Firsthand Report: Return to Massanutten 5
Author thumbnail By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist

The last time I visited Massanutten Ski Area near Harrisonburg, Virginia our country was preparing to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. Although the war had nothing to do with my long absence, I was happy to finally make a fine return with my wife and two teen age children for a day of skiing on Friday, January 2, 2009. Due to a friendly quirk in Massanutten’s rate schedule, Friday was considered a regular weekday even though most schools were still on holiday break. When I notified my brother-in-law Kurt of this, he dug a little deeper to find that he also qualified for a military discount at Massanutten. He decided to join us and brought his five children ranging from age 12 to 20.

Snowguns blasting on Diamond Jim and Paradice. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

After a two hour and ten minute drive from McLean in Northern Virginia we arrived at the ski area around 9 a.m. The morning was cool and cloudy with very small crowds, a little busier than a typical weekday, but much less hectic than a prime weekend or holiday. I spent more than an hour helping family and friends gear-up, then all ten of us splintered into subgroups covering every aspect of the mountain from the beginners area to the black diamond runs of Upper Rebel Yell and Diamond Jim. Some of the group even made a few passes through Massanutten’s secondary terrain park called Easy Street. Conveniently, it has its own handle tow.

Approximately six lifts and nine of fourteen trails were open with excellent manmade groomed snow conditions. Until temperatures rose above freezing around noontime the Massanutten snowmaking crew had snowguns operating on Paradice, a premier trail from the summit of the mountain (it opened for skiing the next day, January 3). The afternoon was sunny, windless, and about 40 beautiful degrees. Trail surfaces remained excellent all day except for a little bit of iciness on the steepest and busiest sections after 3 p.m.

Action in Easy Street terrain park. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

In the six years since my last visit to Massanutten the vibrancy of the place has only increased. This full service resort is set-up exceptionally well for the multiday visitor. There are numerous condos, timeshares, and private homes surrounding the ski slopes. The mid-afternoon sun was beaming down when I took a ride on the Rebel Yell chair (#5) with a friendly southern snowboarder making just such a visit during New Year’s week.

The ebullient Ernie Williams of New Bern, North Carolina seemed to be the prototype “ski vacation dad” providing Massanutten-style fun for his family. After a great day of snow riding, including a few black diamond runs with his daughter, he had big plans for a twilight session on the tubing hill with members of his extended family. He also displayed firsthand knowledge of the humongous indoor Waterpark at Massanutten, a 100,000 square foot facility with slides, wave pools, lazy river, food service, and an arcade.

The nephew known as “Top Speed.” Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

As the afternoon wore on the weekend crowds began to arrive, but as always the Expert’s Quad chair (#6) offered a great escape for advanced skiers seeking to experience Massanutten’s impressive 1,110 foot vertical drop. The conditions and afternoon views were both superb along Diamond Jim trail. I spent quality ski time with my nieces and nephew as everyone in our group made at least one run from the highest point in the ski area, elevation 2925’.

I’ve had several memorable ski outings in recent years with my brother-in-law and his family. This may have been our last one for a while. Kurt is a Colonel in the U. S. Army and begins a tour of duty in Iraq in three weeks. During 2009 I’ll be thinking about him with warm anticipation until we can ski together again next winter, maybe another fine return to Massanutten?

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About Jim Kenney

Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.

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Reader Comments

Connie Lawn
January 4, 2009
Great article. I have always loved Massanutten.
Good luck to Kurt and thank him for his Service! Yours Connie Lawn
robbie A
January 5, 2009
I was surprised to see how many resorts ended their holiday period on Jan 1. That made Friday Jan 2 an nice bonus day at weekday rates for those who could get out! Also a day when mil discounts apply

Nice report
February 2, 2009
I kind of like Massanutten but the whoever cut the slopes should be arrested. The hills off the summit go straight across the fall line and are very annoying. The best run on the mountain is right under the chair to the top. Unfortunately, it's not a run. No snowmaking on it and always closed.

I like the scenery and the attitude of the place.
Jamie Grose
February 2, 2009
Please see my post on Massanutten stinks if you want the real scoop on the place. Not a sugar coated piece!
February 26, 2009
For the record, I made this trip at the lowest ebb in an extraordinary nationwide dip in gasoline prices. I paid $1.39 per gallon when filling up at a station in Harrisonburg, VA on January 2, 2009. Might not see it that low again before the start of the next ice age:-)

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