By Adam Mull
Did you feel that? Maybe you haven’t been outside yet today and are still basking in the memories of the beautiful, warm autumn days of early this week. Most kids were out of school for Veteran’s Day and made the most of their freedom by playing outside with the sun on their beaming faces. Not even a mom was heard yelling from the front door for their kids to put on their jackets. The temperature peaking at a cloudless 72 degrees, no one’s minds were on tomorrow. Why concern ourselves with what’s to come when today is so spectacular? But we know better don’t we? What I felt this morning as I walked out the door was that biting cold that hits you in the nose like a quick jab from Sugar Ray Leonard. Your eyes water a bit as your senses adjust to the sudden shift. I believe there could be a collective groan heard throughout the Ohio Valley this morning as we stepped out the door. Me? I smiled.
Winter is coming…and many people dread the idea of months of seemingly endless bitter days and even more bitterly cold nights. But not me. I come alive in winter. What’s not to love really? Is there any scene more beautiful than that of freshly fallen snow clinging to evergreens? Moreover winter brings the holiday season, more time with family & friends and if you know me…skiing. I have to admit that I daydream about ski season 9 months out of the year. Google probably has detailed documentation of my time spent on YouTube watching the latest postings of skiers all over the country enjoying nature’s best bounty. Perhaps most of you, and rightfully so, move on and enjoy the warm summer months with your equipment neatly stored until next season. Maybe here is where I go beyond an obsession…my skis are not packed away in some dark corner of my garage, but are displayed and visited on a daily basis near the basement beer fridge. The bindings are still set to 12. Because you never know, right?
Skiing brings joy. On skis you can experience a mountain’s terrain from such a unique perspective. Jumping on that lift and ascending over endless quaking aspen groves, narrow chutes and occasionally a moose, then being let off at 10,000 plus feet above sea level with panoramic views of your day’s impending conquests- I hope you ate your Wheaties.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.” — Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912).
Whether it is crushing fresh corduroy groomers at 50mph, dropping 15′ cliffs or surfing 12″ of freshies, on skis the mountain becomes a playground and certainly stirs your blood.
Winter is coming…and I am not referring to impending doom of the White Walkers from Game of Thrones. The walkers I am talking about are those content to become fully encased in the blowing snow, while riding a painfully slow attached ski lift for just one more run before their burning quads and numb feet give out. But then isn’t that the best time of the day? We know what’s next: Après Ski. There’s a reason beer tastes better after a hard day of skiing: your heart is full of joy.
Each year there is a battle for the best resort in the country. The usual publications list the stats of every major resort so we can select the best experience for our next trip. See zrankings.com or powderhounds.com. We all know Deer Valley is posh, Jackson Hole is steep and Aspen is expensive. While I am always looking to plan my next trip to the Rocky Mountains, the reality of living in our “Mountain State” is that such Western vacations are quite pricey, especially if you are bringing in tow a few wee ones. Flights from Pittsburgh, say to Denver or Salt Lake City, can push $500.00 per person. Add in a rental car, lodging, food and lift tickets and a trip to Vail can easily exceed $6,000 for ther average family. Even with all that great terrain west of the continental divide and its promise of deep, dry powder and thigh-burning runs; it is difficult to rationalize the cost of the experience.
So what is a Weelunker to do? And furthermore, how does a six year old learn to ski well enough to shoot Chad’s Gap or drop in to Corbert’s Couloir? Or what about the 40-something parents trying to keep up with their teenagers? For sure it’s never too late to learn to ski or hone your jibbing skills; and Wheeling just may have the best place in the country to do it. It doesn’t actually contain a single “mountain”‘ technically. At 1,200 feet above sea level, we miss that mark by a debatable 800 feet. But the Oglebay Park Ski Area provides all of the features one needs to learn to lay down the perfect arc or styling rail slide.
At over 40 years old, Oglebay’s hill has grown up. This is where I took my first turns some 30 years ago and where my daughters are now learning to ski. The area now boasts a triple-chair lift that carries skiers up the 168’ vertical drop with speed. Gone is the partially functional poma-lift depositing its riders unapologetically at various unwanted points along the lift line. When that would happen, you were left with only a mere few seconds to roll, crawl or slide off to the side before the next rider mowed you over or became entangled in your skis and shut the entire lift down. Gone are the days where you would have your lift ticket clipped for skiing too fast or building a jump. Nowadays the focus is just that. A terrain park, complete with rails and a kicker, runs right down the lower middle of the slope. In fact, this in such a popular feature that Oglebay is currently realigning the north lift so users will have quick, convenient access to lap the park without adding to the sometimes congested queue of the main lift. For you speed demons, plans are in the works for a NASTAR (NAtional STandard Race) race course running skier’s-left of the main lift.
According to the NASTAR website, NASTAR was developed by SKI Magazine in 1968 to provide recreational racers with an opportunity to compete and to compare their scores to friends and family members regardless of when and where they race. The NASTAR handicap system is a standardized scoring program that provides participants with a tangible number that represents their ability. The NASTAR.com web site records each participant’s stats and ranks each racer at the host resort, in their state of residence and nationally. The NASTAR program has a successful partnership with the U.S. Ski Team as its premier youth racing feeder program.
Kids (and adults) will have the opportunity to summon their inner Bode Miller and bust through 17-20 ski gates all while being electronically timed. This race experience is something you see at select larger ski resorts, not your neighborhood ski hill. But thanks to some forward thinking from local ski enthusiasts Paul Exley & Ken Nanners, NASTAR’s newest home is coming right here to Wheeling.
To ease your concerns for quality snow conditions, Oglebay has installed several new snowmaking guns over the last few years to provide full coverage of the entire main ski area. No more brown streaks on skier’s right. And with the Farmer’s Almanac calling for another brutally cold, snowy winter, I fully expect conditions to be ripe for dropping into the Park’s rarely open expert terrain located to the left of the main lift. The area takes advantage of the playful topography of the Par 3 golf course. Pick your way around the terraced tee boxes and greens or point ’em and launch.
What I think are the best features of Oglebay’s Ski Area is the ease of access and value. Want to teach your kindergartner to perfect his “pizza wedge” technique but don’t have much time or extra cash? Consider this, from any point in Ohio County, you could load up the kids and be stepping into your boots in 20 minutes. Where else can you do that unless you happen to live in Old Town Park City? Go ahead and pick them up from school and bust out a few runs before dinner or stay late and enjoy skiing under the lights. Concerned about shelling out hundreds of dollars on equipment for your 5 year old? Oglebay generously provides a lift ticket and full gear for kids 5 & under, complete with a helmet. And for those needing some instruction, Oglebay offers affordable ski & snowboard clinics and private lessons.
Still don’t think Wheeling is a legit ski destination? Consider what awaits an out-of-towner. At the bottom of Oglebay hill sits Alpine Ski & Board. A colorful ski shop reminiscent of a Crested Butte establishment fully stocked with the latest winter gear. At the top of the hill, and often 5-10 degrees colder, is the world-class resort with 271 rooms and amenities to rival premier ski destinations. And everywhere you look is another amazing display of the Festival of Lights. After a full day on the slopes, kick off your boots and gather around the popular fire pit to watch another beautiful sunset. Now you have no excuse.
The anticipated opening day is mid-December, weather permitting. And to add to this excitement, Rico Coville, Director of Golf and Ski, Oglebay Resort, has announced the screening of the latest Warren Miller ski film: “No Turning Back” on November 20th at the Pine Room. Tickets are $5.00 in advance at the Speidel Clubhouse or $7.00 at the door. Doors open at 5:30pm and the jealous ogling of those professional ski movie athletes begins at 7:00pm. To find out more visit http://ski.oglebay-resort.com/
So get out this winter. Find me on the slopes and let me know what skiing Oglebay means to you. I’ll be the one chasing the straight-lining 6 year old, pleading to her to make a turn. So keep your heads up…
Weelunkers rejoice. Winter is coming. And it is going to be awesome.
CHAD’S GAP (Near Alta’s ski area, Wasatch Mountains, Utah)
CORBET’S COULOIR (Jackson Hole Resort, Wyoming)