With the much-hyped Hurricane Irene approaching, the wife and I were worried about the impact on our home. We didn't think there would be any significant damage with Alexandria being so far from the coast, but we were anticipating power outages at the very least. This being the case, I was easily persuaded to leave the area, so long as we went somewhere interesting. Without much thought, Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia was the place to be. A trip outside of Winter had been in my thoughts off and on for years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity. A quick check of the forecast there clinched it - a clear weekend with little chance of rain! After only a few minutes on the phone we had reservations in our preferred lodge, and we set off as soon as we could.
The sky opened on me as I was loading the car at home, and I really thought I would see a rainbow as I was tossing suitcaes about. This wasn't the case, but it still was one of the finer rainstorms of recent memory with the sun shining so brightly. I suppose I was just in a good mood since we were leaving the storm behind for a mountain retreat.
Traffic wasn't all that bad, and we were appreciating a fine sunset over the dreary highways. The sun had left us as we passed through the gap in the Blue Ridge on I-66, showing us only vague sillouettes of the towering crags. Thus the majority of our trip was through the quiet darkness. We were highly caffeinated, though, and we arrived at Snowshoe almost exactly at midnight.
It was a giddy experience, filled with anticipation for the surely wonderful views we would experience the next day. This along with the caffeince kept me up longer than I would have liked. Not to mention the kids, being filled with energy after their long sleep on the drive, spent a good while running about our rooms.
Still, I'm fully accustomed to waking early for work, and 6 AM was no problem at all, especially when the subject of photography is literally just out the door. I pre-positioned all of my gear in hopes of making a quiet exit. I was succesful on all three mornings, though I sometimes had to coax a confused kid back to sleep as I left.
When I stepped outside to make some photos, though, I was quickly reminded of the strange weather that often envelopes Snowshoe, leading to fantastic snowfall in the Winter. The mountain was utterly blanketed in a thick and fast-moving fog, which seemed almost solid when moving one's gaze about. However, when looking steadily at a vista, you could easily see the tendrils of mist skirting the ground. It was a lovely yet mysterious sight, but unfortunately it was not very photogenic. I tried a bit of valley shooting as the clouds briefly cleared, but little illumination came from the veiled sun. It was a good opportunity for shooting some of the buildings in the oddly glowing mist, so I made the best of it.
This fog persisted during much of our trip. Though it hampered clear vistas, it made for an ethereal, strangely glowing experience as the clouds diffused the illumination from various village fixtures. When standing on the balcony of our room, I felt as if the clouds were either drifting by just out of reach, whenever they weren't completely surrounding us.
I should have expected this weather, I suppose - my previous Winter visits certainly had fog like this! On my first trip during Spring Break in 2005, we were more than happy with the cloudy skies since they dropped record snow on the mountain. We could always make our way below the clouds and enjoy riding the chairlift back into them. We did have some clear skies then, of course. On my second visit, this time after my wedding, I wasn't quite so happy with the persistent fog. This was of course because the wife was stuck on top in the village since she was pregnant with our first child. She didn't get to see much of the magnificent snow-clad mountains around Snowshoe, but I made sure to get her out during the occasional clear periods. Finally, in May of 2010, the kids and I made a brief visit on an exceptionally beautiful day. Perhaps it was this experience outside of the ski season that made me so hopeful!
Concurrent with our visit was a training camp for lady mountain bikers. They made a very impressive sight in their stained body armor astride their massive bikes, and I certainly felt more than a twinge of jealousy for the exhilaration they must get on every mad dash downhill. Not that I was actually willing to try downhill mountain biking, that is - I fall often enough on a snowboard when the surface is much softer. Still, I'm sure some of the folks I visited Snowshoe with in the past would've been more than pleased to share the mountain with these downhill dames. Not only did they fill the open spaces and restaurants during the day, but also the Old Spruce cafe at night, where they exhibited the day's photos on a big screen.
Our three days at Snowshoe followed a standard pattern:
- Dawn photography
- Cafe visit
- Breakfast in the room
- Pool visit and some walking outside
- More walking outside
- Sunset photography
Of course each bit of this routine had its own variations and fun details. For instance, after each attempt at dawn picture-taking I would visit the cafe just as it opened. With everyone still asleep in our room I had this time all to myself. And since it was too cold and windy to sit still outside (I was very, very cold when taking pictures), I could lounge about in the wonderfully rustic lounge of our hotel, Allegheny Springs. It's a very grand place for reading, even if you find yourself pulling your eyes from the pages to appreciate your surroundings.
The morning photo sessions often had me on a stage structure facing in a vaguely Eastward direction. The walk here each morning involved passing a small group of deer, including at least one impressive buck. And once I made it to the stage I had to walk carefully in the dim light, since a number of large slugs seemed to call it home. I'm proud to say that I didn't trample one!
On the final day I made what I think are some striking photos from the stage when we finally had a clear morning. Despite all the other joys of the trip, I would have been disappointed without this final success.
I liked the view from the stage so much that I brought the whole family one afternoon. We took a few family photos, of course, but when it was time to leave I was in for quite the struggle! The stage includes some sort of large collapsible bandshell-type structure, which made for an ideal obstacle that Aidan used to evade me for quite some time! It certainly was a memorable chase.
Once I finally made my way upstairs, we would have breakfast before arranging for a trip to the pool or a walk around Snowshoe's village. The pool was certainly an interesting experience. In our haste to depart we forgot to get kids diapers designed for pool use. And the absorbent properties of normal diapers are very well demonstrated in a pool! We estimated that we had much less than half an hour before the diaper became the rough size and shape of a bowling ball. Funny, certainly, but also a great risk for a diaper explosion! Still, in those brief times in the pool, we really appreciated the well modulated water temperature on the chilly mountaintop. Aidan in particular enjoyed being dragged through the water at high speeds while submerged to his shoulders, yelling, "Go fast!"
The time spent in our little suite was often a bundle of laughs. We had to scold Aidan quite often for pressing the button to start the gas fire, which he loved starting so much. The kids had no problem watching the film Ice Age many times, which in our haste was the only movie we brought along. We also did some light cooking, from breakfast to reheating leftovers to a large batch of thick hot chocolate. And since the kids were along, there was of course a lot of napping! It was also a pleasure to relax on the balcony and watch folks in the village, or listen to the wind whip the mist past us.
Snowshoe's glorious mountaintop location afforded us ample opportunities for walks. We took a number of these together as a family, and Aidan in particular enjoyed recognizing far-off mountains, the lake, and houses. Probably even more interesting, though, was the village with its rich and often tangible detail. Aidan enjoyed walking around in the village center, pulling Fiona along at what was for her at least a rapid clip. They ran through open shop doors to the apparent amusement of the shopkeeps. Probably the most magnetic of all the diversions here was a store selling West Virginia crafts, with a number of "marble trees" in stock. These small wooden constructs consist of a series of interleaved, slanted boards, which allow marbles to pour from the top down in a wonderfully musical way. Aidan had to be pulled away from the toy after quite a bit of play, and made many subsequent breaks for the store during our visit. We were tempted to buy the neat toy but we figured that Aidan would break it eventually and marbles all over the floor would be quite a hazard!
This marvelous impromptu trip provided an unexpected vacation that the family and I will long remember. Aidan in particular has developed a number of memories which we hope to keep alive. Among his most quoted phrases are "Don't poopoo in the pool," "Press B in the elevator," "Press the fire button," "Sit in the big green chair," "Watch Ice Age," and "Go to the Train Restaurant." We hope he keeps repeating these for laughter and sentimental value for a long time.