Wintergreen is absolutely breathtaking. That is not an exaggeration - it is true. As I drove down from the luxurious condo towards the ski resort, I saw the undulating seascape of the Blue Ridge mountains. My heart actually stood still for a few seconds. That view is repeated from the top of the ski runs. Many athletes stood for a short while, taking in the view, before heading down the mountain.
The skiing was soft but fun on this, one of the last weekends of the season. There was some thin cover and bare spots. But all of the runs were open, crowds were sparse, and the lines were short. The lifts are fast and efficient in any case. I will give more details about the day in a few moments. First, I want to talk about the Adaptive Ski program. Wintergreen’s is one of the most extensive in the region. The program has its own small house, a short way down the slopes. You can also drive up to the house from the road. The house is well-equipped with special sit-down chairs, or mono-skis, for the athletes who do not have use of their legs or are amputees. There are also the crutch ski poles with the little skis on the end for those with difficulty in balance or needing additional support.
The adaptive athletes have great spirit, a sense of humor, and are often competitive - especially the veterans who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Larry Whitaker, President of the Board of Directors of the Adaptive Skiers, told us the US should have a fantastic ski team in the Special Olympics, because of all the returning wounded veterans. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons!
The program is open to students with a variety of disabilities, including blindness. At the end of January, 12 disabled veterans and their therapists came to Wintergreen from Walter Reed Army Hospital. Many experienced the joys of Alpine skiing for the first time, and picked up the sport quickly. As Arnold says, they “will be back.”
The director of the program is the white-bearded teacher Mike Zuckerman. If you want to get involved, as a volunteer, instructor, or participant, contact him at michaelzuckerman at earthlink dot net. Also, watch out for his sense of humor - he and the others know how to tease and to laugh. Two of the other top workers to contact on the slopes are Carolyn Ely and Massey Teel. 13 year old Molly Brown is a terrific athlete, referred to as their “poet laureate.” Visit their Adaptive house when you go to Wintergreen - they are friendly and make you feel like family in a short time. They won’t bite - not even Carolyn’s Dalmatian, Pepper.
Now, back to the rest of Wintergreen. I thoroughly enjoyed the skiing, because I am a nut about spring conditions. I finally found some moguls I could enjoy, on Upper Wild Turkey, and I took several runs on both weekend days. I still didn’t have much style, but performed better than I have the rest of the season. All the black and blue runs were fun - especially the Cliffhanger, Eagles Swoop, Big Acorn, Sunrise, Tequila, and Tyro. The ski lifts were modern, fast, and comfortable, especially the Highlands Express which services more terrain in the black diamond area. Most chairs have the safety bars, but have done away with foot rests, which are meant to make it easier for snowboarders. Some of the Western slopes have done away with safety bars which unnerves me.
The Terrain Park was impressive, with some very creative jumps. The wildly painted VW, with the rail over the roof, was the most interesting, but not heavily utilized. Several dozen competitors took part in the rail jam competition, and even bigger ones were scheduled for Easter weekend. For those who don’t indulge in the Terrain Parks, there were Easter Egg Hunts and other games on the slopes and in the “Childrens Treehouse” area. That is a special place, where the very young learn to ski, before they are set free to bomb down the mountains with reckless skill and abandonment.
For those not wanting to ski or board, “The Plunge” tubing hill was going strong. It looks innocuous when you watch it from the slopes. But, when you take it, it can be very fast and exciting. The Plunge is said to be one of the largest in the mid-Atlantic. It is also cheaper than skiing, and you don’t have to rent equipment - the giant rubber inner tubes and the lifts are part of the $18 dollar price (prices vary, according to the day and the length of the ticket).
Ticket window pricing is not cheap at any of the local ski areas, and Wintergreen is no exception. As always, try to get special arrangements. For example, you could get a 3 week pass at Wintergreen for $99. That includes any skiing or boarding through the end of the season.
Wintergreen also has a very nice spa in the mountains. If you stay at the condos, the swimming and some other spa activities are included. Most of the condos are privately owned, and can rent for several hundred dollars a night, depending upon the season. But, it works well if you go with a large group of people, bring your own food, and cook in the well-apportioned kitchen. Our condo could have slept six people, with plenty of extra space in the dining and living rooms. The outdoor patio looks over the mountains, bike trails, forests and the trails leading to the horseback riding stables and golf course.
By the way, if you want to get married in the mountains, marketing and publicity manager Frankee Love can do it for you. Aptly named, she is also a certified marriage celebrant. She performs several ceremonies a year - sometimes with the couple standing on skis or snowboards on the mountains.
There are a few restaurants and a large cafeteria at Wintergreen, but many people appeared to bring their own food. A nice touch was the picturesque coffee area in the center of the Lodge. The Gristmill serves great coffee and snacks, and has a microwave which you can probably use for your own food (always a welcome touch). Don’t forget to bring water bottles - not all the fountains on the mountain work. But, the snow was delicious to eat - some of the best I have ever tasted.
It is comforting to sit by the fire, the huge brick Mill, and look out on the slope activities and the blue mountains. Wintergreen is built on the top of the mountain, so the views are especially fine. That type of design can also lead to more wind and ice in the winter, but that was not a factor in 50 degree spring weather.
Endings are sad, and I am sorry much of the Eastern ski season has drawn to an end. But, most resorts have summer activities in or near their resorts. The Wintergreen people swear by theirs - especially the condo owners, and those who have young children to entertain. Maybe I should check them out, even with no snow on the slopes.
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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