January-February 2021

To ski or not to ski

You don’t have to hit the slopes to enjoy these mid-Atlantic winter resorts

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Tubing at Wisp Resort. Photo by Karol Gesner Photography

I’m at a ski resort, but I’m not skiing. Instead, I’m exploring the options for folks (like me) who enjoy a crisp and active winter getaway but prefer not to risk injury to life and limb.
It’s pre-COVID times (February 2020), and I’m on an indoor tennis court with Wintergreen tennis pro Ryan Bauman. He’s a laid-back guy.

“Just let go,” Bauman coaches. “Let your arm be like a noodle and then hit the ball that way.”
Having not held a racket in years, I’m all tensed up and jittery. I’m afraid of embarrassing myself. I take a deep breath and try to channel a noodle.

Whap! The ball sails over the net. I loosen up and play the rest of my private lesson with feelings of joy bordering on elation.

Bauman is definitely onto something—and not only with tennis. I decide to adopt “Just let go” as my mantra for this three-day escape. It’s not a big ask, given that my next stop is Wintergreen’s spa.

As I lie on the warmed massage table, I tell myself, Be a noodle. My muscles and ligaments are rubbed, pressed and cajoled to loosen until I feel like a warm puddle of sunshine on a frosty day.

Too often, vacations come with the pressure to perform—to attack that black diamond monster that really is as scary as it looks, with minefields of moguls and icy drop-offs. I know I’m not the only one who wants to be able to plan winter trips with friends and family, but would just as soon skip the slope shredding and meet up later for après-ski.

After ripping up my knee on an ill-fated ski run about a decade ago, I now prefer other kinds of cold-weather entertainment. But I’m still game for any winter escape to the mountains.

It’s been more than a decade since my last visit to Wintergreen (elevation 3,850 feet), and I’d nearly forgotten how calming it is to behold Virginia’s beauty from its highest points, particularly in winter when the air is bracing and the views clearer.

In the evening, my friend Michelle and I share a bottle of wine and soak in the fleeting orange creaminess of the winter sunset, its colors reflected in the clouds over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the foothills beyond. Wintergreen—in fact, any ski resort, really—has lovely views in abundance, even if you choose not to strap on a lot of cumbersome gear and fling yourself downhill.

Michelle is still recovering from a broken leg (her dog tripped her while they were hiking nearly a year ago, but the injury left her tentative), so we choose some less risky activities for our stay, such as tubing and gentle hikes.
In the morning we awake to a dusting of natural snow—a treat, in retrospect, given that most of the snow during the 2019-2020 ski season was manmade—and set out to explore Trillium House, home of the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to natural resources conservation.

There we find information about Wintergreen’s 30 miles of mountain and valley hiking trails, including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that crosses the northern part of the 11,000-acre property. Josh Palumbo, forest management coordinator for the foundation, recommends a few jaunts with rewards at the end, including waterfalls and scenic overlooks.

The winter hikers “tend to be the heartier folk,” he says, “but there’s still quite a bit of use.”

We map out a doable route for the next morning, then choose our own adventures for the remainder of the day. Michelle opts to walk the cart path on the mountaintop golf course (which is closed to golfers in the winter, but open to walkers), followed by some quiet reading time in our cozy two-bedroom condo with a view of the slopes.

I check out the clothing and gear shops at the main Mountain Inn before heading over to the 900-foot tubing hill—known as “The Plunge”—where I attempt to slide, noodle-like, down the gentle bumps at about 20 mph, with mixed success. (I mostly end up plunging down backwards or spiraling.)

In the late afternoon, we reconnect for wine-tasting at DeVine, a resort cafe and wine shop that also sells condo provisions and takeout (stauntongourmet.com). We sample a few vintages, choose our favorite and find a table near the fire.

The next morning, the mountaintop temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees, but the sky is cloudless. We climb the hill above DeVine (a scenic spot with picnic tables, a gazebo and an observation deck), quickly realizing we have to lean into the frigid wind to stay standing.

Are we still game for the hike we’d planned? As Nordic folk are apt to say, there’s no such thing as bad weather—only inappropriate clothing. In that spirit, we layer up and head to the 0.8-mile (round trip) Upper Shamokin Falls Trail, which, not surprisingly, we have to ourselves.

The barren trees have a clean, sculptural beauty, and nothing blocks our view of the undulating bluish ridges in the distance, nor the series of waterfalls we pass along the way. Scanning the deep winter landscape, my eyes adjust to appreciate even the slightest gradations and nuances of color. I note green splashes of moss on boulders and the arcs of hardy ferns fringing the trail.

Michelle reassures me that her healed leg is doing just fine, so we pick our way down the winding, rocky path and walk gingerly across the wooden planks that crisscross the chatty Stoney Creek. I should definitely do this more often, I think as I savor the pure, glacial air.

Before heading home, we return to DeVine for a caffeine jolt. Feeling like a noodle behind the wheel would not be ideal.

Arlington writer Amy Brecount White is always looking for invigorating ways to spend more time outdoors.


Resorts to keep on your radar

Craving an escape to the outdoors? The following resorts offer skiing and a whole lot more. At press time, all remained open during the pandemic, operating with heightened safety precautions, outdoor dining, grab-and-go meals and reduced capacity indoor dining, although some amenities (such as indoor game rooms and public hot tubs) are currently unavailable. Advance online booking (both lodging and activities) is a must. Some resorts are not offering walk-up rentals or walk-up lift tickets for the 2020-2021 season; others are issuing lift tickets only to season pass holders on certain days. All require masks on lifts and in public indoor spaces. If travel feels too risky this winter, put these destinations in your idea file and start planning a getaway for winter 2022, or perhaps for spring or summer. All of the resorts below offer year-round recreation.

Wintergreen Resort

Perched on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this Virginia destination offers both indoor and outdoor tennis, year-round hiking and golf, along with zip-lining (in season), spa packages and 24 ski slopes and trails (14 of them lit for night skiing). The resort’s hiking trails are known for amazing spring wildflower displays and autumn “leaf peeping,” as well as snow-globe-like vistas during the frosty season. The Plunge tubing park offers a chance to slide (on snow in winter; grass in summer) from 10 stories high at speeds up to 30 mph. For fine dining, try Devils Grill (open Friday-Sunday; reservations required for on-site dining; curbside pickup available) overlooking the mountaintop golf course. Stoney Creek, also part of the resort, is 8 miles down the mountain and 10 to 15 degrees warmer, with hiking trails, outdoor tennis courts and 27 holes of year-round golf. Lake Monacan is ringed by a 2-mile walking path. In nearby Nellysford and along the route known as Nelson 151 (nelson151.com), you’ll find a bevy of breweries, wineries and cideries.

Route 664, Wintergreen, Virginia, wintergreenresort.com


Massanutten

Rising above Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, Massanutten offers 14 ski trails and is known for its large indoor waterpark featuring body slides, a lazy river and indoor bodyboarding and surfing. For a brain challenge, try its three Escape Rooms. Or treat yourself to shopping and pampering at the spa, which offers massages, body treatments and nail care. Two recreation centers have indoor pools and basketball courts, and the resort offers weekly art and fitness classes (when it is safe to do so). Enjoy pumping music and flashing neon lights while night tubing at Northern Lights Tubing. Other seasonal activities include fishing, horseback riding, hunting, ice skating, kayaking and river tubing, mini golf and mountain biking.

1822 Resort Drive, McGaheysville, Virginia, massresort.com


Snowshoe Mountain Resort

The Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia are home to Snowshoe, a mountaintop village with gorgeous views, more than 60 ski trails, 40 bike trails and lots of shopping and dining options. Visitors can enjoy heated indoor and outdoor swimming at Split Rock Pools, or choose from a menu of massages, facials, body wraps and other services at the spa. The snow tubing hill features a multicolored LED light display. Snowmobile and off-road vehicle tours (available in one- or four-seaters) are popular. Visitors can tour the ski slopes by snowmobile after 4:30 p.m., or explore the backcountry, snow permitting. Autumn Breeze Stables (wvtrailrides.com), located 4 miles from the village, offers year-round, scenic horseback tours.

10 Snowshoe Drive, Snowshoe, West Virginia, snowshoemtn.com


Canaan Valley Resort

Tucked inside West Virginia’s Canaan Valley State Park, this resort in the Allegheny Mountains offers both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing (snow permitting) with rental skis and snowshoes available, plus 47 trails for downhill skiing and snowboarding. Other pastimes include tubing on a 1,200-foot-long, multi-lane course, and ice-skating at an outdoor covered rink. The spa offers a variety of massages and facials, and resort guests can access the gym and an indoor heated pool, along with a variety of dining choices. Other winter events may include paint-and-sip classes, guided winter strolls and yoga. In summer, the resort offers tennis, golf, mini golf, sand volleyball, wagon rides, sporting clays (clay pigeon shooting), archery, hiking, biking and scenic chairlift rides.

230 Main Lodge Road, Davis, West Virginia, canaanresort.com


Seven Springs Resort

This village-like resort in Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands is home to more than 35 ski slopes and trails (including a giant slalom course), plus non-skiing options such as snow tubing, an indoor pool, a roller-skating rink, a game room, three sporting clay courses (participants can shoot clay pigeons while guided by a “trapper”) and an enclosed clay shooting area. A cozy spa housed in a repurposed chalet offers the chance to unwind with a massage or mani-pedi. Snow permitting, the resort offers snowmobile and snowshoe tours and horse-drawn sleigh rides. The stables provide guided horseback rides and horse-drawn wagon rides on select weekends. Popular among the village’s 11 watering holes and restaurants is the venerable Foggy Goggle bar. Venture offsite to explore the charming nearby town of Ligonier, or spend half a day at the Flight 93 National Memorial honoring the passengers and crew who lost their lives on Sept. 11 (nps.gov/flni/index.htm). Nearby Laurel Ridge State Park also offers cross-country skiing, snow permitting.

777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, 7springs.com


Wisp Resort

Head to western Maryland near Deep Creek Lake for 33 ski slopes and trails (90% of which are lit for night skiing), or take a wild ride on Wisp’s Mountain Coaster—a cross between an alpine slide and roller coaster that allows you to control your own speed with hand brakes (max is 28 mph) through 3,500 feet of corkscrews, dips and plunges. The mountain park also offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and 12 shoots for tubing. In warmer weather, visitors can try zip-lining and challenge courses, mountain biking, archery, disc golf, hiking, chairlift rides, whitewater rafting, kayaking, pontoon boat tours and water sports. Wisp also has two Escape Rooms.

296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Maryland, wispresort.com