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Snowshoe Resort, WV

Snow at the Shoe. Photo courtesy of Snowshoe.

With 180 inches of natural snow annually, it might seem odd to call Snowshoe Mountain a hot spot, but 650,000 visitors a year can’t be wrong. “It’s an upside down mountain,” says Mark Van Meter, founder of The Snowshoe Gravity Project, referring to the mountaintop – not mountain bottom – village. “Most of the facilities sit at 4,800 feet and not 2,000, so it gives you a feeling of a big mountain that you might not be used to in the East.”

The ski resort, which is celebrating its 35th year in 2009, has long capitalized on its natural advantages of elevation and weather patterns but also has a backup plan: 100 percent of its 60 slopes and trails are covered by snowmaking capability. “My favorite part of the mountain is the Western Territory,” Mark says, referring to the 1,500 vertical feet of black diamond slopes Cup Run and Shay’s Revenge.

But as appealing as The Shoe is to hard core skiers and boarders, most of its trails are beginner friendly. Add in a tubing hill, two terrain parks and a cross-country Nordic center, and there’s pretty much something for everyone here.

Save up and plan for a few days on the mountain, since it will take a while to cover all the slopes and to get a taste for the offerings of the off-mountain amenities, including 22 restaurants and bars, 12 shops and the indoor/outdoor pools and hot tubs.

Don’t forget the ‘off’ season at Snowshoe, where slopes cater to downhill mountain bikers and another 100-plus miles of hiking and biking trails crisscross the 11,000-acre resort. It’s a hot spot for trout fishing as well, although even in summer hot is a figurative term: typical low-humidity, 70-degree, breezy days mean a great escape from the summer heat that swelters the rest of our region.

Where it’s at: Four hours from Pittsburgh; from I-79 south of Morgantown, WV, travel about 50 miles south to US 33 east (exit 99) for about 35 miles to Elkins; merge with US 219 south and travel about 50 miles until you see the turnoff for Snowshoe

Contact: www.snowshoemtn.com or 877-441-4FUN

Digs: Allegheny Springs is the ultimate in slopeside lodging ($149-$276/night, 2-4 occupants); the Inn at Snowshoe at the bottom of the mountain is the best bet for the budget-conscious ($103-$173/night, 2-4 occupants); lodging is discounted when combined with lift tickets and more expensive on holiday weekends, so call 877-441-4FUN

Grub: Try Cheat Mountain Pizza or s’mores at The Foxfire, www.snowshoemtn.com/village/dining

Brew: Most restaurants serve Mountain State Brewing Company beers; Moonshine Watering Hole serves legal moonshine, www.snowshoemtn.com/village/nightlife

Gear and Outfitting: Mountain Adventure Center and Full Tilt shops sell skis, boards and accessories, www.snowshoemtn.com/village/shopping

Cost: Winter season full-day adult lift tickets, $62-$75 (discounted when combined with lodging); adult ski and board rentals, $32-$36; Nordic trail pass, $19 ($29 with snowshoe rental); tubing park, $17 for two hours