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Best Places to Ski Near DC, VA, & MD
Doreen Gentzler likes Wintergreen. Topper Shutt prefers Wisp. Here are local ski resorts that Washingtonians love.
We posted the piece below on local ski resorts Washingtonians love in 2007, and the article has become one of the most popular travel pieces on our website. Below is the original 2007 article with updates (read more from our January 2014 issue here); we will continue to add updates as new information becomes available.
Fun Day on the Slopes
Often called the “skiing White House reporter,” Connie Lawn, BBC and USA Radio freelancer, has been hitting the slopes for nearly 40 years.
Lawn, who’s done ski reports for WTOP radio and Snowcountry.com, steals away when she can to Whitetail Resort in Pennsylvania. “When I was in New Zealand skiing at resorts used for summer training by the US Olympic ski and snowboard teams, I noticed that these have the same feel, the same conditions, and the same altitude as Whitetail,” she says.
Lawn isn’t the only White House reporter who likes Whitetail. Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier heads there with his wife.
“You can get there easily on a Saturday morning for a day of skiing,” he says. “The snow can be as good as out west. We like moguls, and they have trails with bumps. I’ve had a few wipeouts at Whitetail, so they definitely have some difficult terrain.”
Whitetail has a 900-foot vertical drop and 23 trails, all but one lit for night skiing.
Update: Since 2007, Whitetail has pumped $4.4 million into improving the resort. Additions include a new beginner trail, a half pipe, a lift to Jib Junction (an advanced-terrain park), and a “magic carpet lift”—a standing conveyer-belt lift—for beginners.
Update (2014): Since 2010, Whitetail has invested $2.8 million in various updates to its ski facilities. The equipment available for rent includes 600 Burton snowboards. Other updates include a second outdoor patio with heated pavers, a loading carpet on the EZ Rider Quad Lift, new snowmaking equipment, and more lighting for ski trails.
Whitetail Resort, Mercersburg, Pa.; skiwhitetail.com; 717-328-9400. 1½ hours from Washington.
Ski After Work
Scott Smith, editor of DCSki.com, also enjoys Whitetail for day trips because of its high-speed lift and free ski check.
“However, if I want to get in a quick skiing fix, it’s hard to beat Liberty,” he says.
Liberty Mountain Resort is in Pennsylvania, an hour from the Beltway. Smith has swung by after work—his office is near Baltimore—to get in a little skiing under the stars.
Liberty has a 600-foot vertical drop and 16 trails, all with lights for night skiing.
“The quality of the snow and the people there make it a nice experience,” says Boyd McHugh, manager of the area’s oldest ski shop, Ski Center, which has been in business since 1959.
Update: College students can ski cheap every Wednesday at Liberty. A valid college ID and $30 will get you a four-hour day pass or a night (5 to 10 PM) pass, equipment rental, and a free lesson if you need it.
Update (2014): The resort invested more than $1 million in 2011 for additional automated snowmaking—meaning more fresh powder for the slopes. On Wednesdays, discounts for college students are now $40 for a four-hour day or night pass, equipment rental, and a free lesson. The resort was also recognized as one of the best in the nation for beginners by the National Ski Areas Association. From opening day until December 23, and every Thursday in January, skiing rookies can pay just $39 for a learn to ski or snowboard package (regular rates are $78).
Liberty Mountain Resort, Carroll Valley, Pa.; skiliberty.com; 717-642-8282. 1½ hours from Washington.
All in the Family
Topper Shutt, meteorologist at WUSA Channel 9, knows snow. He recommends Wisp Resort near Deep Creek Lake.
“Few people realize that Garrett County has the same growing season as Fairbanks, Alaska,” he says. “It’s only three hours from DC, and they average over 100 inches of snow per year.”
Kendel Ehrlich, wife of former governor Robert Ehrlich, also loves Maryland’s only ski resort.
“I grew up skiing at Wisp,” says Ehrlich, who recalls being there at age six on wooden skis with leather boots.
Her seven-year-old son, Drew, started learning there at age four. When her husband embarked on a political career, she says, she told him she’d go into politics only if he learned to ski.
“We go to Wisp every year as a family,” Ehrlich says. “The whole area is family-friendly, from the restaurants to the wide variety of activities.” The area offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, dogsledding, horse-drawn sleigh rides, and snow tubing.
With last season’s opening of North Camp Mountain, Wisp now has 34 trails and a vertical drop of 700 feet. The new trails are wider and good for beginners.
Update: A new ice-skating rink opened in December. Since 2007, the park has also opened a year-round Mountain Coaster ride—a seated, elevated-track ride that glides through the forest and is the only one of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic.
Wisp Resort, McHenry, Md.; skiwisp.com; 301-387-4911. 3 hours from Washington.
More Places to Take the Kids
Topper Shutt also takes his family to Timberline Resort in West Virginia. “They have a fantastic program for kids. Kids can learn to ski and take breaks for cookies when they want,” says Shutt, the father of three, ages 10, 12, and 15. “Timberline makes it fun to learn.”
Timberline features 39 trails and a 1,000-foot vertical drop. It offers telemark-skiing clinics several times a season.
DCSki.com’s Scott Smith also likes Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs for families. “Everyone will find something to do, either on the slopes or in the lodge,” he says.
The lodge at Seven Springs encompasses 11 bars and restaurants, nightclubs with bands every weekend, swimming pools, a bowling alley, miniature golf, and a roller rink. One of the region’s oldest ski areas, it has 33 trails and a 750-foot drop.
Update: Timberline has added lights to White Lightning—the resort’s second most popular trail—for night skiing.
Update (2014): Previously named the number-one resort for terrain parks on the East Coast by TransWorld SNOWboarding magazine, Seven Springs has an urban park that is a replica of a city landscape that will be a haven for freestyle skiers and snowboarders. It’s also now one of the two resorts on the East Coast with an Olympic-size half-pipe.
Timberline Four Seasons Resort, Davis, W.Va.; timberlineresort.com; 304-866-4801. 3 hours from Washington.
Seven Springs Mountain Resort, Seven Springs, Pa.; 7springs.com; 800-452-2223. 3 hours from Washington.
Good Food at Trail’s End
“The keys to good skiing conditions are elevation, snowmaking, and grooming,” says Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore.
In the Mid-Atlantic, the place with all this, besides Wisp, is Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia. Both resorts are high enough to receive lake-effect snow, and both have state-of-the-art snowmaking and grooming. Cantore says he finds the slopes at Snowshoe more challenging.
Snowshoe receives an average of 180 inches of snow a year. The region’s largest ski resort, it has snow tubing, snowmobiling, an indoor/outdoor swim center, and 57 trails.
Plus, Cantore says, “I love the restaurants at Snowshoe Village. It’s some of the best food I’ve eaten.” The mountaintop village has a dozen restaurants, including Cantore’s favorite, Foxfire Grille, a lively barbecue joint.
Update (2014): Snowshoe has a 26-acre terrain park with six freestyle areas. Kids are also welcome to join Snowshoe’s new ski, ride, and play program for ages four to six. Midweek discounts are available, and a Winch Cat Groomer perfects the slopes every night.
Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Snowshoe, W.Va.; snowshoemtn.com; 877-441-4386. 4½ hours from Washington.
Ski and Swim
“Massanutten is an amazing place,” says Steve Buckhantz, a broadcaster for Comcast Sports. “I went to college at James Madison University, and we used to do a lot of night skiing there. Back then it was just some slopes and a basic lodge. Now there’s a new lodge, condos, and snow tubing.”
Russel Cunningham, executive chef at Jurys Washington Hotel, is a fan of the tubing. “It’s fun to do after beating yourself up on the slopes all day,” he says. He also loves to snowboard and says that “Massanutten has a great terrain park with good jumps.”
Massanutten features an 1,100-foot vertical drop and 14 trails, all lighted. The resort has a heated, 42,000-square-foot indoor water park where you can pretend it’s summer all winter long.
Update: Massanutten’s renovated spa—now a stand-alone building with double the floor space—was finished this past summer. New amenities include a facial room staffed by an in-house aesthetician, waxing services, and an emphasis on couples’ treatments. Attractions at the indoor water park include inner-tube and body slides, a lazy river, and an extra-large hot tub for parents.
Update (2014): The resort has a 4,250-square-foot ice-skating rink in its LeClub Recreation Center, open from mid-December through mid-March.
Massanutten Resort, Harrisonburg, Va.; massresort.com; 540-289-4954. 2½ hours from Washington.
Without the Crowds
John Phillips, author of Ski & Snowboard America: Mid-Atlantic, knows all the area’s ski resorts. His favorites are Blue Knob and Elk Mountain, both in Pennsylvania.
Blue Knob has 34 trails and a 1,072-foot vertical drop. “The terrain,” says Phillips, “is some of the most challenging in the region.”
While Blue Knob’s Extrovert is considered the toughest trail in the Mid-Atlantic, Phillips’s favorite Blue Knob slope is Stembogan: “It’s like a bowl out west, and there’s nothing else like it in the Mid-Atlantic. You want to do it over and over again.”
Elk Mountain features 27 trails with a vertical drop of 1,000 feet. “It’s a very laid-back resort,” he says. “The people are friendly, and it doesn’t attract big crowds.”
Elk has no on-site lodging, but there are nearby inns and motels.
Update (2014): Elk Mountain offers Wild Wednesdays: College students will pay just $20 for a lift ticket with a valid ID. Starting January 7, 2014, seniors ages 65 and older will also pay just $20 for lift tickets on Tuesdays. Tickets are typically $20 to $68.
Blue Knob, Claysburg, Pa.; blueknob.com; 814-239-5111. 3 hours from Washington.
Elk Mountain Ski Resort, Union Dale, Pa.; elkskier.com; 570-679-4400. 5 hours from Washington.
“Canaan Valley is interesting because it has great backcountry terrain,” says outdoor photographer Skip Brown. “Canaan gets the best snowstorms and the best powder, and that’s what you need for skiing in the wilderness.”
The Allegheny Mountain resort features 43 trails, an 850-foot vertical drop, and more than 18 miles of cross-country trails. Other activities include snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing, and ice-skating. There’s an indoor pool, sauna, and fitness center. The newly renovated facility includes 160 new guest rooms and suites, and there are cabins and cottages to rent.
Canaan Valley Resort, Davis, W.Va.; canaanresort.com; 304-866-4121. 3½ hours from Washington.
Ski and Spa
While Fox News’s Bret Baier likes Whitetail for a quick day of skiing, he prefers Virginia’s Wintergreen Resort for a weekend.
“They have a new section that is their answer to the bowls out west,” he says. “It’s called Outer Limits.” The expert slope offers 2,000 feet of steep, exciting terrain. “And at the end of the day,” Baier adds, “you can get a massage at the spa.”
WRC Channel 4 anchor Doreen Gentzler also likes Wintergreen, but you’ll probably find her on the less demanding slopes. “They have nice, easy learning hills and lots of intermediate blue slopes,” she says.
Wintergreen has 26 trails and two tubing parks: “My whole family loves the tubing,” Gentzler says. “It’s fast and icy.”
Wintergreen, near Charlottesville, has a lodge, four sit-down restaurants, shops, and nice mountainside condos and houses for rent. During the winter it’s possible to ski the mountain and golf in the valley on the same day because the Blue Ridge mountaintop, at 3,800 feet, is 15 degrees cooler than the valley. As if a skier would golf when there are snow-covered slopes.
Update: The Adventure Dome, an indoor game lounge featuring Wii, Xbox 360, pool tables, and big-screen TVs has proved popular among teenagers and teenagers-at-heart. For the even younger crowd, Ridgeley’s Fun Park, opened in December 2008, features mini-tubing, tunnel paths, sledding, and a carousel. Wintergreen recently revamped its Coppermine Bistro to showcase Mediterranean tastes in both the menu and the decor. The resort also added the Zip—a 30-second, 40-mile-an-hour zipline thrill ride—to its Discovery Ridge Adventure Center in December.
Update (2014): The resort has a restaurant, Edge, which features salvaged-wood decor and beamed ceilings. At the Market at Wintergreen you’ll find sandwiches, salads, and local coffee. The resort has also added extra snow guns, so fresh powder can be made more quickly.
Wintergreen Resort, Wintergreen, Va.; wintergreenresort.com; 434-325-2200. 3 hours from Washington.