Monday, February 15, 2010

Skiing near Washington DC

Snowshoe Ski Resort, WV

Snowshoe Ski Resort is the largest ski area in West Virginia with the region's highest vertical drop. In my opinion it is the best ski destination within DC’s driving distance, approximately 5 hrs from DC. Because of the distance you need at least a long weekend to really get the most out of your trip. You can just as easily spend a whole week there without getting bored. We have been there twice and each time for the whole week. One of those two times, there was plenty of snow, and skiing was great. The second time, there was almost no snow and it rained 3 of the 6 days we were there. We were miserable. That just reflects the unpredictability of this mid atlantic region.

Snowshoe has 14 lifts and some 60 trails spread across three areas: the main Basin area, the Silver Creek area, and the Western Territory (I believe they have added another northern tract area which did not exist when we were last there). We did not ski the Western Territory. Both the main basin area as well as silver creek have plenty of green and blue trails. In fact there are over 40 blues and greens between these two areas. The rest being black diamond and double blacks. I really like the silver creek area which is down the road from the main basin (there is free shuttle service between the main village and Silver Creek). Silver creek ski area is smaller than the main basin area but has wider trails and less crowds. Perfect for novice and beginners. Main basin has some nice long trails, but they are narrower, and when the trails get crowded it does get a bit scary. I would say snowshoe is a place that is fun for all levels of skiers.

Probably the worst part about Snowshoe was getting there. There is really no good route to get there, it is very much off the beaten path. The trip involves many miles of travel over narrow two-lane roads in a very rural area. We went in December in our mini van. There were a couple of sections where we thought we were stuck for good, but managed to make it to the top. I have heard going there in Feb, in any vehicle other than a 4 wheel drive is impossible and a big risk.

There are plenty of lodging options both for the budget minded as well as those seeking luxury accommodations. The village is a fun place to be after skiing with plenty of high end dining options.

For ski lessons this is a great place. I found the instructors really friendly and knowledgeable.


Of the various ski areas near Washington DC, I would probably rank WISP either as #2 or #3. Wisp is the only ski resort in Maryland, located near Deep Creek Lake, approximately a 4 hour drive from the Washington DC area. The resort has 26 trails and 7 lifts. Bottom line, WISP seems a great place for beginner to intermediate skiers. There were 6-8 wide and real easy greens, 8-10 blues (blue- greens IMO) and 7 blacks (advance blues IMO) trails requiring more skill. I'd say the black trails were steeper and much shorter than the blues and some had moguls but none were difficult.There were enough trails at WISP to spend an entire weekend skiing but not enough for a full week. For someone with advance skills and someone who likes to ski only black diamonds, this is probably not the place for you.

On a downward note, it seems WISP has a theft problem. The day we reached there, my son’s new skis were stolen within the first 3 hours (we had come inside the lodge for a hot chocolate break). That left a really bad taste and almost ruined our holiday. I heard of similar thefts while I was standing at guest services to report the stolen skis. They said not much they can do other than urge us to check in our skis the next time. Well.. adding security would be a start. We saw a fair number of ski patrol and resort employees, but not enough security personnel.

As for accommodations, there seemed plenty of recently constructed private homes for rental both at the top of the mountain as well as just outside the resort area and further out nearer the lake. The area seems to be undergoing a major development explosion. We saw many newly constructed homes for sale and plans for future resort expansion.

Some trail details: Lift #s 2 and 3 are the two main 3 person chairs that take you from the lodge area to the top of the mountain. At the top you can go right towards North Campus, to the left towards the backside of the mountain or come back towards the lodge area. The trails coming back to the lodge area are nice blue-greens criss-crossing the mountain and running through the trees with a couple switchbacks.

The trails towards lift # 6 & 7 (north campus) such as little and big dipper are long, wide and really nice for beginner skiers. The blues in that area such as Ace’s run and whip saw require a bit more skill and were fun blues. The trails toward the back side, were more intermediate to advanced skiers.

Keep in mind that WISP is an east coast, mid atlantic ski area where conditions can be very unpredictable. We just came back from WISP (Feb 2010 when DC area broke all snow records), the conditions were perfect, there was plenty of natural snow that the resort did not need to make any snow. The skiing was fun.


Liberty is a fairly small ski area, with about 15 trails and approximately 90 minutes from the DC area. This is by no means a ski destination and is good for day trip only. They have a front and back area, with the front being more heavily traveled. Crowds don’t seem to be a big problem, except on weekends when schools in DC area are out. Most of the trails cater to beginners though on the back end they do have a trail or two that cater to those with advanced skills.

Liberty seems to have defined itself as a beginner’s area. It’s a small ski area with easy and short trails making novices and beginners feel comfortable. It is a great place to learn to ski or snowboard.

Whitetail ski area is the youngest of the ski areas and close to Washington D.C. about 90 minutes drive. The area features 3 lifts, including a high-speed quad. Similar to Liberty, Whitetail is not a ski destination but is good for a day trip. Not much in the way of expert terrain. A couple of steep trails down the front of the mountain.

The beginner area is served by its own lift off the left side of the resort (as you're facing the slopes from the lodge). The intermediate trails are straight ahead and are served by the high-speed quad. The advanced trails are off to the right and are served by their own lift. No trail crosses a trail of a different skill level. It's great in that beginners don't get intimidated by expert skiiers racing past and experts don't get annoyed by beginners who stop in the middle of trails. But a group with skiiers of different abilities and can't ski or ride the lifts together.

The intermediate slopes down the front face of the mountain seem to be the most popular area. All intermediate slopes are fairly steep, but not difficult. The trails are wide heading straight down the hill. Towards the end of the day the moguls inevitably appear as the day wears on.

Wintergreen and Massanutten

Other two ski areas close to Washington DC are Wintergreen (approx 3 hr drive) and Massanutten (2 hr drive). I have visited both areas a couple of times in both summer and winter but never skied either of them. Similar to Snowshow, Wintergreen is a destination ski resort in that you need at least a long weekend to enjoy there. Wintergreen is right below the Shenendoah national park and makes for beautiful drive.There are plenty of activities to do but the resort caters to mostly high end skiers. They have gourmet dining, plenty of lodging options generally towards the more luxury oriented skiers. They also have private homes available for rental. The trails seem long and narrow.

Massanuttun is approximately 2 hours from Washiongton DC area. The resort seems to cater to novice to beginner skiers. I have heard more about snow tubing in Massanutten than sking. There are plenty of lodging options. With an indoor water park, tubing, mini golf and go carts you can probably spend an entire weekend at Massanutten and have a fun time. Massanutten is approx 1 1/2 hour north of Wintergreen and much more affordable.