Celebrate the Snow (Finally) at Nearby Slopes

Posted January 24, 2007 at 6:17pm

It really hasn’t felt much like winter in the Washington, D.C., area until earlier this week when it finally snowed.

While some places across the country have seen plenty of the white stuff blanketing the ground, the weather in the District seems to be a little behind for the season. However, for the winter sport enthusiasts out there, snow is just a short road trip away. [IMGCAP(1)]

Many ski resorts in the area have had a rough season so far. Some have had only a handful of trails open at a time; some have experienced delayed openings because of the lack of snow. But as the weather starts to dip down to more “normal” temperatures, things are starting to look up for those itching to hit the slopes.

Some good news is that as the temperatures drop, it’s easier for resorts to make artificial snow, which is great for making a base on the trails.

“With the temperatures and the forecasts that I’m getting now, we do have very favorable snowmaking for indefinite periods,” said Troy Cardwell, general manager at Canaan Valley Resort in Davis, W.Va. “The colder it is, the drier it is — the less humidity in the air — the better your snow. And when you have no winds, you can just pile it and pile it and use the groomers to push it out.”

While there are a handful of resorts in the area, Under Your Nose takes a look at three that are within driving distance of the District and more than doable for a weekend road trip to get some quality time on the trails — or in the lodge, depending on your preference.

Bryce Resort
Bryce Resort in Basye, Va., is spread across 400 acres in the Shenandoah Valley about a two-hour drive from the Beltway.

Averaging 45,000 to 65,000 visitors annually, Bryce kicked off its ski season this year in December. Of its eight slopes, the least number of trails open so far this season has been three; seven trails has been the most.

Ski season at Bryce, which runs from early December to mid-March, is the resort’s busiest time of year, said Al Cissel, marketing director at Bryce.

The resort began as a summer retreat in 1909, but in the 1960s it also became a winter getaway when its ski slopes were opened to the public, according to the Web site. While Bryce is a member-owned resort, which means members enjoy additional benefits and amenities, all golf, snowsports and Lake Laura activities and facilities are open to the public.

In addition to a snow tubing park and ski racing program, Bryce offers a first-time ski/snowboard package for those who never have tried the sports before. Participants must be at least 8 years old. Prices for weekdays range from $52 to $57; weekends/holidays from $57 to $65. The resort also has its SKIwee (ages 4 1/2 to 8) and Mini-Rider (ages 6 to 8) programs to teach children how to ski and snowboard, respectively. For more information about rates, hours of operation and trail conditions, visit www.bryceresort.com.

Bryce Resort, 1982 Fairway Drive, Basye, VA 22810; 800-821-1444

Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center
Nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of north central West Virginia amid more than 6,000 acres of parkland, Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center is well worth the scenic drive from the nation’s capital.

Approximately 180 miles away from the District, the family-friendly resort offers visitors a multitude of activities ranging from skiing to showshoeing to snow tubing to airboarding — not to mention breathtaking views, as Canaan Valley is the highest mountain valley east of the Rocky Mountains, according to its Web site.

Celebrating its 35th anniversary this year, ski season at Canaan usually kicks off in late November and lasts until early April, said Carrie Foster, spokeswoman for Canaan Valley Resort. This season began Dec. 8 with seven of 38 trails open, and as of Wednesday 18 trails were open, some being natural trails.

Cardwell said the staff members at Canaan like to have visitors who never have skied before because they look forward to taking the time to teach.

“Skiing can be very intimidating for someone who hasn’t done it,” Cardwell said. “We’ve got a great educational team, got it beefed up. It’s a great place for people who are beginning.”

If skiing isn’t for you, one of the many reasons to visit Canaan is to try your hand at airboarding, although hands really have little to do with mastering the sport. In fact, during your first airboarding lesson, your instructors will firmly tell you time and time again to NOT use your hands to try to stop. Rather, you should keep your hands on the handles of the inflatable raft — which has grooves along the underside to help riders steer — and use your body weight to maneuver and stop.

“Airboarding is like sledding on steroids,” Cardwell said. “Unlike skiing when you feel like you have to master it, like a crossword puzzle, airboarding is either you like it or you don’t.”

Officially introduced at Canaan on Nov. 25, 2005, airboarding has become quite the trend. When Canaan introduced the sport, it was the first ski area in the Mid-Atlantic to offer airboard rentals and lessons, and the first in the country to offer an exclusive airboard terrain park, Foster said.

As of Wednesday, Canaan’s packed powder machine groomed 12 inches of snow for a total of a 36-inch base, Foster said. For more on current conditions, activity information and lodging packages, visit www.canaanresort.com.

Canaan Valley Resort and Conference Center, Davis, WV 26260; 800-622-4121

Wisp Resort
In operation since 1955, Wisp Resort currently offers its visitors 32 trails — 21 of which were open as of Wednesday. However, a “future ski expansion” is in the works, which will mean even more slopes for skiers to master.

Lori Epp, events and public relations manager at Wisp, said although no dates have been set for the expansion, it is something for visitors to look forward to.

Opening its ski season on Dec. 8 with six slopes in operation, it’s clear that the colder weather is benefiting Wisp as it has more than tripled the amount of skiable trails since then.

Wisp offers the usual winter sport suspects: skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing, in addition to snowshoeing and snowmobiling. Thirty-minute guided snowmobile tours are offered daily, weather permitting, at the cost of $39 for adults and $10 for a child rider (two adults are not allowed on the same snowmobile; a second rider must be a child).

Situated in Maryland’s Garrett County, Wisp is approximately 180 miles away from the District. The resort increased its skier visits by 32 percent in the 2006-07 season compared with the previous season.

For more information about mountain conditions, activities or current specials, visit www.skiwisp.com.

Wisp Resort, 269 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, MD 21541; 301-387-4911