.