If you’ve visited our high mountain town of Davis, chances are you’ve found yourself checking your weather app on an hourly basis regardless of the season. Spending time outside to enjoy the wealth of outdoor activities this area has to offer is commonplace among us folks who call this community home. However, living in West Virginia’s highest town doesn’t come without tribulation—we frequently endure some pretty miserable atmospheric conditions throughout the year here in Tucker County. From 34 degrees and rain in November to 62 degrees and no snow in February, the rapidly changing weather here in the Allegheny Highlands is the one true constant. The old saying remains true: if you don’t like the weather, just wait a minute. Or, as a good friend puts it, you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Even though we tolerate some of the most unpredictable conditions Mother Nature can throw at us, we’re treated to some exceptional weather on occasion too, whether it be a beautiful bluebird summer day with low humidity in August or two feet of the lightest, fluffiest powder in January. Every now and then, the stars align, allowing us to experience some truly extraordinary natural phenomena.
We were treated to just that in January of 2022 during a dry spell when many powder-hungry locals were depressed due to lack of snow on the ground. The weather gods, who were busy neglecting the ski slopes for unbeknownst reasons, decided instead to smile down upon the many ponds of Canaan Valley. While in the middle of a long cold snap of dry, Arctic air, we were greeted with the best natural ice-skating conditions in years. But instead of sitting inside waiting for snow like other folks, my daughter and I chose to make the most of it by dusting off our ice skates and inviting ourselves over to our friend’s pond.
I’ve played on wild ice plenty of times. When I was younger, I messed around on Deep Creek Lake just over the border in Maryland. In more recent years, I’ve found myself cross country skiing across Lake Thomas, where the North Fork of the Blackwater River is dammed just above our neighboring town of Thomas. But I had never actually skated on wild ice until our outing in Canaan. When my daughter and I arrived at the pond, we couldn’t believe the scene before our eyes. The ice was smooth and clear as glass, with a wispy dusting here and there of powdery snow. We couldn’t have asked for better ice-skating conditions at a climate-controlled rink.
But reader beware—before you drop this magazine and go careening out onto the closest pond, be sure to check the thickness of the ice or you might end up taking an unintentional polar plunge. Based on my limited research, a general rule of thumb is that ice should be four to five inches thick before setting foot on it. Fortunately, some brave ice fisherman had been there before us and had drilled a few ice fishing holes into the pond, allowing us to properly check the depth. Based on their work, we could tell the ice was plenty thick and safe for us to skate.
Without hesitation, we strapped on our skates and slipped out onto the ice. There were no Zambonis or crowds of people mindlessly skating in circles; just me, my daughter, and a wide-open rink rimmed by snowy mountains, all crafted by Mother Nature. It was perfect.
We smiled, laughed at each other, fell, laughed again, fell some more, and had an absolutely amazing skating session. In our minds, we were as graceful as Olympic skaters, but in reality, we were an icy mess. We simply aren’t that skilled and likely looked like complete amateurs. But that didn’t matter. It was a great father-daughter experience doing something epic that, very likely, won’t happen again for a while. How often can you roll up to a frozen pond in the middle of a beautiful valley and skate until your legs are sore, all while hanging with your kid? My daughter may not agree, but I thought it was pretty damn special.
Even beyond the ice, the conditions were surreal. As the sun began to set, the evening light reflected off the rime ice on Cabin Mountain, producing that beloved Canaan alpenglow. That, coupled with the evergreen forest along the pond’s edge made for a beautiful setting—perfect for enjoying a post-skate beverage with our friends who stumbled out onto the ice to see what all the commotion was about.
What made the experience even more special is that this particular pond is owned by my friend’s neighbor, a lifelong Canaan Valley resident. When I talked to the pond owner to thank her for allowing us to skate on her pond, her face lit up. She immediately shared stories of when she skated on the pond, long ago, as a little girl. I could see the joy in her eyes from knowing that my daughter was able to experience the same wild ice she had skated on as a kid—two people, generations apart, sharing the joy of a timeless activity in this ancient landscape.
Many old timers will say it’s not the same as it was when they were kids, that it doesn’t snow as much or doesn’t get as cold as it once did. But the snow can get just as deep, the ice just as thick—you just have to be in the right place at the right time to take advantage of these increasingly ephemeral conditions. In Canaan, that often means you’d better be ready on a random Wednesday at 2:30 in the afternoon. Because if you wait until 2:31, you just might miss it.
Rob Stull is busy being a RadDad and the self-proclaimed sheriff of Snob Knob, WV.
1 thought on “Skating Wild Ice”
Awesome article and pictures. ⛸