Video: Brice Shirbach Explores Pocahontas County, West Virgina

Sep 16, 2023
by Brice Shirbach  
Underexposed is a self-shot and produced series by Pivot Cycles athlete Brice Shirbach dedicated to showcasing trail advocacy and stewardship while exploring a variety of trails in unfamiliar places. Join Brice as he explores the personal motivations behind the effort that goes into mountain bike advocacy while sampling the trails they work so hard for.

Words: Brice Shirbach

As you're driving across county lines into Pocahontas County, one thing becomes very clear: locals are hoping you're here to play in the mountains. I mean, it literally says pretty much exactly that on an actual welcome sign. There's a lot of open space here and not a lot of people, so the opportunities are damn near endless, particularly if you're here to ride trails. Throughout the county you'll find a number of epic opportunities to go up and down some of the state's most beautiful landscapes, which include the largest forest service owned wilderness east of the Mississippi, a world class bikepark, and its adjacent backcountry. This is Appalachia at its best: loamy, dank, and deep.

As one of the oldest mountain ranges on the planet; time, wind, and water have whittled once massive, jagged summits into a more modest, tree covered range of peaks and valleys. It's never been about the size, however, or else the appeal here wouldn't compare to the mountains of the American west or in Europe. It's that primordial impression that, for me at least, is the primary appeal of this archaic range that spans from southeastern Canada to the southeastern United States. The climate here is more typically associated with the Pacific Northwest, with no real "dry" season, and a fairly narrow scope between average highs and lows. It rains quite a bit, hence the green glow that seems to almost permeate from the valley. It records some of the least severe weather in the United States annually, yet sits near the top of the heap when it comes to fog and clouds compared to the national average. Its forests are dense, wildlife diverse, and the recreational opportunities prolific throughout this nebulously shaped territory.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
A glimpse from above at the western half of Snowshoe Mountain Resort.
photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
Sunsets from the rooftop of West Virginia are always a sight to behold.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
Snowshoe's backcountry is full of stellar trails like Tiger King.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
These forests provide a veritable playground on two wheels.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
30 minutes from Snowshoe will put you squarely in the middle of nowhere.
photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
The trails here are covered with a spongey loam, accented with seemingly hundreds of roots for every foot of trail.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
50 shades of green everywhere you look.
photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
Austin Barga is one of the resort's friendly faces, and is helping lead the charge for Poca Trails.

West Virginia, whose state motto is "Wild and Wonderful", is an easy place to get lost in, whether intended or not. In the heart of West Virginia, situated atop the nearly mile high shelf of the Allegheny Mountains, you'll find a horseshoe shaped convergence of ridges, the Cheat and Back Allegheny mountains specifically, forming a beautiful confluence that has resulted in one of the finest collections of mountain bike trails anywhere in America. Moss and ferns line the forest floors, while dark ribbons of loamy earth slash and wind their way through forests of red spruce, eastern hemlock, yellow birch, American beech, red maple and black cherry trees. It’s a part of the world with copious amounts of open space and wilderness paired with a decidedly scarce population.

Pocahontas Trails is the local non-profit organization tasked with the advocacy and stewardship of trails throughout the region. Their history dates back to the early nineties, and over the years have developed several strong partnerships with a number of area land managers, tourism bureaus, Snowshoe Mountain Resort, among others, putting themselves and the rest of the county in a position to develop the Snowshoe-Highlands Ride Center, an IMBA Silver-designated ride center, the first of its kind for the state and second ever on the east coast. Between the bike park and the backcountry throughout the rest of the county, there are upwards of 375 miles of trail available for riders. Anchored by Snowshoe Mountain Resort, the Snowshoe Highlands Ride Center features unlimited single track adventure at the Snowshoe Bike Park, the Gauley Mountain basin, Tea Creek area and Mower Tract of the Monongahela National Forest. Fall line trails, deep, luxurious pockets of damp soil, and an evergreen glow that more closely resembles what you might expect to find in the Pacific Northwest than in West-by-God-Virginia.

It's no secret that the state of West Virginia has long been tethered to the extraction industries, most notably coal mining. It's long been a part of the state's heritage, and while most of the world agrees that it's time to look beyond the unsustainable practices associated with that industry, it's been a long and winding road for much of the state to in fact do just that. It's also clear that people here are in fact ready to move on, and fortunately for West Virginia and quite honestly the rest of us, there's more than enough world class terrain and willing people here to lead the way toward a brighter future.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
The Fingers off up a backcountry experience full of solitude and quiet despite being a quick pedal from the lift lines.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
You have to look hard for the entrance to Ruff & Tumble...but it's worth the effort.

photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV
photos from Underexposed Pocahontas County WV

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briceshirbach avatar

Member since Dec 5, 2013
120 articles

  • 18 0
 Beautiful video. Always great to see the wild and wonderful getting some love. The back country out there is just as good as the bike park. Having lived and gone to college in wv I can say that the people there are some of the warmest and down to earth of anywhere I’ve lived. While deep down I hope wv can overcome coal, the opioid epidemic, systemic poverty etc. I also hope it always stays wild and wonderful. Country roads, take me home.
  • 6 0
 As someone who was born in WV, and now lives in CO, I can attest that mountains in these two regions are vastly different and vastly beautiful. This vid was really well done and certainly makes me want to ride next time I am in WV. Thank you to all those in WV making and maintaining the trails and protecting the wildlife.
  • 5 0
 I rode Davis and Slaty Fork quite a bit back when I lived in Maryland. Gorgeous, techy endless trails with welcoming, chill people. Some of my favorite riding memories.
  • 3 0
 Great job. I live in Maryland and spend as much time in WV as I can. Best part of the snowshoe season pass for me is all the great backcountry options around the park. Slatyfork has amazing trails too.
  • 2 0
 I started mountain biking around Thomas/Davis WV on mostly flat techy XC trails, and after moving to Washington and riding all over the place up here I realized there’s plenty of terrain in WV to make trails similar to what we have in the PNW. I think if there were more resources and if local youth had more affordable access to mountain bikes in those areas the riding could become world class in more places than just Snowshoe. Plenty of steeps, roots, rocks, good dirt, and almost year round riding conditions.
  • 2 0
 Facts! Snowshoe feels like the PNW, basin side trails and backcountry trails are similar. Missing the rock slabs though.
  • 2 1
 It's not that great here. I'd go ride somewhere else. Heck, even Danny Hart called Snowshoe the arm pit of America after winning the world cup here in 2019. I'd say more but I've got to go hit some rad trails (I mean lame trails...).
  • 4 0
 So good to see other zones besides BC, CO, and UT. Keep these coming, it makes me want to explore.
  • 2 0
 I’ve always wondered about riding in WV. You can tell by the way it is that it’s ripe for it. But it’s hard to know what zone has the goods.
  • 1 0
 Trailforks makes it pretty easy to find good riding. For first timers, its really hard to argue against lapping Snowshoe. Aside from that Big Bear, Valley Falls, Fayetteville, North Fork Mountain are some of my favs. Davis is ok, Spruce Knob is ok, Kanawha is ok. Some really good up and coming trail development near Cacapon and Hurricane. And although technically VA, right on the border is Reddish Knob and Staunton that's reminiscent of Brevard. Tons of amazing riding in WV dont sleep on it!
  • 4 1
 Big shout out to Austin too!
  • 2 0
 That's my favorite corner of the world
  • 2 0
 RAD for the youth out there..
  • 1 0
 Home. Well done Brice! West Virginia is truly Wild and Wonderful! Sooo stoked to see Austin reppin'! Get it.
  • 2 0
 Nothing quite like it!
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