Most days, Russ Rankin helps protect the city of Gaithersburg, Md., as a police officer. When he needs to get away, he heads for the Snowshoe Mountain resort.
Located atop Cheat Mountain in eastern West Virginia, Snowshoe has become a year-round playground within driving distance to 75 million people.
"In a few hours I can drive here and be skiing instead of stuck in an airport out West," Rankin says. "And the skiing is good."
Snowshoe, the largest winter resort in the mid-Atlantic and Southeast, has a rare upside-down design, where accommodations are clustered atop the mountain's 4,848-foot-high summit instead of at its base.
The result: spectacular views of 11,000 acres of beautiful, rugged countryside.
Intrawest Corp., which purchased Snowshoe in 1995, has spent about $82 million on the resort with the goal of making it the best in the region. The Canadian company owns 11 other mountain resorts, including Whistler-Blackcomb in Canada, Copper Mountain in Colorado and Mammoth in California.
People who haven't been to Snowshoe in a few years will hardly recognize the place.
New condos, shops and restaurants have been built in a village setting. Also, an improved snowmaking system, capable of producing 2,500 tons of powder an hour, allows the resort to keep its slopes snow-covered through April.
"The transformation is amazing," says Vicki Schwinabart of Swanton, Md. "I like the village. It's very similar to villages out West. My 9-year-old daughter loves all the trails, and it's only two hours from home."
Terrain improvements include a snow-tubing run and a snowboard terrain park at the resort's Silver Creek area. There's also Shay's Revenge, a long and steep expert run at Snowshoe, and a half-mile beginner trail, Yew Pine.
Silver Creek's slopes are lighted for night skiing, and the resort plans to add more than 50 acres of trails in the next few years.
Highland House and Rimfire Lodge, the two newest condos, were completed in the past two years, and nearly all of the units have been sold, some at prices exceeding $300,000.
Allegheny Springs, the resort's plushest complex yet, complete with valet parking, is set to open in 2002. When the condos went on sale in February, buyers purchased 60 percent of the 146 units.
"The village gives you that feeling of being at a really nice place that you want to visit over and over," says Sherri Haskell of Richmond, Va., who purchased a unit at Allegheny Springs.
Also to be built this year is an aqua center, which will include a water slide, hot tubs, a lazy river and swimming areas. The center will include heated water and decks for year-round use.
Today, accommodations include 1,500 condominium units and nearly 300 lodge rooms. General Manager Bruce Pittet says there are plans to offer at least 2,400 rooms, including 600 units in the village alone.
The changes are paying off: Snowshoe had 463,000 skiers last year and expects to break that record this season.
Warm-weather offerings already include golf, mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing, sporting clays and an adventure program for children.
Snowshoe also will link adventurous visitors with private operators who offer rafting trips on two of the best whitewater rivers in the world, the Gauley and the New in southern West Virginia.
Mountain bikers can explore 125 miles of trails, ranging from graded gravel roads to single tracks.
The resort also offers the Gary Player signature Raven Golf Club at Snowshoe Mountain. Golf Digest, Golf and Travel, Golfweek and Golf Magazine all rank it among the best courses in the country.
IF YOU GO
The resort is about 245 miles, a five-hour drive, from Washington, D.C. The 188-mile drive from Richmond, Va., takes about four hours and it's about three-and-a-half hours from Charleston, W.Va..
From the east and south, follow Interstate 64 to the White Sulphur Springs, U.S. Route 60, exit. Take state Route 92 north to state Route 66 at Cass.
From the north, take Interstate 79 to the Weston exit. Go east on U.S. Route 33 to Elkins, then south on U.S. 219 to state Route 66. The resort is about 48 miles south of Elkins.
The resort has teamed with Amtrak to offer a train package from Washington to White Sulphur Springs, about 90 minutes south of Snowshoe. Visitors are transported from the train station to the resort via the Greenbrier Limo Service.
The nearest airport also is 90 minutes south of Snowshoe at the Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg. The airport is only serviced by a U.S. Airways commuter airline.
A Mountain Heliport also is available but requires permission 48 hours in advance.
Snowshoe offers shuttle service atop the mountain from its Snowshoe area to its Silver Creek area. The buses run on 30 minute loops.
Weather: In the winter months, temperatures can drop below zero, but average high temperatures range from the mid-20s to low 30s.
At an elevation of 4,848 feet, Snowshoe receives about 180 inches of snow a year.
During the summer, temperatures can dip into the mid-60s.
Snowshoe offers a variety of lodgings, from four bedroom condominiums to lodge rooms. There are about 1,500 condos and nearly 300 lodge rooms at the resort. The newest lodge, Highland House, offers 78 slopeside condos.
Snowshoe offers 30 eateries and bars, ranging from fast food to four-star cuisine. The resort has added three restaurants in its village.
Call or write Snowshoe Mountain Resort, P.O. Box 10, Snowshoe, WV 26209; (304) 572-1000. The Web site is www.snowshoemtn.com