Nature gave Wintergreen a splendid red sunset for Valentine’s Day. Wintergreen Resort, near Charlottesville, Virginia, is known for its incredible sunrises and sunsets, and its sweeping view of the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. But Valentine’s Day was incredible. All over the mountain, people just stopped to stare at it. Cars pulled off the sides of the road, or people just stood outside to watch, until the sun sank behind the mountains. The startling sunset was horizontal as well as vertical, with vibrant bands of colored lights shooting to the heavens. Nature’s Valentine Gift made the price of admission worthwhile.
I begin with nature, because it is such an important aspect of mountain sports. The skiing itself was also wonderful, but extremely crowded, as were most resorts this past three-day weekend. At least 5,000 people were on the slopes of Wintergreen, according to some estimates provided by the ski patrol. And, there were the usual number of accidents you would expect with such crowds. But the ski patrol appeared to handle them with extreme efficiency and professionalism.
The rest of the staff tried to cope, but appeared overwhelmed at times. On the other hand, I am glad the resort did not impose a cutoff, and prevent people from skiing or boarding. It is an effort to drive at least 3 hours from the Washington, D.C. area to Wintergreen, and it would be a great disappointment to be turned away. The staff, by the way, are composed of a large component of foreign workers who come in for a few months. I met lovely people from Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, and other countries. They all tend to be friendly and enthusiastic. The international exchange program is a boon to the snow and travel industry, and does much to promote international relations. I am certain Americans can look into similar exchanges in July and August.
One of the most challenging parts about the crowds concerns the parking, as it does anywhere. Wintergreen has several lots, but some are in the condo areas, and are quite far from the slopes. There is a system of shuttle buses, but it is time consuming. Close to the main resort hotel and lodge, there is a large parking area reserved for property holders. This is only fitting, but it was nearly empty in mid afternoon, while everyplace else was bursting at the seams. Perhaps the size of that reserved area can be reduced on crowded days? Many of the residents are likely to take the shuttle buses from their condos, in any case.
As for the skiing, on Saturday it was fast, hard packed with some ice, and crowded. The lines at the lifts were very long. Despite that, my husband Charles and I had a wonderful day!
My favorite runs are off of the Big Acorn Quad - they include black diamond trails Eagle’s Swoop, Big Acorn, Sunrise, Tequila, and Tyro. Great runs, but short! The top has one of the best views of the mountains - even the little kids commented on “how cool” it was! On the way down on some runs, you can view “The Plunge” tubing hill - one of the longest and fastest in the mid-Atlantic region. There is also a smaller tubing hill called “The Slide” which is geared more towards the younger set.
The other side of the mountain at Wintergreen has the most challenging skiing. That includes a dramatic terrain park, and the double diamond runs Cliffhanger, Wild Turkey, and Turkey Chute. I was lousy - scared off by the ice and crowds. But my husband whizzed down like a real pro. Conditions improved on Sunday after snowmaking and grooming.
The lifts handled the extreme crowds well, and the average wait was 15 minutes. The new, 6-seater Blue Ridge Express is fast and comfortable. The same cannot be said for the older Highlands triple. It is very fast, and a downward slope makes it hard to get on with the ice. The hard seats really hurt you, at whatever part of your body they clip (and everyone appeared to take a hit). A bit of padding on the seat edges might help, if that is possible.
All in all, Wintergreen is fabulous. I am in love with the area, and would recommend it to anyone! If you can try to come midweek, you may be able to get cheaper deals on the accommodations, and crowds shouldn’t be an issue. Wintergreen had some Valentine’s events when we were there, and several more specials are on tap. One is their Mardi Gras which helps to benefit their very skillful Adaptive Ski program - one of the best in the region. Check DCSki’s Event Schedule for more events. And, go Wintergreen! Hope you get a special sunset too.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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