Ski an Old Coal Town That Nearly Became a Ghost Town

This Appalachian village couldn’t be more grateful for heaps and heaps of snow.

Just 50 years ago, the town of Davis seemed likely to become a ghost town. The story of the West Virginia hamlet read similar to other coal towns in the US: once-rich natural resources were depleted until the land ran dry and no work was to be found. But the region’s natural assets saved Davis once again. Thanks to its high altitude and abundance of snow, Davis went from a coal town to a ghost town to a thriving ski town.

Perched at 3,100 feet, it’s probably no surprise that this highest town in West Virginia is especially appealing to skiers. Nestled along the Blackwater River, the town sits on the edge of the massive Monongahela National Forest, located in the biggest high-elevation valley east of the Mississippi River. Thanks to the region’s topography—nearby mountains, the Allegheny Plateau, and the eastern Continental Divide—the region is inundated with heaps of snow. In Davis, snowfall averages about 150 inches a year, but loftier spots along the valley’s rim can get dumped with more than 14 feet of snowfall. The combination of fresh powder, westerly-facing slopes, and abundant wilderness have turned Davis into one of the East Coast’s premier ski towns.

Today you’ll find numerous ski resorts, cabin-like restaurants, and homey hotels. Nearby neighbors in DC, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky may already know the secret of the best skiing in Appalachia within reasonable driving distance. For the rest of us, here’s a complete guide to skiing in Davis, as well as what to do after.

Stay at Bright Morning Inn
Bright Morning Inn

From deserted to thriving

Coal, timber, fur, and the railroad are what helped establish Davis and make it prosperous. The hamlet was officially incorporated in 1889, and by the early 1900s, the Davis Coal and Coke Company was among the biggest coal companies on the planet. The town was brimming with tanneries and lumber yards. Streetlights and homes were electrified by a creekside power plant, and a hodgepodge of hotels and saloons catered to visiting laborers and industrialists.

But the town’s heyday was short-lived. In less than four decades, the region’s trees had been felled, the coal had been extracted, and the furry creatures had been decimated. The railroad stopped ferrying passengers in 1942, and a few years later, the town’s lumber yards and tanneries were abandoned too.

But there was still hope for Davis. The generous snowfall didn’t go unnoticed—and in the early 1950s, skiers started showing up. The first to arrive were the members of the Ski Club of Washington DC. After a handful of reconnaissance trips, the organization opened a members-only ski area, first called Driftland, and later expanded to become the Cabin Mountain Ski Area. By 1955, the Weiss Knob Ski Area also opened next door. The first commercial ski area situated south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the Weiss Knob Ski Area launched with three rope tows and a lone T-bar lift. About 15 years later, the Canaan Valley Resort State Park opened its slopes.

Today, there are three ski resorts just minutes from Davis, along with unlimited trail options for off-piste skiers in the patchwork of public lands surrounding town.

Ski Timberline Mountain
Timberline Mountain

Ski the longest downhill run in the region

For the downhill aficionados, there are two options outside town. Now the oldest resort in Canaan Valley, the Canaan Valley Resort Ski Area tops out at 4,820 feet, offering 47 runs etched into the flanks of Weiss Knob, with about 850 feet of vertical. Slightly further north, Timberline Mountain has two terrain parks and 40 trails—including an epic two-mile-long run called Salamander, the longest in the Mid-Atlantic. After sunset, the resort offers night skiing in both terrain parks and on a half dozen illuminated slopes from Thursday to Sunday nights.

It’s easy to get off-piste on the trails around Davis too. For starters, the White Grass Ski Touring Center offers about 30 miles of marked trails and strategically-situated warming huts, nestled between Bald Knob and Cabin Mountain. Accessible from both Timberline Mountain and the Canaan Valley Resort Ski Area, the trail network at White Grass also connects to 45 miles of backcountry trails in the adjacent Dolly Sods Wilderness, a high-elevation slice of the Monongahela National Forest. The White Grass Ski Touring Center rents both backcountry skis and skating skis, along with standard cross-country skis and snowshoes, and offers monthly Full Moon Ski Tours and Snowshoe Discovery Tours led by local naturalists.

For beginners, when the golf course at Canaan Valley Resort State Park is covered under a blanket of snow, the resort rents cross-country skis and opens the hibernating course to all. Seasoned cross-cross skiers can also kick-and-glide to the 25 mile trail system traversing the adjacent Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Dining at Bright Morning Inn
Bright Morning Inn

Après ski with homey eats

After a day in the snow, there are plenty of places to thaw out in Davis. Tuck into crowd-pleasing pizzas at Sirianni’s Cafe, a mainstay in Davis for more than 30 years. Or grab a table at Hellbender Burritos, where the hearty burritos are infused with Appalachian-inspired flavors and fillings like pulled pork and buffalo chicken. Get hearty food all day at Milo’s Café & Restaurant, from country breakfast to hearty burgers. Whereas Ish Kitchen offers cuisine from around the world, ranging from curries to papas bravas.

Favor a moveable feast instead? Grab gourmet, locally-sourced snacks, sandwiches, and prepared meals like made-from-scratch pasta from the Highland Market.

After dinner, recharge with libations at Stumptown Ales. The brewery pours everything from sessionable blondes to hearty stouts.

Reserve a room at Bright Morning Inn
Bright Morning Inn

Spend the night

For a full-fledged ski getaway, Davis offers a number of cozy options. Built in 1896, the Bright Morning Inn was once a bustling bunkhouse for loggers. Renovated in 2021, the inn offers rooms along the main drag in Davis, and the farm-to-table eatery Milo’s Café & Restaurant is housed on the first floor.

Also in Davis, The Billy Motel touts itself as ‘Hillbilly Fabulous’ (think the Rosebud Motel from Schitt’s Creek). The stylishly retro motor lodge offers rooms with spacious parlors for storing skis and boots. There’s even an onsite watering hole with internationally-inspired plates and craft cocktails—and for motel guests, the first drink is on the house.

Outside town, the Canaan Valley Resort offers a 160-room lodge, along with dog-friendly cottages and cabins.

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Malee Oot is a contributor for Thrillist.