It can chill, it can challenge, it can soothe and inspire. It’s a spot to relax, and explore, and a place to have fun and just let loose. Twice named Best Ski Resort by readers of the Washington Post, Nelson County’s four-season, 11,000-acre Wintergreen Resort is an all-in-one sports playground, conference center and nature retreat, with magnificent mountain views, classy amenities, fine dining and a world-class snowmaking system.
Twenty-seven hundred lucky people make their homes there year round, relishing Wintergreen’s unspoiled beauty, affordable mortgages, and close proximity to major metropolitan areas. Vacationers and day-trippers come for golf and tennis, hiking and fly fishing, and so much more—including a month-long classical music festival—in the warmer months, but some 150,000 visitors enjoy it over the course of the winter season alone. Let’s take a look at winter “on the mountain.”
Winter sports enthusiasts love winter in the air, but they need winter on the ground, and Wintergreen is where to find it. The resort’s snowmaking system is “a big deal,” General Manager Hank Thiess says. “People come from all over the world to look at what we do here.” With 40,000 linear feet of pipeline, more than 400 snow guns, and 45 weather stations, Snowpower—as the system has been newly named—can pump out 8,000 gallons of the cold white stuff a minute. “If you could direct all that snowmaking onto a football field,” Thiess says, “that would result in thirty-seven feet of snow in 24 hours,” (and a canceled game). Wintergreen is the only ski area in the U.S with 100 percent of its terrain covered by automated snowmaking. And this is snow of a uniform depth and consistency and quality from the top of the slopes to the bottom.
Snowpower allows Wintergreen to recover quickly from rain or unseasonably warm periods, making possible its extended snow-sports season. Depending on Mother Nature’s whims, Wintergreen may make snow from November into March, or even as late as early April. Its ski events typically run through early March, sometimes later.
All that snow covers 130 slantwise acres, on which are 24 ski and snowboard slopes and trails, two terrain parks, the state’s largest tubing park, and a snow park for young kids. Twenty-three percent of Wintergreen’s snow terrain is considered suitable for beginners, while 35 percent is for intermediate and 42 percent for advanced and expert sliders.
Skiing is Wintergreen’s most popular sport, with tubing next. Skis (and snowboards), boots and poles may all be rented, either for individual sessions, or for a whole season at a time. Slopes are open all day long, as well as Tuesday through Sunday nights. Wintergreen’s snowscapes are suitable for every level of experience and expertise. The Upper & Lower Dobie slopes attract beginners; Eagles Swoop and Tyro are for intermediate skiers; a 2,000-foot single-black-diamond named The Outer Limits and a double-black-diamond dubbed the Cliffhanger lure daredevils and free spirits. The park boasts seven lifts able to handle as many as 11,200 skiers an hour, including two high speed lifts with a six-passenger capacity.
Wintergreen skiers can also participate in NASTAR (National Standard Race), the largest public grassroots ski race program in the world. Across the country, more than 95,000 NASTAR participants compete for platinum, gold, silver and bronze medals in appropriate age and gender groups. Participants are also ranked by ability. Top ranked racers qualify to compete in the Nature Valley NASTAR National Championships.
The NASTAR race course is open on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from noon to 2:00 p.m., weather permitting. The cost is $7 for two timed runs or $15 for unlimited runs. The race takes place in modified Giant Slalom format. Racers are timed electronically, and results are posted online in real time. Medals are awarded to all participants who qualify as compared to the pacesetters of the day.
Voted 1st Place by Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Wintergreen’s Terrain Park lets thrill seekers hone their freestyle skills, with a progression of features suited for every skill level. Adding to the challenge, the layout of the more than 40 features is changed frequently. On any given day skiers will find an arrangement of tabletops and fun boxes, spines and hips, straight rails, s-rails, rainbow rails, battleships, and down-kinks. To handle the high traffic on weekends, one lift is dedicated entirely to the terrain park. Thiess stresses that park staff strive for a safe environment, urging users “to abide by the rules and be respectful of other people. There’s a phrase that is used there,” Theiss says. “It’s ‘respect gets respect.’ Everybody watches out for the other person.”
The park also hosts a series of five events throughout the season, including three Rail Jams (January 15, February 19, and March 6) and two Slopestyles (January 9 and February 26). These events are open to skiers and snowboarders of all ages with a valid lift ticket. The registration fee is $25. Prizes will be awarded for individual events; skiers who compete in at least three out of five events are eligible to win the Grand Prize.
Wintergreen’s ski and snowboard instruction is available for all ages and ability levels, and is based on the American Teaching System. The five-week Mountain Mornings ski program for kids ages three to six includes approximately two hours of on-snow time per lesson, a four-hour lift ticket, and rental equipment. The Treehouse serves kids four to fourteen, while offering childcare for kids two-and-a-half to twelve. The Childcare plus Snowplay program for ages three and up is a full-day program offering an hour of introductory ski instruction, plus arts, crafts and group games.
The Ridgely’s Rippers program for ages four to fourteen teaches skiing, and Mountain Explorers for ages seven to fourteen teaches both skiing and snowboarding. Mountain Explorers Pro is a multiple-day program for intermediate-advanced skiers ages seven to fourteen. Lunch, snacks, and hot chocolate are served between lessons. Parents are encouraged to ski for free, or relax in The Gristmill coffee shop while their kids play and learn.
Ridgely the Bear makes surprise appearances at Ridgely’s Fun Park, where kids three to eleven love the mini-tubing carousel, bear paw snow shoes, tunnels, and the gentle tubing hill each weekend from December through February. Over at the Treehouse, kids of all ages learn to ski in full and half-day programs that include lunch, snacks, and hot chocolate. Treehouse programs run Monday through Friday.
Wintergreen’s popular tubing park is the largest in Virginia. Officially called the Plunge but nicknamed the “scream machine,” it’s more than three football fields long, long enough to get going nearly 30 miles per hour. A conveyor lift takes tubes and tubers back up the hill, again and again.
Folks who prefer sliding on a flat surface can head to the Shamokin Ice Skating Rink outside on the Blue Ridge Terrace, where a 150-ton “chiller” keeps the ice icy when the weather is not. The 45 x 90 foot rink can hold up to sixty skaters at a time, and is available for skating parties, birthday parties, broomball events, etc.
The Wintergreen website’s Mountain Message Blog provides updates on slope conditions and park openings and closings. The three Mountain Cams let skiers stuck at work or at home get a good look for themselves, whether it’s for deciding when to go play or for daydreaming and watching friends already there.
And a Whole Lot More
The 13-room spa at Wintergreen provides everything from nail and facial treatments and pedicures to specialty massages and body wraps. Seasonal treatments and standard sports massages are available as well, all in a serene setting. Conference planners will find 24,000 square feet of indoor conference space and 20,000 square feet of outdoor conference space, along with audiovisual services and an award-winning banquet spread. Four restaurants—The Copper Mine Bistro, The Edge, Devils Grill, and Stoney Creek Bar and Grill—offer food for all tastes and occasions.
“Wintergreen and Stoney Creek have always been a big draw to Nelson County,” says Mountain Area Realty’s Chastity Morgan. “Their numerous amenities coupled with natural beauty make them appealing as a destination or a place to call home.” Nest Realty Group’s David Ferrall agrees: “What draws people is the beauty of the county and the breweries and wineries, hiking, skiing and golf.”
Mountain Living, Valley Living
Wintergreen’s bucolic setting and close proximity to the George Washington National Forest make it a four-season paradise for nature lovers. Skiers and snowboarders who turn into golfers, hikers and tennis players in the warmer months also love to stay and play year round, either on the nearly 4,000-foot mountain itself or in the Rockfish Valley community of Stoney Creek below. Roughly 85 percent of homes on the mountain are second homes, while in Stoney Creek, an estimated 70 percent or more are owned by full or part-time residents. Some work during the week and spend weekends in Nelson; others might spend the winter months in Florida and live here the rest of the year. Mountain homes at Wintergreen Resort range in price from under $250,000 to $1.25 million, while 1,100 condos and townhomes are priced from under $50,000 to more than $500,000. Homes at Stoney Creek are currently priced from $300,000 to $800,000, where a typical lot size is one or two acres.
“On top of the mountain, a lot of times you’ll get people who want to be more active, right there with the action,” says Mountain Area Realty’s Marlo Allen, who has lived in Nelson County all her life and owns property in both communities. “In Stoney Creek, they don’t have to be right there in the midst of it. Some people like not having to drive as high. A lot of people in Stoney Creek live there full-time, and they get together. It’s a very social community, whether you want to golf or ski or not.”
Stoney Creek residents enjoy a range of resort activities right there in the valley, including 27 holes of golf, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and twenty-acre Lake Monocan Park. The Stoney Creek Golf Course is ranked 34th best in the U.S. by Golf Digest. Park amenities include a snack bar and a picnic area with charcoal grills, horseshoe pits, a sand beach with volleyball court, plus recreational equipment.
Wintergreen’s world class facilities and gorgeous setting make it a destination spot for sport and recreation lovers from around the country—and from around the world. One hundred and thirty university students from Brazil, Argentina, Peru and Chile spend their summer vacations at Wintergreen each year, helping with the shops, the restaurants, and the lifts. “I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,” said the Irish poet. But he meant to say “to Wintergreen.”