Skiing requires two things: snow and slopes. A decent number of the latter are within an easy drive of Washington. The former is more of a challenge. In the Mid-Atlantic, snow can be elusive.
Which is why skiers from our area and other not-quite-Switzerland locales might take heart from a trend that has quietly revolutionized nearby resorts: vastly improved snowmaking technology.
About 90 percent of resorts now use machines to augment whatever Mother Nature delivers—and most skiers can’t tell the difference. Unlike previous models, the newest snow guns produce a consistent flake that lasts longer. The machines themselves also automatically turn on when the temperature and humidity reach ideal levels, meaning there’s no need to wait for a human to flick a switch, something that could cost valuable snowmaking time.
All of which means that even if you see green grass in your yard, ski resorts most likely have snow. Here are our favorites for taking advantage of winter.
Most Romantic: Wintergreen
Wintergreen, Va. | Distance from DC: 156 miles
At this destination in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, you can rent a beautiful cabin with a fireplace or enjoy a sunrise view from one of the many mountaintop condos that face east. Hit the spa for a couples massage or to sink into an outdoor hot tub as the sun sets. Oh, yes, there’s skiing, too—24 trails and a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet.
Best Bit of Summer in Winter: Massanutten
Massanutten, Va. | Distance from DC: 120 miles
You can ski or snowboard all day on 14 trails. Or escape the cold entirely at Massanutten’s 42,000-square-foot indoor water park. The facility features a “lazy river” where you can float on a tube in the warm water, plus tube and body slides, a family swimming section, and a Flowrider surfing zone that pumps 50,000 gallons of water a minute to form artificial waves.
Most Convenient: Liberty Mountain
Carroll Valley, Pa. | Distance from DC: 78 miles
This Pennsylvania spot, with its trails and vertical drop of 620 feet, is about a 90-minute drive from DC—even less from the Maryland suburbs along I-270. Because it’s so close, it’s great for a day trip. It’s also fun for an evening excursion, when all of the slopes are lit and running until 10. A 4-to-10-pm adult lift ticket is only $49.
Best for Beginners: Wisp
McHenry, Md | Distance from DC: 179 miles
This laid-back, family-friendly mountain is next to Deep Creek Lake. The slopes are right outside the lodge—as is the ski-and-snowboarding learning center, which includes five conveyor-belt lifts and a separate section for children. Many of the 33 trails are rated for beginners, and no one ever seems to be in a rush—making it easy if you’re just getting into snow sports.
Best for Intermediates: Whitetail l
Mercersburg, Pa. | Distance from DC: 89 miles
Of the 23 trails at this Pennsylvania resort, 11 are rated blue, or intermediate. The trails are all wide open and easily negotiated by skiers and snowboarders who love the joy of carving turns but don’t want terrain that’s too steep. A high-speed, four-person lift means a skier can crank out run after run after run.
Best for Experts: Blue Knob
Claysburg, Pa. | Distance from DC: 166 miles
This no-frills mountain is renowned for having the most difficult single slope in the Mid-Atlantic, dubbed the Upper and Lower Extrovert. Compared with other resorts in the region, the mountain is steeper, the trails are narrower, and there are lots of moguls as well as ungroomed terrain and trails cutting through the trees. Blue Knob has a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet, and half of its 34 runs are rated advanced to expert.
Best for Cross-Country and Snowshoeing: Canaan Valley
Davis, W. Va. | Distance from DC: 179 miles
This West Virginia spot is for people who’d rather provide their own locomotion than ride a lift and use gravity for speed. The valley, with an elevation of 3,200-plus feet, is in an area that regularly receives lake-effect snow to cover the open fields and wooded trails. Skiers will find more than 35 kilometers of cross-country and snowshoeing trails at Canaan Resort as well as an additional 60 kilometers of maintained trails at adjacent White Grass Ski Touring Center. Both offer rentals and lessons.
Best Snowboarding: Seven Springs
Seven Springs, Pa. | Distance from DC: 193 miles
While most resorts have one or two terrain parks for snowboarders, Seven Springs has six. Each has one-of-a-kind features for boarders of different levels, and freestyle skiers can also frolic on the rails, boxes, and jumps. The resort has the largest and longest half-pipe in the region—the 440-foot-long Spot Superpipe—which allows Seven Springs to host major snowboarding competitions, such as the US Revolution Tour.
Best Getaway Overall: Snowshoe
Snowshoe, W. Va. | Distance from DC: 220 miles
It may not be Colorado or Utah, but this West Virginia resort may make you feel like you’re skiing out west—without the cost of a plane ticket. There are 61 trails, a vertical drop of 1,500 feet, and more than a dozen lifts. The mountaintop village includes a spa, restaurants, shops, and lots of lodging options—from hotel rooms and condos to cabins and houses. Off slope are snowtubing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobile tours, a swimming center, and much more.
This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.