Best time to go: 01/15 - 02/29
YES, VIRGINIA, THERE IS A WINTER SOMEWHERE, and with new snowmaking techniques at some resorts, you can experience west-coast snow conditions whenever the temperature falls below 32°.
The season open of all of these ski resorts varies based on the weather and rentals sometimes sell out, so be sure to check the resort website before you go. Also check road conditions: if the snow is so great that you can’t get out of your driveway, you may want to find a good sledding hill nearby instead.
Liberty ski resort 1.5h
If your goal is a short drive, look no further than Liberty Mountain Resort. There are only 16 trails (as you can see on the Liberty Trail Map), but the gentle grade (plus the ability to snow tube if the skiing fails) make this an ideal place to learn your little ones. Liberty is open from 8a – 10p, so you can avoid the crowds by hitting the road early or joining late for the night-skiing.
White Tail 1.5h
The White Tail ski resort is larger than Liberty and has a bigger drop, which makes it well-worth the only modestly farther drive, and experienced skiers can skip the lines by riding the express quad to the more advanced trails. Although tickets usually run $84 per day, you can sometimes score a 1-day lift ticket online for under $60. White Tail doesn’t make snow on all 23 trails, though, so it’s worth calling ahead and listening to the snow report before making the trip.
As a Vail Resort, White Tail benefits takes the Epic Pass and also has the benefit of the latest snowmaking technology. We find the snow here to be the best on the East Coast, with fresh, dry, sandy-crunch snow, even on mornings following a big melt and overnight freeze.
The White Tail Trail Map shows two additional cool features worth exploring. The Terrain Park — the base of which is pictured above — has ample opportunities for skiers and snow-boarders to practice their rails and get some big air. And then there’s the tubin’ hill…
Snow Tubing: Also worth exploring is the snow-tubing at White Tail, which is on the right as you turn into the lot. Snow Tubing is $35 for a two-hour slot and is not included in your ski tickets. It’s also the one thing you absolutely need to reserve in advance on-line. To go tubing, you must buy your ticket at least a week in advance using the link above, and you must commit to your two hour slot then. When you arrive, simply show them your bar code, grab the provided tube, and take the magic carpet up to your allotted lane.
Lodging: This place is so close to DC that you really don’t need a room, but if you’re not an early riser and still want to get the best snow, there are plenty of cheap, hotels nearby. We recently stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, which is about 10 minutes away and has clean rooms, a heated pool and a legit complimentary breakfast. The Hampton Inn and Hagerstown Inn are also affordable options nearby.
Bryce ski resort 2h
As I explain to James, the trick to getting off the chair lift is to … stand up. Would that everything in life were this easy. At Bryce, it is. The tiny resort has fewer than 10 trails and they’re all easy-peasy, so Bryce is not the place for you gnarly thrill seekers. But with strong snow and thin crowds, this is well worth the 2 hour drive.
Canaan Valley 3h
The last time I visited Canaan, it felt a bit like I’d just entered a hot tub time machine. While the down-rent resort has seen better days, the snow is unmatched in the DC region. 40+ trails and beautiful scenery (and the $60 lift tickets) make this a good pick if you’re up for the 3-hour, 180 mile drive.
Whitegrass (cross-country): If you’re looking for a very different experience, nearby Whitegrass offers $25 one-day passes and a wholesome, natural foods cafe.
Wisp Ski Resort 3h
The resort that owns Liberty also has a 34 slope ski resort on the shores of Deep Creek Lake in Western Maryland. Aside from the gentle trails (perfect for beginners), Wisp is close to the lakeside town of McHenry, which has a few cool restaurants that feel less touristy than your typical resort town.
Although the trails are not open to mountain bikers in the summer, Wisp’s Mountain Coaster and ropes course are worth a visit in the warmer months.
Wintergreen Ski Resort 3h
Wintergreen’s proximity to Charlottesville puts it on the pricier side of DC area ski resorts: a 1-day lift ticket will cost you $119 ($218 for two days). But the views from the mountain-top hotel make Wintergreen our favorite place to stay. And at the bottom, there are a number of Cider and beer breweries to tour on a rainy day.
Summer Activities: Wintergreen isn’t just for skiers. In summer, it’s also a high-adventure camp, with zip lines, climbing, and ample places to kick back, like the Devils Backbone Basecamp Brewpub. The nearby Bold Rock Cider brewery is also worth checking out.
Seven Springs 3.5h
Pennsylvania’s Seven Springs ski resort is a bit of a haul, but the $89 1-day lift ticket ($163 for two days) won’t break the bank. Seven Springs is known for its terrain park and special packages for snowboarders.