Interview with MidAtlantic Ski Expert James Kenney of DCSki.com

Snow in Feb 2010 060
You can also try Telemarking or Cross Country Sking at many of these resorts

Chilly temperatures like these remind me it’s time to drive to a local resort and strap on some skis. I asked DCSki.com’s expert columnist James Kenney what are the best Virginia and West Virginia resorts for various skiing styles. Here are his recommendations:

RS: If I have a question about a resort, should I check DCSki.com?

JK: The forums of www.DCSki.com can be a good place to ask questions about all things on local skiing at any time during the ski season. 

RS: When is the best time to ski in the MidAtlantic?

JK: Local slopes can be busy on prime winter weekends. For families I recommend that they try to ski on weekdays whenever possible, for example, on the odd school holiday only their county/district has off. Also, if we have a good early winter consider a last minute trip in the two or three days just before Christmas when everyone else will be at the shopping mall.  Of course, Christmas week itself will be very, very busy.  After President’s Holiday Weekend, and assuming we have decent late season ski conditions, the local ski areas will usually have low crowds seven days a week  until they close in mid to late March. The good thing, however, about three of the local ski areas is that Bryce, Canaan Valley, and The Homestead are often a relatively good choice for moderate crowds on prime weekends and holidays, when all other ski areas in the region will be considerably more hectic.

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Kids Love to Ski!

RS: What are some of the best ski mountains to take a family learning to ski?

Bryce Resort is my favorite for this purpose. It’s an easy day trip from the DC Area, about 90 miles from the Capital Beltway via I66 and I81.  It’s small enough for even young children to easily navigate, and all trails lead back to the same compact base area.  Yet there is just enough variety and challenge to keep a beginner or novice fully entertained. They do a great job with snowmaking, and despite the small size of the ski area, they host a highly regarded youth ski racing team. It almost always has low crowds even on weekends and holidays with an almost “country club” atmosphere.  It is less inexpensive than most other ski areas in the region.  Here’s a link to a 2007 article that sums up my affinity for Bryce:   http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=970

Canaan Valley is also a good choice for people learning to ski, but it is better suited for a weekend trip rather than a day trip. {RS update: The new Highway 48 has shortened the driving time}

RS: Where are your favorite places to stay when you visit these resorts? i.e.. lodges, rental cabins, hotels? 

JK: The Canaan Valley State Park Lodge and associated cabins can be an excellent bargain and are convenient to Canaan Valley and Timberline ski areas.  They are attractive in a rustic sort of way.  At Timberline ski area there are a lot of slopeside and near slopeside private homes for rent that are relatively affordable compared to similar rentals at many other ski areas.  Wintergreen offers numerous mountaintop condos that are very scenic. I have stayed with my family at The Homestead only once.  It was a very memorable trip.  The skiing is modest, but the accommodations are extraordinarily beautiful in the style of a grand old hotel.  It can be a nice splurge for folks who are very casual skiers/snowboarders.  Here’s a link to a report on my trip:  http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=794&mode=search

RS: Who has the best ski school?

JK: I have friends who work in the Timberline Ski School, so I am a little biased towards them.  Timberline is well known for hosting inexpensive youth/school/Scouts/church trips and provides instruction for these groups. Bryce is an ideal place to take a “never-ever” skier for lessons.

RS: What is the best resort for more advanced skiing?

JK: Of Canaan, Wintergreen, Massanutten, Homestead and Timberline, Timberline has the best advanced skiing including one or two steep mogul runs, and when Mother Nature complies, some of the best and most challenging glade skiing in the mid-Atlantic region. (Note: I did not include Snowshoe which has advanced trails)

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Snowboarding is growing in popularity at local ski resorts

RS: Which one is best for advanced snowboarding? 

JK: I’m a skier, not a snowboarder, but I would say Wintergreen is good for snowboarders.  There is a nice variety of groomed trails there, and they have a good terrain park with jumps and other fun features for young and active snowboarders.  Timberline and Massanutten would also be good choices.  They also have a parks and youthful snowriders.

RS: How would you describe the  atmosphere at each of these resorts?

Timberline offers serious skiing with an unpretentious vibe.  It draws a fun mix of WV locals and visitors from metro areas like DC.  It is located in snowy Canaan Valley, WV and benefits from being in close proximity to Canaan Valley Ski Area and the White Grass Touring Center (cross-country/Nordic/telemark skiing – no lifts) for lots of winter sports options.

Canaan Valley Ski Area is owned by the state of WV and is known for affordability and low crowds. It is operated in conjunction with nearby Canaan Valley Resort Hotel and State Park (btw the lodge has recently undergone a renovation).  Together these facilities offer one of the better bargains in the mid-Atlantic for a weekend ski trip.

Bryce is a great place for young families to gain an introduction to skiing and is the first local ski area I think of when someone asks me, “ where should I take a newbie?”

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Me on the slopes

Of the ski areas on your list, Wintergreen is probably the largest in both number of ski trails and number of overnight beds at the resort.  It has a beautiful mountaintop setting and a powerful, state-of-the-art snowmaking system that can work wonders despite the fickle winter weather we get in the mid-Atlantic. On prime weekends and holidays Wintergreen can be a very busy place.

Massanutten is convenient to I81 about two hours southwest of the Capital Beltway. It is close to James Madison University and that is sometimes reflected in a youthful clientele especially during night skiing sessions. The scenic view from the nearly 3000’ summit of Massanutten’s ski layout is arguably the prettiest of the ski areas on your list.

The Homestead is like a luxury cruise ship on land. The atmosphere in the main hotel is plush and refined.  The ski hill is a couple miles from the hotel and is just one of many amenities available to (often well-heeled) guests. The slopes are modest in size, but usually not crowded, and they benefit from a modern snowmaking system

James Kenney is a DCSki Columnist living in Falls Church, Virginia. I interviewed him for an article in Northern Virginia Magazine in 2012. This is an except from our conversation.

Find more information about these and other local resorts in Maryland and Pennsylvania in Northern Virginia Magazine.

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