If reaching the slopes almost entirely on cruise control sounds good to you after a long work week, aim for West Virginias Winterplace (www.winterplace.com). Its all high-speed highway on Interstate 77 from Charlotte. The resort boasts it is 2 minutes off I-77 at Exit 28 Ghent in Flat Top, W.Va. 190 miles; two hours and 50 minutes.
Cross country close to home
Northern West Virginias Canaan Valley (www.skithevalley.com) is a big drive (6 1/2 hours, most on Interstate), but theres also big snow and the best, most reliable cross country (aka, Nordic) skiing in the Mid-Atlantic and South. This high valley surrounded by federal wilderness land gets 150 inches of snow annually. Best of all between two Nordic-ski-oriented resort state parks, and the White Grass Ski Touring Center (www.whitegrass.com), one of the entire Easts best private cross country ski centers this is the place to go for Nordic skiing. White Grass has miles of set track (meaning machines imprint grooves in the snow to make going cross country a breeze) and a dozen cozy shelters on easy to expert trails amid spectacular scenery. Theres also a professional ski school with top-notch rental skis and snowshoes, ski shop (the best place to buy in the region) and a gourmet cafe. Both state parks are linked by trail and have their own Nordic ski centers that also have set track. Both parks have cabins beside cross country trails, and hotel rooms and restaurants at inviting main lodges. And ... there are two big downhill resorts in the valley, too (accessible on one ticket).
The kingpin ski destination
Snowshoe Mountain Resort (www.snowshoemtn.com) is the regions premier destination in part because at just more than a five-hour trip: far enough away to make a stay necessary. Its worth the drive. Mother Nature helps, with 180 inches of annual natural snow more than double the snowiest N.C. slopes. The resort does the rest, with more than 250 acres of skiing about double the size of the biggest competitors in the region. There are three distinct ski areas, and two are easily linked.
Snowshoe is truly life the top. Most of the resorts lodging and facilities lie across an almost 5,000-foot summit, so a winter wonderland is almost guaranteed. (Tip: Winterize your car before going.)
Snowshoes bustling mountaintop will seem far away if you stay at Elk River Touring Center, though its just a short five-mile drive. The Elk River Inn & Restaurant (www.elkriverinnandrestaurant.com) complex sits in a valley below Snowshoe. Its a great way to escape the ski-resort atmosphere but still have easy access to the slopes. The inn has a comfortable and the restaurant and pub are local favorites. The best part: Elk Rivers far milder climate and quieter setting also include plenty of snow and great cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Theres a nice trail system around the lodge, and not far away, the summertime Highland Scenic Highway at 4,700 feet is snowed closed in winter and there are miles of easy-to-intermediate trails perfect for snowshoeing and cross country touring. The touring center is a four-season secret, with great mountain biking and fly fishing in summer.
Snow machine South
As the snowiest spot in the region, Snowshoe options include activities youd expect to find out west or in New England. Snowmobile and snowcat tours are two of those. Snowmobile tours explore the slopes and even adjacent backcountry areas. Rides can cross the spectacular ridge trail along Cheat Mountain where the resort has its Sunrise Backcountry Hut (dinner and overnight accommodations available). Snowcats stick to the slopes. But if you think skiing is a thrill, wait until youre heading downhill in one of these machines!
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