When the landscape turns white, these nearby ski resorts have the edge.
The sun is just rising over the mountains to the east, casting a pink-and-orange glow on the freshly groomed snow as I ski-skate to the edge of the ridge. I point the tips of my skis downhill and glide through my first turn, my edges cutting fresh tracks across the corduroy of the groomed slope. White-cloaked trees bear silent witness from either side of the trail.
By noon, this popular intermediate run will be as crowded as the Beltway. But for now, a wide-open white expanse lies below me with a bluebird sky above.
Feeling nearly weightless, I transition into my next turn on the run’s headwall, cold air burning my cheeks as I fly downhill. I roll from turn to turn in a meditative rhythm—and suddenly I’m at the bottom, cruising toward the lift to do it again.
This gorgeous ski run isn’t taking place in the Colorado Rockies or in California’s Sierra Nevada, but at Whitetail Resort in south-central Pennsylvania, just an hour and 40 minutes from Arlington.
I discovered Whitetail in 2003, when my first job after college brought me back to the Northeast after four years in Boulder, Colo. I missed the Rockies terribly, but found solace skiing the bumps on Exhibition and bombing down the headwall of Bold Decision, two of Whitetail’s expert runs.
These days, I find a sense of community and purpose serving as a volunteer ski patroller there. Over the years, I’ve brought skier friends of all abilities to the ’Tail—beginners taking their first lessons, intermediates working through the kinks after being out of practice for years, and experts convinced they couldn’t possibly enjoy a worthwhile ski day so close to the Mason-Dixon Line. All have come back for more.
And Whitetail is far from the only place to “shred the gnar”—skier lingo for tearing up the slopes—within driving distance of Arlington County. The vertical drop, or difference between base and summit elevations, may be diminutive when compared with resorts out West—roughly 1,000 feet at some of the bigger resorts near here, versus more than 4,400 feet at Snowmass in Colorado. But with the right expectations, the payoff can be just as thrilling.
Whitetail Resort used to have a radio ad bragging that “nothing else close comes close.” And I believe that to be true. Aspen it’s not, but with 935 feet of vertical drop and a high-speed detachable quad to zoom skiers to the top, Whitetail smokes its similarly located competition as far as terrain is concerned. Mogul maniacs will love Exhibition, arguably the best bump run in the region. Park rats will dig Jib Junction, the resort’s advanced terrain park, and groms (snowboarder-speak for pint-size riders) will like Park Place, which offers tamer features.
Downsides: If you’re looking for sit-down table service or an après-ski drink, you’ll have to wander off premises. In a referendum last May, Whitetail petitioned unsuccessfully for the ability to hold a liquor license in Franklin County, so you can’t buy anything stronger than a hot cocoa at its multiple cafeteria-style eateries. And on sunny, cold, holiday-weekend afternoons, the most popular beginner and intermediate slopes can be very crowded.
Location: 13805 Blairs Valley Road, Mercersburg, Pa., 717-328-9400, www.skiwhitetail.com
Distance from Arlington: one hour, 40 minutes
Lift hours: 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Cost: $69 for eight hours, weekends and holidays. (Note: The price of lift tickets varies depending on weekend versus weekday, child versus adult and, in some cases, time of year. All prices provided here are mid-season, weekend rates for adults.)
Top elevation: 1,800 feet
Vertical drop: 935 feet
Lifts and terrain: Twenty-three trails: seven beginner, 10 intermediate, six expert. Nine lifts, including one high-speed quad.
Accommodations: Whitetail partners with the adjoining Whitetail Mountainside Village for lodging. Visitors can choose between the upscale, hotel-style inn and individual condos, some of which are ski-in, ski-out. Rates can be found at www.whitetailresortrealestate.com.
Restaurants: Slopeside cafeteria-style dining areas include Marketplace and Windows, First Tracks Snack Shop and Starbucks, all located in the base area. Patrollers flock toward the giant salads and blue-plate specials at Marketplace.
Other activities: Like all resorts in the area, Whitetail offers snow tubing. Adults pay $28 for a two-hour tubing session on a weekend or holiday. Whitetail also offers a ski school and rental shop on premises.
What’s new: $1.6 million in capital improvements this summer include upgrades to the snowmaking system and a new groomer. But it’s visitors who haven’t been to Whitetail for a few years who will really be blown away: The resort has cut two new beginner trails since 2008.
Liberty Mountain Resort
Liberty Mountain Resort is more than a ski area. With a hotel and multiple bars and restaurants on-site, it’s a real resort. It’s also the closest ski area to the Washington, D.C., area, making it a favorite among ski clubs at area grade schools. Also making it kid-friendly: Burton Riglet Park, where instructors teach kids as young as 3 the basics of snowboarding. Dipsy Doodle, a 5,200-foot beginner run, is a favorite among shredders of all ages.
Downside: Crowds—especially on Friday nights and weekends.
Location: 78 Country Club Trail, Carroll Valley, Pa., 717-642-8282, www.libertymountainresort.com
Distance from Arlington: one hour, 25 minutes
Lift hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; lifts open at 8 a.m. on weekends and holidays.
Cost: $67 for eight-hour lift ticket, holidays and weekends
Top elevation: 1,190 feet
Vertical drop: 620 feet
Lifts and terrain: Sixteen trails: 35 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 25 percent expert. Eight lifts, including five quads. One T-bar. Two terrain parks.
Accommodations: Hotel on-site, with rates starting at $129 (www.libertymountainresort.com/resort-hotel/hotel/hotel-info.aspx).
Restaurants: Dining options include The Inn at Liberty Mountain Resort for sit-down service, with entrées such as New York strip steak and Scottish salmon; McKee’s Tavern for burgers and beer; and several self-service options, all at the base of the mountain.
Other Activities: Ski school and rentals on premises. Snow tubing costs $29 for two hours on weekends and holidays.
What’s new: Over the past few years, Liberty has improved its snowmaking system by adding more efficient snow guns. It also has added a Burton Riglet Park, and has remodeled most of its hotel rooms. Upcoming improvements include a new lodge with 30 hotel suites, two restaurants and an indoor pool. Construction is scheduled to begin in January.
Wisp Resort is a bit farther from Arlington than the aforementioned resorts, making it more of a weekend journey than a day trip. But with more than 100 inches of annual snowfall thanks to Wisp’s 3,115-foot summit and far-western Maryland location, it’s worth the trek. Regular snowfall and low temperatures mean that it routinely opens around Thanksgiving, when the closer resorts are waiting until it’s cold enough to make snow. Wisp also provides more options for nonskiers. In addition to snow tubing, it offers ice skating, snowshoeing and an on-site spa.
Location: 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Md., 301-387-4000, www.wispresort.com
Distance from Arlington: two hours, 50 minutes
Lift hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday and Monday
Cost: $69 for a one-day lift ticket during peak season.
Top elevation: 3,115 feet
Vertical drop: 700 feet
Lifts and terrain: Thirty-two trails: 41 percent beginner, 28 percent intermediate, 31 percent expert. Nine lifts, including two quads, plus one T-bar. Three terrain parks, including a half-pipe.
Accommodations: Wisp Resort Hotel & Conference Center is on-site and slopeside. Rates vary (www.wispresort.com/wisp/info/wisp-resort.aspx).
Restaurants: DC’s Bar & Restaurant offers sit-down service, with sandwiches, pasta dishes, steaks and other entrées. Wispers Mountainside Bar serves up wings and beer. Both are located in the base area.
Other activities: Ski school and rentals on premises. Snow tubing is $32 for two hours on weekends and holidays. Ice skating for 90 minutes with skate rental is $12.
What’s new: Wisp emerged from bankruptcy last year thanks to new ownership. Resort spokesman John McCracken says new offerings for the coming season are still being finalized.
Seven Springs has 135 inches of snowfall per year, 13 lifts and 40 trails—not to mention eight terrain parks and an Olympic-size half-pipe—making it a solid step above other ski resorts within similar driving distance. Season-pass holders at Whitetail, Liberty and Roundtop often flock here in November and December, when resorts closer to Arlington are still waiting for weather cold enough to make snow.
Location: 777 Waterwheel Drive, Seven Springs, Pa., 814-352-7777, www.7springs.com
Distance from Arlington: three hours, 10 minutes
Lift hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; open until 10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday.
Cost: $75 for a one-day ticket, weekend
Top elevation: 2,994 feet
Vertical drop: 750 feet
Lifts and terrain: Forty trails: 35 percent beginner, 40 percent intermediate, 25 percent expert. Thirteen lifts, including two, six-person chairs and three quads, and one rope tow.
Accommodations: Rooms at the Main Lodge Hotel, located at the base of the mountain, start at $318 for two weekend nights. (http://7springs.com/page/category.detail/nav/5052/Hotel.html).
Restaurants: Make a reservation at Helen’s, a farm-to-fork establishment, for fine dining; Slopeside for dishes such as the pan-seared, free-range chicken breast or roasted rack of lamb; or the Foggy Goggle for a beer and a sandwich. All are located in the base area.
Other activities: Ski school and rentals on-site. Also on-site: a wide variety of activities, including snow tubing ($27 for two hours on weekends and holidays); snowmobiling ($75 per driver, $40 for each additional passenger, weekends and holidays); and snowshoeing tours ($30 per person with equipment rentals). Sore from skiing? Get a massage ($115 for 50 minutes) at the on-site Trillium Spa.
What’s new: Resort spokeswoman Anna Weltz says this has been a quiet offseason, a year after a Burton Riglet Park was added for 2012-13.
Roundtop Mountain Resort
Roundtop Mountain Resort requires a little extra time in the car if you’re traveling from the Washington, D.C., area, and serious shredders wishing they were out West will be bummed by the 600-foot vertical drop. The good news: The longer drive helps Roundtop stay less crowded than its sister resorts, Liberty and Whitetail. And the fact that some of the runs are short doesn’t make them any less sweet. Gunbarrel, a double black diamond run, has a cornice at the top that will take your breath away.
Downside: The closest lodging is a few miles away. People seeking ski-in, ski-out convenience will want to stick to day trips.
Location: 925 Roundtop Road, Lewisberry, Pa., 717-432-9631, www.skiroundtop.com
Distance from Arlington: two hours
Lift hours: 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; lifts open at 8 a.m. weekends and holidays.
Cost: $64 for eight-hour lift ticket, weekends and holidays
Top elevation: 1,400 feet
Vertical drop: 600 feet
Lifts and terrain: Sixteen trails: 29 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 41 percent expert. Eight lifts, three of which are quads.
Accommodations: Roundtop partners with several local hotels and inns, such as Blair Mountain Bed and Breakfast, located about 4 miles away in Dillsburg, Pa. Rates start at $109 per night (www.blairmtn.com).
Restaurants: Fireside Pub & Grill, located on the mountain, offers table service and serves steak burgers, pizza, and other upscale pub fare, along with cleverly named drinks (a ski-bunny cosmo or yard sale, anyone?).
Other activities: Ski school and rentals on premises. Snow tubing costs $28 per day on weekends and holidays.
What’s new: This season will bring lots of activities connected with the resort’s 50th anniversary celebration, says Chris Dudding, a spokesman for Roundtop. “We are also replacing a lot of snowmaking pipe—not exciting to look at, but it will allow us to be even more efficient in making snow.”
Snowshoe Mountain Resort
Snowshoe Mountain Resort is the only resort in the region to routinely crack the annual SKI and Skiing magazine rankings of the top 20 ski areas in the Southeast. There’s a good reason for the high marks: Snowshoe combines three ski areas into one resort for a total of 57 trails, with glades and steeps that beat anything else south of the Mason-Dixon Line. It gets 180 inches of snow annually, and has a vertical drop of 1,500 feet. Owned by Intrawest, which owns ski areas such as Steamboat and Winter Park in Colorado, Snowshoe looks and feels like a big resort.
Downsides: The four-hour-plus drive can turn into a five- or six-hour drive when it snows, thanks to winding back roads approaching the resort. And with relatively pricey lift tickets, some families may question whether they’re really saving money by staying in the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic for their ski vacation.
Location: 10 Snowshoe Drive, Snowshoe, W.Va., 304-572-1000, www.snowshoemtn.com
Distance from Arlington: Four hours, 10 minutes.
Lift hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Silver Creek, one of the resort’s three ski areas, is open until 9 p.m.)
Cost: $84 for a one-day lift ticket to all three ski areas on weekends
Top elevation: 4,848
Vertical drop: 1,500 feet
Lifts and terrain: Fourteen lifts, including three high-speed quads. And there are 57 trails among Snowshoe Basin, Silver Creek and the Western Territory: 42 percent beginner, 30 percent intermediate, 28 percent expert. The Western Territory offers some of the steepest slopes in the region—as steep as a 52 percent grade. Six terrain parks complete the package. An added perk: Since The Village at Snowshoe sits at the top of the mountain, you can take your first run before the lifts open.
Accommodations: Snowshoe offers a centralized reservation system for the Elk River Inn & Restaurant (elkriverinnandrestaurant.com) and a variety of townhouses and condos, some of which are ski-in, ski-out (www.snowshoemtn.com/plan-your-trip/lodging/lodging-landing.aspx). Rates vary.
Restaurants: There are a couple dozen eateries on the resort property. Favorites include Cheat Mountain Pizza Company for specialty pizza; Foxfire Grille for burgers and beer; and The Boathouse on Shavers Lake for cinnamon rolls and waffles, located at the base of Ballhooter Lift.
Other activities: The mountaintop village also offers a comedy club, bars and other nightlife options. Kids will love the Split Rock Pools, which are part of the massive lodging complex in the village. (Pool admission costs $10 if you’re not a guest.) Ski school and rentals on premises.
What’s new: Snowshoe recently added the Spa at Snowshoe, which offers traditional spa treatments and a fancy fitness center
Other Nearby Ski Resorts
Looking for more places to test your slalom skills? Here are a few more resorts within driving range:
Canaan Valley Resort: Three hours, 10 minutes from Arlington. Located northeast of Snowshoe in West Virginia’s Canaan Valley Resort State Park, experts and tree-skiing enthusiasts will love this resort’s gladed Weiss Meadows section. But skiers of all levels will appreciate its 180 inches of snowfall per year. Vertical drop: 850 feet. Number of trails: 42. www.canaanresort.com/winter.
Timberline Four Season Resort: Three hours, 10 minutes from Arlington. Timberline averages 200 inches of snowfall each year. Located just a few miles from Canaan Valley Resort, it’s known to be the more expert-friendly of the two, with glades and steeps. Vertical drop: 1,000 feet. Number of trails: 37. www.timberlineresort.com.
Massanutten: Two hours, 10 minutes from Arlington. Located in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, the resort offers an impressive vertical drop of 1,100 feet. Number of trails: 14. www.massresort.com.
Blue Knob All Seasons Resort: Three hours from Arlington. Located in Claysburg, Pa., this resort offers a vertical drop of more than 1,000 feet and a summit elevation of more than 3,100 feet, with 34 trails. www.blueknob.com.
Wintergreen Resort: Two hours, 45 minutes from Arlington, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. Go for the 1,000 feet of vertical drop and 26 trails, stay for the Blue Ridge views. www.wintergreenresort.com.
Amy Reinink also writes for Runner’s World, Skiing Magazine and other outdoor publications. She is a volunteer ski patroller at Whitetail who acknowledges a bias toward her home mountain.