Living on the coast definitely has its advantages. There’s plenty to do for families who love the outdoors—like beaches, boating, and boardwalk bike rides. But winters in Tidewater can be a little dull, especially if you’re fond of snow. And since mountains are non-existent here, families who enjoy snow sports are pretty much out of luck.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go far to enjoy a winter wonderland. Nestled among the Blue Ridge Mountains about 30 miles south of Charlottesville, Wintergreen Resort is the go-to destination for year-round fun, but winters are when Wintergreen is at its finest. My family and I head there as often as we can for snow-licious fun. It’s the perfect place to introduce your kids to skiing and snow sports. My sons started out on the slopes when they were quite young, and now snowboarding is their hands-down favorite activity.
I didn’t learn to ski until I was in my late 30s and have to admit I’m still not very good. But being out there on the mountain with my family, inhaling the fresh, clean air, and sliding (carefully) across freshly groomed snow has become one of my favorite activities, too. Wintergreen—about four hours by car—is a beautiful resort and offers trails that accommodate perpetual beginners like me as well as more experienced skiers and boarders like my husband and sons.
Let’s have a look at what makes Wintergreen an ideal destination for a winter getaway.
LET IT SNOW
Wintergreen is the only ski area in the United States to have 100 percent of its terrain covered by automated snowmaking, thanks to one of the world’s most sophisticated snowmaking systems. Installed a few years ago and continuously upgraded, the state-of-the-art Techno Aplin (TA) computerized snowmaking system allows Wintergreen to consistently offer the Mid-Atlantic’s best skiing and snowboarding surfaces.
Among its 11,000 acres, Wintergreen offers 24 slopes on 130 skiable acres. Fourteen slopes are lighted for night skiing, and the resort’s longest run is 1.4 miles. Since I’m not a very confident skier, I tend to spend a lot of time on the beginner slopes. Of course, my husband and sons get bored with the “bunny” slopes pretty quickly and head off to more challenging expert trails or to the terrain park. I don’t mind. I’m perfectly content skiing solo and relish the peaceful beauty of my surroundings as I (carefully) head down the slopes.
Don’t worry if you’ve never skied before. Wintergreen has a great package for beginners called Discover Skiing. “It’s our introductory program,” says Todd Clarke, director of mountain operations at Wintergreen. The package includes rentals, a lift ticket, and a lesson, as well as discount coupons for your next two visits. Todd says it takes most people 2-3 times on the slopes before they feel comfortable. “We say, give us three days and you’ll be a life skier,” he adds.
ON THE SLOPES
Perhaps you tried skiing or snowboarding in college and loved it. Why not introduce the sport to your kids? My husband and I have taken our kids on many adventures over the years, but if you ask them where they have the most fun, they’ll say on the slopes. What I love about skiing as a family is we get to hang out some of the time and can also enjoy a little me-time.
Besides having fun, we’re all getting an amazing workout—and building up powerful appetites. I’ve found that food always tastes better when you’re on a ski vacation. And thanks to all the exercise, it’s OK to indulge in some extra carbs and calories! Last but not least, everyone in the family always sleeps like a baby after a day on the slopes.
Wintergreen offers a variety of skiing programs for kids at The Treehouse, along with day care options for kids who may not be interested in learning to ski. Full and half-day “learn to ski” programs are available for kids 3+. There’s also a “Mom, Dad and Me” program, which gives parents the chance to observe children getting a lesson in order to help them learn to ski or ride better. Registering in advance ensures your child’s space and also gives you a special discount.
Wintergreen follows the instructional guidelines from the Professional Ski Instructors of America and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. This national group trains instructors to connect with guests and help them feel appreciated, important, and confident on the slopes. Even though I know how to ski, I always take a lesson, and I’ve had amazing instructors at Wintergreen.
Pierce Byrd, the children’s program manager at Wintergreen, says the resort hires a number of students from local schools and colleges as ski and snowboard instructors. “They all have lots of energy and make lessons fun,” she explains. “They have lots of ideas for games related to instruction.” Many of their instructors come to Wintergreen from Chile in South America through a cultural exchange program. “They ski all year round in Chile,” Pierce continues. “They’re really good at what they do.” As a bonus, Spanish-speaking families enjoy communicating in their native language with the Chilean instructors.
Safety is of utmost importance, says Pierce. Helmets are included in all the “learn to ski” packages and are required. “We try to keep our child-instructor ratio low, especially for the younger group,” Pierce adds. “We never take them out of the learning area before they can turn and stop.”
If you need a break from skiing, Wintergreen offers a lot of other family activities. Reservations are recommended for ice skating at Shamokin Ice, a popular pastime that often sells out on weekends. Thrills and chills await at The Plunge, Virginia’s largest tubing park. Imagine being on top of a ten story building and looking out over a hill that’s longer than three football fields. Now imagine going downhill on a tube at speeds reaching 30 mph. That’s The Plunge! It’s a super-fast thrilling ride, and my kids love it.
There’s more family fun at Discovery Ridge Adventure Center, which features an indoor gaming area with the latest video games. There’s also a mechanical bull, which according to Todd Clarke is the most popular indoor attraction. Outdoors, weather permitting, the bungee trampoline draws crowds and is a popular activity.
Ridgely’s Fun Park at Discovery Ridge is perfect for families with small children. You and your kids can play in the snow and enjoy a mini-tubing carousel, bear paw snow shoes, tunnels, plus a gentle hill for tubing. Wintergreen’s mascot, Ridgely the Bear, makes frequent guest appearances, adding to the excitement.
My family enjoys staying in one of the resorts 230 villa-style condos. Comfortable accommodations with well-equipped kitchens mean you can enjoy family meals together. Of course, you can also dine at one of the resort’s fabulous restaurants. Devil’s Grill is the resort’s upscale dining venue and serves eclectic Americana fare—maple-glazed pork belly, anyone? Or grab a snack at Checkerberry Cabin, a slopeside restaurant with cinnamon buns, hot chocolate, and savory soups to warm up your insides.
Thanks to child care options at The Treehouse, Mom and Dad can easily arrange a pampering escape at The Spa at Wintergreen, which offers guests luxurious spa treatments designed to balance mind, body, and spirit. It’s an oasis of calm and offers seasonal treatments. This winter, for example, you can book the Winter Rose Rejuvenation. The experience starts with a dry brush buffing treatment to slough away dry winter skin, followed by a warm rose oil application. After a chilly day on the slopes, this treatment will nourish and hydrate your body, and you’ll smell like roses!
In the Aquatics & Fitness Center, you’ll find a lovely indoor pool, ideal for families. After a dip in the pool, you can venture out into the frosty winter air for a soak in one of the hot tubs. You can also sign up for a yoga class and enjoy Zen time off the slopes. Or take a water aerobics classes for a splashy workout. The fitness center features a strength and conditioning circuit and free weights. Treadmills, stationary bicycles, and ellipticals let you get in your cardiovascular workout.
Special family activities like bonfires and movie nights are often scheduled during holiday weekends. My family’s favorite time to visit Wintergreen is mid-week, when you practically have the slopes all to yourselves and there are practically no liftlines.
Don’t let cabin fever get you down this winter. Grab the family and head up to Wintergreen for an excellent adventure on and off the slopes. Whether you’re a beginner or an aficionado, there’s no time like the present to introduce your kids to this healthy winter pastime. Let it snow!
For more information, visit www.wintergreenresort.com