By Patricia Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
We were running out of winter but still wanted to play in the snow. We were a mix of skiers and non-skiers who wanted to have fun together in one place. And, oh, we didn’t want to drive too far. Thankfully, in Northern Virginia there are several opportunities for easy winter getaways, and that’s exactly what we enjoyed at Wintergreen Resort. This all-season resort is about three hours from just about anywhere in Fairfax County and the DC metropolitan area, so it’s ideal for an overnight, weekend, or weeklong getaway. We were invited to check out the resort and here we share our experience to help you plan for your own family trip.
Spanning 11,000 acres on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Central Virginia, Wintergreen Resort offers stunning views and year-round fun. In the winter you’ll find all the popular snow sports and recreational activities, and warmer months bring golf, fishing, swimming, and outdoor adventure including a zip line.
Wintergreen opened in 1975 and has undergone several expansions. One unique thing about it is that, unlike most other resorts, where the amenities are at the base of the mountain, Wintergreen is a “mountain top resort” in which everything, including lodging and dining options, is built on the peaks and ridges. This makes for nice views when you’re staying on-site and quicker access to activities. The base is at a 2,512-foot elevation, with the summit at 3,515 feet. The resort has won numerous industry and general awards and is highly rated on Trip Advisor.
The main draw for us, aside from the proximity, was that this was a full-service resort with accommodations. We had previously taken our young son skiing at Bryce and he loved it, and after a couple of lessons and day trips, he was eager to do more. This time, we figured that staying on site and having two full days to enjoy skiing and other features would give us more time for learning, practice, and enjoyment.
Skiing, Snowboarding, and Lessons
Our son’s skiing experience prior to this visit was taking two beginner classes, two years apart, and spending some time on the kiddie and “bunny” slopes. He was eager to do longer runs that would require going on the chair lift, but we hadn’t tried them yet. We also thought he could use more coaching to gain finesse and better control. (“I can ski well,” he would say “I just need to get better at stopping.” And, well, stopping is kind of important!)
Our son had never had any bad falls or injuries, he had never run into anyone, and was fully comfortable getting his skis on and off and getting on the magic carpet (the conveyor lift on the smaller beginner slopes). But as an occasional skier only, he could use more individual observation and feedback, and that’s exactly what we got in our private lesson with Kip. He was so good at providing direction to our child that my husband and I decided to what was supposed to be a “family” lesson into one focused just on him (I had opted not to learn, due to a recent injury; my husband still got some pointers on his technique and use of new skis). Ski lessons are 75 minutes long. Group lessons cost $38-50 per person, and private lessons are $99 (lessons get you reduced rates on rental equipment).
Kip was nice and very friendly, but also focused on the job, taking the “teacher” role seriously to closely observe our son and help him improve with each run. After spending about half the lesson in the beginner/practice area, I’m happy to report that our 8-year-old finally went on a chairlift (the Blue Ridge Express) several times, each time getting on and off easily and with zero problems, with Kip beside him. After the lesson, my son could confidently ride the lift numerous times with my husband, doing the longer runs down to the “Potato Patch” on Dobie/Diamond Hill.
Intermediate skiers will want to spend most of their time in the Loggers Alley area that has more difficult runs, while for expert skiers the Highlands Express lift will take you on the advanced slopes. We skipped these and stuck to the beginner slopes, which were challenging enough for our son and still fun and good practice for my husband, who’s been skiing for years.
While we skipped the next level of slopes, I’ve heard from others that there can be a big jump from the beginner slopes to the intermediate ones, as those runs are steeper. Also, it’s worth noting that while Wintergreen has a large sectioned-off area for beginners, this is only for those taking private or group lessons, and you will not be allowed in there without an instructor. If you need to practice your skiing on your own, it could be a bit of a challenge to find a spot to do so on a busy day without getting in anyone’s way.
Wintergreen is great about keeping its website and slope report up-to-date on conditions. The resort also counts on SNOWPOWER, “one of the most sophisticated snowmaking systems in the United States,” to keep enough snow on the ground. The ski area also has a freestyle terrain and lighted trails for night skiing and snowboarding. On that note: we do not snowboard, so we didn’t experience that, but we did see a good number of snowboarders there, including many children and beginners. In all, Wintergreen boasts 24 slopes and trails for skiing and snowboarding.
One other Wintergreen feature is the Wintergreen Adaptive Sports (WAS) nonprofit, through which students with disabilities receive adaptive instruction in outdoor sports by volunteer instructors. Each year, more than 100 volunteers participate in both winter and summer programs as junior- and senior-level instructors. The students have a wide range of disabilities, and include people with amputations, autism, attention disorders, developmental disabilities, or vision or hearing impairment, for example.
WAS also hosts special events, and during our stay, we got to witness some fun activities from its Mardi Gras celebration, always held on the first Saturday in March. The “winding-down-of-the-season” event includes a parade and a synchronized skiing contest. It was fun to see the group members in all kinds of equipment — regular skis, mono skis, bi-skis, and snowboards — having a great time down the slopes, many of them in festive Mardi Gras attire for the snow parade.
I may not be a skier, but I’m an “expert” at snow tubing! What does it take to become an expert? Basically, just go snow tubing more than once. Really, it’s THAT easy! You simply sit inside a special inner tube with a flat bottom and hurl yourself down the side of the mountain. Gravity sends you flying down, sometimes spinning around in your lane. If you’ve never gone snow tubing, don’t worry — the lanes have little snow “walls” that keeping you from spilling over into another lane. Snow tubing is fast, fun, safe, and quite a thrill!
Wintergreen has Virginia’s longest tubing hill and largest tubing park: being at The Plunge is like being atop a 10-story building, looking out over a hill that is longer than three football fields. With 10 lanes, it’s also wide enough that you don’t have a long wait (another plus: the tube park has its own very large parking lot and snack shop, so you don’t have to “compete” with the main parking area if you are going jus to snow tube for the day). Some of the lanes have large bumps at the top, which can be fun but also can slow you down a bit, while the lanes on the right are smoother and thus will make you go faster (you can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour) — just keep in mind that the magic carpet that takes you and your tube back up the hill is only on the left side, so if you are in the far right lane, you’ll need to walk across all lanes to get back to the start.
Riders can go down only once all previous rides have cleared the bottom area. You can race someone in an adjacent lane, but Wintergreen allows you to “double up” so you can ride with two or three connected tubes. Sessions are 90 minutes long and cost $19-27 per person. To get the most enjoyment, avoid warmer days that are too sunny: the hill gets a lot of sun and the day we went, temperatures had warmed up significantly from the previous day, making the snow a bit slushy and the ride a bit sluggish. Still, we had fun (especially once we moved over to the faster lanes and could slide a bit faster). I look forward to returning on a more ideal day to see how fast we really can fly down that hill!
Tubing is recommended for participants age six and up, and all participants must be at least 42 inches tall to ride. For children that do not meet the height requirement, tubing is available in Ridgely’s Fun Park (see below). And if you can’t wait for next winter to try tubing, good news: you can enjoy summer tubing. You’ll be on the same fields, but this time instead of sliding on the snow you’ll go over lanes covered in a product called Neveplast, a slippery material. Thirty-minute summer tubing sessions are $14 to $19 per person.
Ridgely’s Fun Park and Ice Skating
The youngest of children can still enjoy winter fun at Ridgely’s Fun Park, their own special playground across the street from The Plunge. This kiddie area in the Discovery Ridge is the perfect place for children to safely play in the snow. The park has a mini-tubing carousel, bear paw snow shoes, tunnels, and a short and gentle hill to give kids their own taste of tubing. Sessions are one hour ($18 for one parent and one child), and mascot Ridgely the Bear often stops by to visit.
Rounding out the winter fun, back in the main ski area, is Wintergreen’s outdoor ice-skating rink, but his was closed when we went because it was late in the season and we’d had recent warm days. For most of winter, though, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Naturally, we didn’t do everything in one day, as we stayed two nights at the resort (it was great to be able to casually plan our day without having to worry about drive times!). Our home for the weekend was in the Overlook condominiums overlooking the slopes. This provided us with a great view from our deck/patio, and it’s yet another fun reason why having the amenities at the mountain top instead of at the base make Wintergreen unique.
We had arrived late on a Friday night so we were glad to see that check-in was easy and quick at the Mountain Inn. Our unit itself, a 2-bedroom, 2-bath condo, was large, spacious, comfortable, and very clean. The unit had a large kitchen, spa tub, and fireplace. A nice thing about the layout is that the bedrooms are at one end of the unit, while the living and dining area is on the other end, with the kitchen and bathrooms in the middle. This would be nice if traveling in a larger group and some people wanted to go to bed early while others stayed up socializing since you’d have a buffer between the bedrooms and the living areas. The outdoor deck had plenty of seating and fantastic view of the mountains and the slopes. We realized how high we really were one morning when the fog rolled in and the slopes we had been looking at minutes earlier just magically “disappeared.”
Wintergreen rentals include guest rooms, condominiums, houses, and “exclusive properties,” very large homes with 7-9 bedrooms. Because each unit is individually decorated, no two are alike. Nightly rates start from $139 per night for a studio room to $879 for an exclusive property. Some condos are ski-in/ski-out units near the main lodge. Housekeeping services are provided and units have all the comforts of home. Getting around to the rest of the resort is easy thanks to the courtesy shuttles that go through the property continuously.
Because we wanted to take it easy and had brought some food to cook, we only ate at the property’s restaurants twice. Our first meal was at The Edge, a family-friendly pub in the middle of the ski and snowboarding action, with fantastic views of the mountains. The food was good and the service was quick; prices might seem a bit on the high side for a few items, but portions are generous. This restaurant often offers live music and special events so it also makes for a good après-ski site or happy hour spot. It provides a nice ambiance, with high ceilings and lots of natural light. A nice plus: the children’s menu has more than the typical kiddie food, also offering grilled chicken and steak entrees.
We also had a nice, light dinner at Devils Grill, the clubhouse restaurant at the resort Devils Knob Golf Course. At more than 3,800 feet, Devils Knob is the highest course in Virginia, and Devils Grill is the highest restaurant. The restaurant, which is open only to members and registered resort guests and is further up into the mountain, was cozy and quiet, but I suspect this is largely because it was winter and too cold to enjoy the patio. I have seen pictures of the exterior of the restaurant during summer, though, and it’s beautiful; in the fall, it’s even more so as the location provides spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountain, especially during foliage season.
Devils Grill is the upscale restaurant on site so here you will find heartier choices such as rack of lamb and ribeye steaks; reservations are strongly recommended. Other dining options at Wintergreen include The Copper Mine Bistro and Stoney Creek Bar & Grill (which is closed during winter).
Other Amenities and Year-Round Fun
Wintergreen also is known for its 45 holes of championship golf on two courses, Devils Knob and Stoney Creek (Conde Nast Traveler magazine selected Wintergreen as one of the “Top 50 Golf Resorts in the World”). The mountaintop Devils Knob Golf Course often ranks as one of Virginia’s best courses and offers panoramic views. Down in the historic Rockfish Valley is Stoney Creek Golf Course, which Wintergreen boasts as being playable year round: “There are times when you can ski at the Wintergreen Resort and play golf at this central Virginia golf course on the same day,” promotional materials declare.
We did not do any golfing during this visit, nor did we get to enjoy some of the other amenities available, such s the nice indoor pool and fitness center or the full-service spa. We had hoped to visit both of these, but our stay consisted of basically two things: playing outside and enjoying winter fun, or simply relaxing at “home.”
As a four-season resort, with warmer temperatures coming soon, Wintergreen will be turning its attention to other activities it offers, including a zip line, outdoor pool, lake with a beachfront, tennis, hiking, mountain biking, archery, fly-fishing, snow tubing, and more. Lake Monocan, a 20-acre lake and park with swimming, canoeing, and kayaking, also has road bike rentals and a sand volleyball court. We definitely need to think of Wintergreen as being “evergreen” and return during the warm months!
Also onsite is Nature Foundation at Wintergreen, an independently managed and financed non-profit organization, which we hope to visit next time. The Foundation (not officially a part of the resort) offers educational programs through guided hikes and on-site youth and adult programs, as well as 30 miles of trails. Wintergreen also has some shops, markets, and a gas station right on site.
For those traveling with young children, Wintergreen also offers children’s programs at The Treehouse. This is a great option for parents with kids ages 2.5-12. Whether you strictly want child care while you ski, head to the spa, or enjoy other activities, or you want your kids to learn to ski with children their age, The Treehouse has a solution. In the winter, the Kids Ski Programs has full-day and half-day programs are available for children ages 3 and up. The children are grouped by age and ability level; full-day programs (which include group lessons, equipment rental, and a slope use pass) start at $105.
We didn’t register our son for any Treehouse programs because of our private lesson, but knowing about it and seeing the place make me realize we could have — and probably should have — taken advantage of a resource like this earlier to have him try skiing while he was younger. Treehouse kids also get to enjoy arts, crafts, group games, and meals or snacks at the facility, which is peanut-free and nut-free.
During the rest of the year, Treehouse features the Kids in Action summer childcare program. Depending on the child’s age, activities can include nature walks, hikes, play on indoor and outdoor equipment, story times, group games, G-rated movies, and nap times.
Tips for Your Visit
- Online tickets: Whether you’re going for a day trip or you’re staying at the resort, book whatever activities you can online. This will guarantee you a spot for activities that can fill up quickly (such as snow-tubing sessions) and save you time on services such as equipment rental (having our ski rental tickets already printed out made it much easier to get our stuff, since the line was starting to get long).
- Parking and Transportation: Wintergreen is a large resort, so it helps to look at the parking map first to be sure you’re going to the one closest to your activities. Note that parking can fill up quickly, so the earlier you arrive, the better. If you’re staying at the resort, you don’t even need to drive around once you’re there — take advantage of the shuttle that takes you just about everywhere.
- Bring the essentials: If you’re staying on the property and planning to use the kitchen, be sure to bring whatever you may need for cooking. Cookware and utensils are provided but you must bring any food items you plan to use (including basics such as salt and pepper) and be prepared to take it all back with you when you leave.
- Make time for a side trip: If you can tack on an extra day trip on top of your vacation, even better! Wintergreen is close to the Shenandoah Valley, and, on the other side, is just about an hour from historic Charlottesville. It’s also just a few miles from a few wineries and from the many breweries that make up the “Brew Ridge Trail.”
Disclaimer: My family was invited to experience Wintergreen Resort, which provided us with accommodations, ski and snow tubing activities, rentals, and lift tickets. This writing is my original work and the opinions expressed are my own.
All photos by P. Hall