Pre-season test at Wintergreen Resort, which has one of the most advanced snowmaking systems in the country.
Bryce Resort, Basye • 25 skiable acres on 500′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 1750′; Base elevation: 1250′. 5 Lifts: 2 doubles, 3 surface. Uphill Capacity: 3000/hr. Terrain Mix: 34-33-33. Longest Run: 3500′. Season: usually December through mid-March, 7 days. Night Skiing Tues-Sat. Rentals. Annual Snowfall: 30″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: Less than two hours from DC, smallish, slow lifts…yet somehow Bryce is seldom, if ever, crowded. Great for beginners, and like every other Virginia ski area, nothing too tough for the solid intermediate skier. Prices are reasonable…ski Bryce if you’re a beginner or novice, or skiing with a young family. Ideal place for you, reasonable pricing. Trail names mostly have a bootleg whiskey theme: Redeye, Hangover, Revenuers Run, White Lightning, etc.
Signature Trail: Revenuers Run.
The Homestead, Hots Springs • 45 skiable acres on 700′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3200′; Base elevation: 2500′. 5 Lifts: 1 double, 1 t-bar, 1 j-bar, 2 rope tows. Uphill Capacity: 2,400/hr. Terrain Mix: 34-33-33. Longest Run: 4,200′. Season: usually December through March. Rentals. Annual Snowfall: 50″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: If you’re a regular skiing enthusiast, Homestead isn’t your ideal destination. If you ski occasionally, or have a family where skiing is second to other recreation, The Homestead is your ideal destination. Seldom crowded, never overly challenging, beautiful atmosphere. Hotshots, wanderers and crazies need not apply.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Center, Lynchburg • 4 skiable acres on artificial slope
Specs: Surface lift, slopes, terrain park on synthetic surface with misting system. Rentals, night skiing.
The SKInny: This is an outdoor recreation offering at Liberty University, open for public skiing. It’s offered on a per-hour basis; slightly more expensive on weekends. The material was developed in Great Britain and is said to offer a unique combination of slipperiness and resistance that is similar to real snow. Because the surface can cause friction, patrons need to be fully covered, even on sunny summer days. And because it employs a water spray to keep it slippery, the college recommends water resistant material. It’s an interesting offering, and the kids seem to love it.
Massanutten, Harrisonburg • 70 skiable acres on 1,100′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 2925′; Base elevation: 1750′. 7 Lifts: 1 quad, 3 doubles, 1 j-bar, 2 handle tows. Uphill Capacity: 6350/hr. Terrain Mix: 30-35-35. Longest Run: 4,100′. Season: usually December through mid-March, 7 days. Night Skiing 7 days. Rentals. Annual Snowfall: 56″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: Of the two mid-sized (800 to 1300 vertical) resorts in VA, Massanutten is second fiddle, and plays to the masses. Like any good southern resort, the novice, intermediate, and expert terrain are all neatly segregated. Lifts move slowly, the pace is slow, and the skiing is…feh. So what is it about skiing in the Shenandoah Valley that is so spectacular? Well, it’s never as cold as Vermont, and you can play nine holes before you hit the slopes. When all is said and done, Massanutten makes the best of things and runs a decent ski area. If you want to do a discount ski weekend in VA, book a room in Harrisonburg, ski Massanutten, enjoy.
Signature Trail: ParaDice.
Wintergreen, Wintergreen • 129 skiable acres on 1003′ vertical
Specs: Summit elevation: 3515′; Base elevation: 2512′. 5 Lifts: 2 six-pack, 1 quad, 1 triple, 1 double. Uphill Capacity: 9,000/hr. (higher now) Terrain Mix: 23-35-42. Longest Run: 7,392′. Season: usually November through late March. Night Skiing 7 days. Lessons & Rentals. Annual Snowfall: 40″. Snowmaking: 100%.
The SKInny: Here it is, tops in the Commonwealth. Everything you’d expect in a southern ski area: It’s upside-down, lifts crawl, skiers drawl, and you learn that Carhartt is a supplier of ski clothing. Each level of skier is segregated nicely, but you’ll positively have to show up early, or ski “Highlands” to avoid lots and lots and lots of people. This is a full-service, four-season resort for the southern gentleman…and if he’s a member, he’s allowed to cut in front of you at the liftline. A couple of the runs — Cliffhanger, Wild Turkey, and Tyro — are well-designed, classic trails. Novices have nice, gentle runs in a central area below the main ski lodge. Be sure to visit Checkerberry Cabin, a mid-mountain snackbar that is just terrific. Because of its reputation as a pricey condo complex with ski slopes, “Wintergreenbacks” is seldom taken seriously when composing lists of important ski areas, but I’m here to tell you that it ranks with the best south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and it would still be highly respected if it were in New England. A state-of-the-art snowmaking system adjusts moisture content, so the snow is good. Wintergreen also manages to get every trail open well before mid-season, which is a lot more than most resorts can claim. Note that a few years ago, Wintergreen expanded with a few new trails that bump the skiable acreage and improve flow between “sections.” Plus, a newly installed high speed sixpack on the Highlands area means that expert skiers are doing a lot less grumbling these days. As far as the “Wintergreenbacks” moniker goes, yes it is pricey. But take heart in the fact that some small portion of your ticket goes to fund their Adaptive ski programs, including “Wounded Warrior” ski weekends. Props to WTG for that, now let’s do away with the line cutting.
Signature Trail: Wild Turkey.
Lifts We don’t consider a ski area’s tubing-only lifts as part of the total. Signature Trail Is mostly subjective. Whether it’s history, reputation, the view, or degree of difficulty…it’s the run you have to do, even if it isn’t necessarily the best the resort has to offer.
Finally, a note about ski area statistics: Although it’s hard to believe, some ski areas are (gasp!) less than truthful with their numbers. Like the guy who lies about his, uh, shoe size, some ski areas believe that inflated numbers make their resort sound more appealling. When these numbers are obviously questionable, we put a note: (?!) and will attempt to verify the legitimacy of the claim.
Technically not Virginia, but since most of its users are Virginians, DC Ski is your go-to website for MidAtlantic skiing. Great community.
If the ski resort business interests you, I strongly recommend a book by Hal Clifford called Downhill Slide: Why the Corporate Ski Industry is Bad for Skiing, Ski Towns, and the Environment. It provides an inside look at the marketing logic behind clocktower villages, and the dubious practices of the US Forest Service that enables these resorts to be built. Fascinating reading.
Lift Tickets at Discount: This is a “clearinghouse” of sorts that many ski areas use to raise cash by selling discount tickets in advance, called Liftopia. If you haven’t used this service, it is important to knowfor certain that you are going on a specific date. The deeply discounted tickets must be purchased in advance; generally up to two days out. The sticking point is that some ski resorts only make a limited number of tickets available to Liftopia for any given day, so they might be sold out if you wait too long…so, as soon as you are absolutely, positively sure that you will be skiing on a certain day, click this link to get deeply discounted tickets. I’ve used this service many times, but again, ONLY when I am absolutely certain I will be skiing on a specific date. You need to have access to a printer to print out your receipt, and you have to take identification with you to the mountain. I’ve knocked a third off the price of some tickets. Not every area participates, but it’s well worth checking if you’ve got a date nailed down. Note that sometimes they offer deals in which you can pay a slightly higher fee that gives you the option to change dates.