Best Mid-Atlantic Ski Season in Years

On February 5, 2014 by Peter

If you live in the Washington, DC area and like to ski, you have to seize every good snow day like it will be your last. You can go years without properly good conditions. When I returned from Chile on January 20, a rare snowstorm was heading towards the Washington, DC area. This is a major event for DC, and a big deal for Mid-Atlantic ski aficionados because it means the handful of decent ski areas within an easy drive will be worth skiing. I skied Whitetail on a powder day on January 21 and was so impressed with the conditions that on my return to DC I phoned around to Snowshoe and Wintergreen, two slightly larger resorts, to book a weekend trip. Wintergreen had a few one bedroom condos left, so Allison and I signed up and drove into the Blue Ridge Mountains on Friday afternoon. After an easy 3.5hr drive, we checked in at Wintergreen and could hardly believe how ideally situated our condo was at the top of the Highlands Express lift and across the street from the hot tubs! Perfect.

We woke up early so we could get on the slopes at 8AM, before they opened to the general public — a valuable perk of booking lodging through the resort. The Blue Ridge sunrise was gorgeous.

Sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains

You can see the unloading area for the Highlands lift in the middle of the frame above. The sunrise became more dramatic as we devoured bowls of oatmeal made with almond milk, blueberries, bananas, and walnuts. The Wintergreen snow techs spent all night making snow, and the guns were still going until 730AM.

Dramatic winter sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains

Dramatic winter sunrise over the Blue Ridge Mountains

The man-made snow added the already stout base and meant that the slopes were in terrific shape. We had the first turns down a bunch of the runs off the Highlands lift, and carved a mixture of perfect corduroy and light powder that the snow makers had produced the previous night. We traversed to the Big Acorn lift area next to ski everything on that side of the hill before it became crowded. The groomers were still out, so we had to make a bunch of runs on Tyro, a decently long run, before we could claim first tracks down Big Acorn. It was the worth the wait; the snow was fantastic. With the high-speed lift on the Highlands, we could easily ski ten runs per hour. We bailed as soon as the trails started to fill up and headed inside for lunch by the fire and a nap. When everyone else went in for lunch, we headed back out for a few more runs and enjoyed a passing snow squall.

Snowy afternoon at Wintergreen

Snowy afternoon at Wintergreen

We called it a day when the trails filled back up and the good snow had been pushed off the trails. That was pretty much how the weekend went. Up early, ski everything before most folks got out of bed, then home for lunch, fire, and hot tub.

I took Monday off skiing then headed back to Whitetail with three friends on Tuesday, January 28. The high for the day was in the teens, and the wind chill was well below zero. The cold temperatures coupled with the fact that it was a weekday meant there were no more than 20 people sharing the mountain with us. We skied a dozen runs before lunch on excellent snow. I skied Whitetail a lot as a kid, and I never experienced anything like this.

Perfect conditions at Whitetail

Perfect conditions at Whitetail

Christel, who was raised on the steeps of Portillo, Chile, was loving it.

Christel carves Bold Decision at Whitetail

Christel carves Bold Decision at Whitetail

We skied another dozen runs after lunch, including a few laps through the terrain park where Nick bucked the gnar.

Nick bucking the gnar at Whitetail

Nick bucking the gnar at Whitetail

We declared victory as our legs started getting tired. I stopped for some cheap gas on the way home. My new ride gets better gas mileage than my beloved 2000 4Runner, but this will still be a common sight. Note the brilliant rear license plate, which captures my big, happy, post-ski day grin.

Fueling the Raptor in Clear Springs

Fueling the Raptor in Clear Springs

I was pretty wiped out on Wednesday morning, but it snowed overnight and I knew the conditions would be good so I headed back to Whitetail to strengthen my legs for my upcoming ski trips. All it takes is a couple of warm days back-to-back, or some rain, to destroy Whitetail, and I didn’t think the superb conditions would last into the following week.

Then it snowed again on Monday, February 3rd. I picked Christel up in a downpour and we drove west. I wagered that we would hit rain/snow line before Fredrick, which would mean that Whitetail would be receiving nothing but snow.  We lucked out.

Another snowy drive out I-70 West to Whitetail

Another snowy drive out I-70 West to Whitetail

This was heavy, wet snow — but mid-Atlantic skiers can be too greedy. Whitetail had already received a few inches by the time we arrived, and it was still snowing hard. We hit the Whitetail Express lift and found ourselves in near-whiteout conditions at the top.

Near-whiteout conditions at Whitetail

Near-whiteout conditions at Whitetail

After our first few turns, we knew our legs were going to have to work hard in the wet snow.

It snowed another five inches over the course of the morning and we found some fresh tracks on the sides of many of the trails. My new skis, the Rossignol Soul 7s, worked really well in the conditions.

Skiing Whitetail on a wet-snow powder day

Skiing Whitetail on a wet-snow powder day

We skied until our legs were just short of destroyed. Total Mid-Atlantic ski days in 2014: 6. Time for a few days off skiing before spending four days at Alta!

Getting There

For Whitetail, see my earlier post.

Wintergreen is approximately 3 hours from Washington, DC by car, but the length of the drive can vary quite a bit depending on traffic. If you are going for the weekend, I recommend leaving before 3PM (2PM would be better) to avoid potentially horrendous traffic on I-66 West. From DC, take I-66 West to Gainesville, then get onto Route 29 South to Charlottesville. Charlottesville is a great little town and is an excellent place to stop for dinner and/or groceries. From Charlottesville, take I-64 West to exit 107, then get on US-250 West and follow signs to Wintergreen. You’ll pass some super inexpensive gas along the way.

Where to Stay

Wintergreen is a fairly large resort, so you have lots of lodging options. Renting a condo through the resort gets you access to the Wintergarden hot tubs, pool, and fitness center and also grants you access to the slopes a 8AM, an hour before they open to the general public. You can ski the entire mountain several times over in an hour, and you’ll likely get first turns on many of the runs. If you are looking for the best possible deal, you can find lots of good lodging options through VRBO. The Highlands condos are my favorite place to stay because you can walk to the slopes served by the Highlands lift, probably the best terrain at Wintergreen, and the Wintergarden is only a couple of blocks away.

On the Hill

Wintergreen is divided into three main areas, each served by a lift: Highlands, Blue Ridge Express, and Big Acorn. If you are an intermediate or advanced skier, I recommend starting your day (preferably at 8AM if it is a weekend) by skiing everything off the Highlands Express and then traversing over to the Big Acorn lift, via the Blue Ridge Express. Ski everything off Big Acorn, then retreat back to the Highlands where the runs are longer and the lift is both faster and higher capacity.

Other Tips

The slopes can get very crowded no weekends at Wintergreen. Get out there early, then head in for lunch around 11. Ski again from 2-330PM, then head for the hot tubs at the Wintergarden before the hordes descend.

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