I had a chance to ski Wintergreen, VA on Monday, February 20, 2006. The weather was great, 35 windless degrees and partly to mostly sunny. There was excellent manmade snow coverage over the entire mountain, and most amazing - weekday-type low crowds even though it was a national holiday.
Just a few weeks ago I made my first ski trip to Wintergreen in about eight years. The family had a good time, but several trails in the advanced Highlands section of the mountain were not open, leaving some us wanting for more. On President’s Day I was tapped to bring my wife to visit relatives in the Culpepper, VA area. Rolling the dice on Holiday crowds, my son and I dropped Mrs. Kenney off in the morning and continued southward for a day of skiing under “all trails open” conditions. Our plan called for a close inspection of Wintergreen’s black diamonds.
It turned out to be one of my most pleasing days on mid-Atlantic slopes this season, which have included ski time in WV, MD, PA and VA. We used the half empty Lookout Lodge parking lot as our base. We got quickly ticketed there and later took a lunch break there, all within footsteps of the Eagles Swoop ski trail for very convenient access to car, full trail layout, and crowd free lodge facilities.
Wintergreen’s tremendous snowmaking system was blasting away when we arrived, but it shut down at about 10 a.m. when I believe temperatures may have just edged above freezing. We had clear visibility and great trail surfaces for the remainder of the day. The first thing I asked the lift attendant at the Big Acorn Quad chair was “where are all the people?” I was told that the area had been crazy busy on Sunday, but that “all the weekenders must be checking-out today.” My son and I skied for the better part of the day with only occasional lift lines, and never any over a minute or so in length. The fully open terrain park near the summit of Wintergreen was one of the few highly populated areas on the mountain. Trail density was very relaxing throughout the rest of the layout. (I made a mental note about this anomaly and it makes me curious about local ski area crowds elsewhere on President’s Day.)
We got a very good look at the black diamond Highlands trail pod at Wintergreen. This area features an array of a half dozen trail combinations, each offering continuously challenging descents of about one mile in length. I had never been on some of the newer entries such as Outer Limits and Devil’s Elbow, very nice! Outer Limits, a brand new run this year, has a sweeping, moderate pitch that will really please bold intermediates.
The Highlands’ signature trail, Upper & Lower Cliffhanger, is a bit tougher and designated (an easy) double Black Diamond. The hero-making manmade snow towards skier’s right of Upper Cliffhanger remained deep, fluffy, and schweeet for much of the day. I had about five nice turns there that made me feel like Olympian Toby Dawson’s grandpa :-) The bumps on Upper Wild Turkey, however, took the prize as the biggest on the mountain. They’re not too steep though and make a perfect training ground for aspiring mogul mashers.
Around 12:30 p.m. the local season pass holders began to make the scene. For a place that maintains a rather upscale demeanor, Wintergreen offers an exceptionally thrifty $189 pass good from Sunday (or Monday Holiday) afternoons through Friday nights. These passholders flock to The Highlands section and understandably so. The 1003’ of quality vertical provided by the crowd-eating Highlands Express six pack chair makes Wintergreen a serious player for serious snow riders.
The nice variety of black diamond terrain, the handy Lookout Lodge, and a killer snowmaking system have changed the game at Wintergreen in recent years. Since my 1990’s visits, neighboring Charlottesville, Waynesboro, and Staunton may constitute the forefront of a 21st century phenomenon: southern ski towns built on manmade snow.
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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