6 Winter (and Spring!) Resorts to Put on Your Radar
You don't have ski to enjoy these ski resorts. Put them in your idea file for your next trip.
I’m at a ski resort, but I’m not skiing. Instead, I’m exploring the options for folks (like me) who enjoy a crisp and active winter getaway but prefer not to risk injury to life and limb.
It’s pre-Covid times (February 2020), and I’m on an indoor tennis court with Wintergreen tennis pro Ryan Bauman. He’s a laid-back guy. “Just let go,” Bauman coaches. “Let your arm be like a noodle and then hit the ball that way.”
Having not held a racket in years, I’m all tensed up and jittery. I’m afraid of embarrassing myself. I take a deep breath and try to channel a noodle.
Whap! The ball sails over the net. I loosen up and play the rest of my private lesson with feelings of joy bordering on elation.
Bauman is definitely onto something—and not only with tennis. I decide to adopt “Just let go” as my mantra for this three-day escape. It’s not a big ask, given that my next stop is Wintergreen’s spa.
As I lie on the warmed massage table, I tell myself, Be a noodle. My muscles and ligaments are rubbed, pressed and cajoled to loosen until I feel like a warm puddle of sunshine on a frosty day.
Too often, vacations come with the pressure to perform—to attack that black diamond monster that really is as scary as it looks, with minefields of moguls and icy drop-offs. I know I’m not the only one who wants to be able to plan winter trips with friends and family, but would just as soon skip the slope shredding and meet up later for après-ski.
After ripping up my knee on an ill-fated ski run about a decade ago, I now prefer other kinds of cold-weather entertainment. But I’m still game for any winter escape to the mountains.
It’s been more than a decade since my last visit to Wintergreen (elevation 3,850 feet), and I’d nearly forgotten how calming it is to behold Virginia’s beauty from its highest points, particularly in winter when the air is bracing and the views clearer.
In the evening, my friend Michelle and I share a bottle of wine and soak in the fleeting orange creaminess of the winter sunset, its colors reflected in the clouds over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the foothills beyond. Wintergreen—in fact, any ski resort, really—has lovely views in abundance, even if you choose not to strap on a lot of cumbersome gear and fling yourself downhill.
Michelle is still recovering from a broken leg (her dog tripped her while they were hiking nearly a year ago, but the injury left her tentative), so we choose some less risky activities for our stay, like tubing and gentle hikes.
In the morning we awake to a dusting of natural snow—a treat, in retrospect, given that most of the snow during the 2019-2020 ski season was manmade—and set out to explore Trillium House, home of the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to natural resources conservation.
There we find information about Wintergreen’s 30 miles of mountain and valley hiking trails, including a stretch of the Appalachian Trail that crosses the northern part of the 11,000-acre property. Josh Palumbo, forest management coordinator for the foundation, recommends a few jaunts with rewards at the end, including waterfalls and scenic overlooks.
The winter hikers “tend to be the heartier folk,” he says, “but there’s still quite a bit of use.”
We map out a doable route for the next morning, then choose our own adventures for the remainder of the day. Michelle opts to walk the cart path on the mountaintop golf course (which is closed to golfers in the winter, but open to walkers), followed by some quiet reading time in our cozy two-bedroom condo with a view of the slopes.
I check out the clothing and gear shops at the main Mountain Inn before heading over to the 900-foot tubing hill—known as “The Plunge”—where I attempt to slide, noodle-like, down the gentle bumps at about 20 mph, with mixed success. (I mostly end up plunging down backwards or spiraling.)
In the late afternoon, we reconnect for wine-tasting at DeVine, a resort café and wine shop that also sells condo provisions and takeout (stauntongourmet.com). We sample a few vintages, choose our favorite and find a table near the fire.
The next morning, the mountaintop temperature has plummeted to 18 degrees, but the sky is cloudless. We climb the hill above DeVine (a scenic spot with picnic tables, a gazebo and an observation deck), quickly realizing we have to lean into the frigid wind to stay standing.
Are we still game for the hike we’d planned? As Nordic folk are oft to say, there’s no such thing as bad weather—only inappropriate clothing. In that spirit, we layer up and head to the 0.8-mile (round trip) Upper Shamokin Falls Trail, which, not surprisingly, we have to ourselves.
The barren trees have a clean, sculptural beauty, and nothing blocks our view of the undulating bluish ridges in the distance, nor the series of waterfalls we pass along the way. Scanning the deep winter landscape, my eyes adjust to appreciate even the slightest gradations and nuances of color. I note green splashes of moss on boulders and the arcs of hardy ferns fringing the trail.
Michelle reassures me that her healed leg is doing just fine, so we pick our way down the winding, rocky path and walk gingerly across the wooden planks that crisscross the chatty Stoney Creek. I should definitely do this more often, I think as I savor the pure, glacial air.
Before heading home, we return to DeVine for a caffeine jolt. Feeling like a noodle behind the wheel would not be ideal.
Arlington writer Amy Brecount White is always looking for invigorating ways to spend more time outdoors.
See next page for more resort options…