Firsthand Report: Wintergreen Wahoo
Author thumbnail By Jim Kenney, DCSki Columnist

As a Washington, D.C. area native I grew up skiing all the local ski areas within a few hours of town. I can’t exactly remember the first time I skied Wintergreen Resort about 45 minutes west of Charlottesville, VA, but it was at least 25 years ago. I do remember the first time I visited Charlottesville. I ran in a state championship track meet at the home of the University of Virginia (UVA) Wahoos as a high school senior in 1972. I went on to run track and cross country for the University of Maryland Terrapins and occasionally returned to compete against our Atlantic Coast Conference rivals at UVA. I never dreamed someday I’d ski Wintergreen with a Wahoo from my own family.

Fast forward many years later and my wife Kathy and I now have a daughter named Suzy who is in her second year at UVA. Skiing trumps all in my book and no inter-family ACC rivalry was going to keep us from eventually making a Wintergreen-Wahoo connection with Suzy. On Sunday, February 10, 2013, my wife and I drove from Northern Virginia to UVA and conveniently picked up Suzy on the way to Wintergreen. We had a great day of skiing with moderate crowds, 45 degree temperatures, and mostly sunny skies.

As all Wintergreen regulars know, the resort has an astounding snowmaking system that continues to add capacity. Independent of any need for natural snow, Wintergreen can almost always be counted on to be fully operational by this point of the winter. Despite the ups and downs of the current season Suzy and I were able to ski every run on the mountain and 100% of Wintergreen’s 25 trails looked to be dressed in a soft, new coat of overnight manmade snow.

The Plunge Tubing Park from Eagle’s Swoop Trail. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

When I ski at Wintergreen I like to utilize the lodge at The Plunge Tubing Park. The office that sells tubing tickets also sells lift tickets with small lines and nearby parking. This location is in the middle of the ski trail layout with very easy access to the Big Acorn trail pod. My wife was serving as our “lodge mom” this trip and the lodge also provided a relaxing spot for her to surf her laptop. If you don’t need to rent ski equipment The Plunge Tubing Park lodge can be a very convenient alternative to the more comprehensive facilities at the Skyline Pavilion near the summit of the mountain.

After booting-up, Suzy and I started our ski day with a ride on the Big Acorn Quad Chair (525’ vertical). It serves a half dozen consistently pitched trails that range from intermediate to easy black diamond in difficulty. We sampled them all, even a gladed area beside the Upper Sunrise trail that was blanketed with manmade snow. Lift lines were very reasonable. We never waited more than a couple minutes for the Big Acorn lift.

Wintergreen Wahoo in Sunrise Glade. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

Later we skied through the X Trail tunnel passing under the tubing park traffic to access the rest of the ski area. On the way we skied beside a young children’s snow play area called Ridgely’s Fun Park where we saw a bunch of well supervised toddlers enjoying a mini tubing hill, complete with carpet lift. I have to give Wintergreen credit. It is a very professional, big time operation. The kiddies fun park is just one of a wide variety of family oriented non-ski recreational options provided through the resort’s Discovery Ridge Activity program including mini golf, climbing walls, ice skating, bungee apparatus, and more.

Continuing to the main section of ski trails we saw a fairly hefty weekend crowd in line for the Blue Ridge Express Six Passenger Chairlift (410’ vertical). It accesses several popular green circle runs and a large terrain park with gap jumps, boxes, and various rails. Suzy and I skipped past this area and spent the next few hours on the advanced terrain to the skier’s left in the Highlands trail pod.

For stronger snowriders the Highland Express Six Passenger Chair (1,003’ vertical) is the place to be at Wintergreen. Even on prime weekends and holidays the lines on this lift move reasonably well and you can quickly rack up a lot of vertical. It serves about six fun and fairly lengthy black diamond runs. We skied them all and I think Outer Limits on the northern periphery of the ski area might have had the best surface conditions and least traffic.

View from Turkey Chute in The Highlands. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

The whole ski area is currently operating entirely on manmade snow and is groomed to a tee. I didn’t see any mogul runs, but with a little help from Mother Nature a few trails in the Highlands section are usually allowed to sprout bumps as an additional challenge for experts, typically Upper Cliff Hanger and Wild Turkey. Saturdays are the busiest days at Wintergreen, but I have experienced Sundays that are not too crazy, especially after noon when weekenders are in full exodus. I threw caution to the wind and skied on a President’s Day Monday a few years ago and was surprised at the moderate crowds that day, again due to early departing weekenders.

Wintergreen is renowned for its marvelous adaptive skiing program as reported frequently here by my fellow DCSki Columnist Connie Lawn. We spent our final runs back in the Big Acorn trail pod and on one of our last rides up the chairlift we saw a group of adaptive skiers training on the run underneath the lift. They were impressive to me because they were NOT experts. They were early in the learning process and bravely taking some lumps.

The group of three or four sit-ski/monoskiers and at least one below-knee amputee were on Big Acorn, a trail that is designated as a black diamond. It was not an easy run for them and they occasionally wiped out. Yet they were having a great time laughing and encouraging each other. They also garnered a few cheers from us lift riders when they’d string together some well linked turns. It was a quiet display of courage in the pursuit of the thrills and freedom that we all love about skiing. I was filled with admiration for the group in training and the Wintergreen volunteer instructors and staff that make such worthwhile programs possible.

Monoskiing on Big Acorn. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

When the day was over we took Suzy back to UVA. As parents of a student on a meal plan there is currently a policy that allows us to eat free in the school dining halls every time we visit. My wife and I ate dinner Sunday night surrounded by hundreds of UVA students. Even though I’m an old Maryland Terrapin I’ve concluded that visiting the land of the Wahoos is not too bad when it’s combined with a snow fix at nearby Wintergreen.

I went back for some solo skiing on Monday at Wintergreen. A warm, foggy mist had enveloped the mountain on Sunday night making for seemingly dismal ski conditions. But over the years I’ve had many surprisingly good ski days when my expectations were low. On Monday morning I enjoyed a bunch of fast, fun runs in the Highlands trail pod before heading back to Northern Virginia. Zero crowds, clearing skies, mild temps, and velvety corduroy made for extremely pleasant spring-like ski conditions. But the warmp-up is only temporary, a groundhog told me so on Monday. There should be weeks of good skiing left at Wintergreen.

Groundhog sees shadow on Cliffhanger, more winter to come. Photo provided by Jim Kenney.

My wife and I stayed in a one bedroom condo in The Cliffs complex while visiting Wintergreen. It was well appointed and very convenient to the slopes with a marvelous view atop a high ridgeline about a half mile from the ski area. It was not far from the resort’s Aquatics and Fitness center, where we enjoyed a swim and soak in the therapeutic pool. Maybe we could be honorary Wintergreen Wahoos?

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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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