Load up the Range Rover and head 41/2 hours to The Homestead (www.thehomestead.com). Virginia’s centuries-old upscale spa resort (Jefferson soaked here) was the South’s first to put the word “ski” in front of “resort” back in 1959. The resort is an especially attractive ski destination if you’re looking for family friendly, lower-end ski terrain – with very upper-end dining and lodging. The resort has received a lot of recent upgrades as an Omni hotel, including more snowmaking and a modern recreation center called Allegheny Springs, with outdoor ice skating, a year-round outdoor pool and water park features. Perhaps surprisingly, winter packages at The Homestead are modestly priced (http://www.thehomestead.com/room-packages).
Best in the Old Dominion
Wintergreen – Virginia’s best ski area (about 41/2 hours from Charlotte) – ranks right at the top of Southern ski slopes. Like Snowshoe, it’s a mountaintop experience from skiing to dining to lodging, which mean great views and wintry temps. Wintergreen (www.wintergreenresort.com) is comparable in size to North Carolina’s biggest ski areas and boasts similar superlatives – from a longest run of a mile and a half, to a vertical drop that breaks the 1,000-foot mark. The Plunge snow tubing park is one the most rousing in the region, with speeds up to 40 mph. The resort tempts the D.C. ski crowd with sophisticated four-season resort amenities that include a spa, indoor tennis and two golf courses – one so far down in the valley below the slopes that you can ski in the morning and play golf in the afternoon!
At most Southern ski areas, you head back to the lodge and elbow through the line for lunch. There are some eateries out on the mountain, but they’re few and far between compared with, say, out west. One of the nicest is Wintergreen’s (http://www.wintergreenresort.com/default.aspx) Checkerberry Cabin. It’s surrounded by the slopes, so you can pop in with minimum fuss. There’s a great outdoor deck for catching rays and watching folks slide by, and the small menu is affordable but satisfying.
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Massanutten on the water
Skiing and snowboarding are a major draw at Massanutten Resort, easily reached from Charlotte in 41/2 hours almost entirely on Interstates 77 and 81. But if fun stuff off the slopes is a priority, it’s hard to beat this year-round resort’s assortment of indoor options. That’s gotta start with a 42,000-square-foot water park (http://www.massresort.com/v.php?pg=4) with eight water slide rides and an endless wave to surf, all at a toasty 84 indoor degrees. There are two other sports centers: LeClub (http://www.massresort.com/v.php?pg=77) is a workout and pool facility that also offers racquetball and ice skating, and Woodstone Recreation Center (http://www.massresort.com/v.php?pg=78) adds tennis and another pool. Oh yes, skiing. This big ski area also has a 1,000 feet of vertical drop!
Hike the slopes
Both Wintergreen Resort and Massanutten Resort have extensive trail systems that let you add a hike to indoor diversions and outdoor snow sports. Massanutten’s ridge trail takes off from the Resort Overlook and then wanders along Massanutten Mountain, one of Virginia’s most distinctively shaped ridge lines (http://massresort.indigofiles.com/maps/Western_Slope_Trail_Map.pdf). You can’t go all the way to the peak in winter – snowmaking operations preclude that – but you can get close enough for great views of the ski area. Wintergreen’s trail and Nature Foundation interpretive program is nationally known. Grab a map and go.