Virginia may be more associated with foxhunting on horseback or day hiking in Shenandoah National Park, but the state also offers cold enough temperatures—and powerful enough snow-making machines—to excel at winter acitivities and sports, too. From black diamond ski runs to some of the East Coast’s most prettily situated ice rinks, here are five places to bundle up and get moving around the state.
Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre
A slippery, grippy, soft-to-fall-on polymer surface covers the ski and snowboard runs at Liberty University’s new Snowflex Centre, the first all-synthetic, all-season ski area in the U.S. It’s partially powered by an innovative misting system that helps skis or boards slide over the hills; the stuff also works as a base layer for real snow. You can rent equipment or take lessons year-round; a snow-tubing section has a 350-foot-long and a 500-foot-long run.
Après-ski of a sort is possible here, too, at the on-site Barrick-Falwell Lodge, a brick-walled, taxidermy-filled space that serves good coffee and better views of Lynchburg and the surrounding mountains.
Info: Tubing, $13 an hour; skiing or snowboarding, $8 an hour, $14 a day; combo pass (all activities for two hours with equipment rental), $25.
Fourteen ski runs ranging from easiest (Lower Nutten-To-It) to most difficult (ParaDice) get punny names at Massanutten, a 50-year-old resort near Harrisonburg. Surrounded by one of the prettiest sections of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 6,000-acre property is located on the grounds of an early 20th-century health-cure resort.
The focus these days is more on family outdoor activities, which in colder months include downhill skiing, snowboarding, and a 16-lane snow-tubing course. “Northern Lights” tubing nights are popular both with kids and college students from nearby James Madison University. Many evenings finish up at Base Camp, the ski lodge at the foot of the slopes with its outdoor fire pits, cocoa, and beer on tap (be sure to designate a driver if you plan to drink alcohol).
Info: Slope use (eight-hour window), $41–$59 a day; equipment rental (ski or snowboard), $39–$51. massresort.com.
The Omni Homestead Resort
Snowmobiling, usually reserved for icy, blizzard-prone areas of the American West, is a big draw, at least for little kids, at this resort nestled in the Allegheny Mountains near the West Virginia border. Using half-sized, half-powered snowmobiles, children ages 6 to 12 can helmet-up and tool around a track near the property’s Mountain Lodge.
It’s all part of a longtime tradition of families heading to this historic property, which has functioned as a hotel since the late 18th century. “We have a legacy of people learning to ski at the Homestead,” says the resort’s recreation director, James DeBoe. “So many people around here attended ski school here, and they return to get their kids on skis for the first time.” The nine slopes—powdered both by real and man-made snow—suit beginner to intermediate schussers. There’s also a snowtubing run with a conveyer belt to zip tubers and their gear back up the mountain.
Other wintry activities include snowboarding and ice-skating. The rink, backdropped by the hotel’s soaring redbrick tower, is most atmospheric at night. Strings of holiday lights and a punchy soundtrack up the appeal.
Info: Mini-snowmobiles, $22 for 10 minutes; snow tubing, $22–$27 an hour; ice-skating, $20–$25 a session; skate rental, $6; ski-lift tickets, $45–$69 per day; ski/snowboard rental, $40 per day.
Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice Skating
Some 6,000 square feet of frozen surface make this seasonal rink near the Pentagon the second-largest outdoor rink in the state. It’s located near the restaurants and shops of lively Pentagon Row, where you can fuel up on crepes and burgers before taking a twirl around the ice.
An expansion in 2013 added more skating space and a rink-side fireplace. For just-getting-started kids, there are balancing aids they simply push around the ice; lessons in both figure skating and hockey skills are also on offer.
Info: Rink admission, $10–$11; skate rental, $5.
The Shenandoah Valley views are expansive, and the air is cold and bracing at the top of Wintergreen Resort’s snow-tubing run, The Plunge. But parka-wearing couples and young families don’t spend much time admiring the Blue Ridge Mountain vistas here. They’re set on slip-sliding down Virginia’s longest tube run, where a 10-story drop serves up bumps, chills, and speeds of up to 30 miles an hour. “It’s so wild that they nicknamed it the ‘scream machine,’ ” says Wintergreen spokesperson Lori Zaloga. “It’s a great gateway winter sport, because you don’t need any lessons—the tube and the snow do it all.”
An hour east of Charlottesville, this Blue Ridge Mountain resort typically gets some natural snow each season. But that gets enhanced, as needed, with a powerful, automated snow-making system capable of covering the property’s 26 ski trails, jumbo-tubing run, and snowboarding terrain park. The last offers several dozen features for freestyling including straight rails, tabletops, and battleships.
“The best thing about Wintergreen is that it’s an upside-down mountain,” says Zaloga. “Your first run is always downhill, and the lodge and other attractions are up at the top, with those stunning views.” The property also has historic allure: President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, schussed here during the 1980s, reportedly outskiing her Secret Service detail. And Bill Clinton visited here in the late 1990s, though he didn’t try out the slopes.
Info: Ski-lift tickets, $69–$109 per eight-hour session; night lift tickets, $39–$54; ski and snowboard equipment rental starts at $24–$44 per eight-hour session; tubing, $29–$34 per 75-minute session. wintergreenresort.com.
Nellie Mauer is a travel writer based in Washington, D.C.
AAA Travel Alert: Many travel destinations have implemented COVID-19–related restrictions. Before making travel plans, check to see if hotels, attractions, cruise lines, tour operators, restaurants, and local authorities have issued health and safety-related restrictions or entry requirements. The local tourism board is a good resource for updated information.