By Ken Wilson –
Skiing, snowboarding, skating or tubing: on your feet or on your rear, straight or in circles,
down the hill or up and over the obstacles—however you like to slide and however you like your winter sports, Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County’s Rockfish Valley has a hill, a park, a rink, and a great white way for it. The four-season resort boasts 130 slide-able acres with 24 ski and snowboard slopes and trails, two terrain parks, the state’s largest tubing park, and a snow park for young kids. If it’s cold, there is joyful motion on Wintergreen’s 11,000 acres, situated on the eastern slopes of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“The breadth of recreational opportunities at Wintergreen makes it one of the most varied and complete resorts in the country,” says Rod Kessler, the new General Manager of Wintergreen Resort. “The possibilities for what can be done to maximize the guest experience here were too intriguing to pass up.”
Wintergreen’s state-of-the-art computerized snow system, dubbed Snowpower, was installed during the winter of 2002 and 2003 and has been upgraded frequently since. The super system uses some 40,000 linear feet of pipeline, more than 400 snow guns, and 45 weather stations.
Capable of converting 8,000 gallons of water per minute into snow, this complex system makes twice as much snow twice as fast as the previous system, giving Wintergreen’s snow sports surfaces a uniform depth and consistency of snow quality from the top of the slopes to the bottom. The system also allows the resort to recover more quickly from rain or unseasonably warm periods, making possible its extended snow sports season. It also makes Wintergreen the East Coast’s only resort with an automated snow making system that covers all its slopes.
As is typical for this part of Virginia, this year’s long term weather forecast calls for a prolonged cold wave beginning right around mid-December. Wintergreen’s snow season begins then and runs through mid-March. But how often can snow fans really expect to find the stuff?
“The science of snowmaking depends on temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, adiabatic lapse rate, and more,” notes Wintergreen spokesman Mark Fischer. (The adiabatic lapse rate—for those of us who were liberal arts majors—is the rate at which atmospheric temperature decreases with increasing altitude in conditions of thermal equilibrium). “But as a rule of thumb, if it’s 27 degrees Fahrenheit outside, Wintergreen slopes will be white.”
Wintergreen hosts about 200,000 total visitors a year, and skiing is by far its most popular winter sport. About 75,000 visitors come to ski. Another 25,000 come to snowboard. Twenty-eight percent of Wintergreen’s snowy terrain is considered suitable for beginners, while 16 percent is more difficult; 44 percent is more challenging yet, and 12 percent is for experts only. Ski slopes include the Cliffhanger, a double-black-diamond expert hill, and Outer Limits, a 2,000-foot single-black-diamond. Eagles Swoop and Tyro are for intermediate skiers. Upper & Lower Dobie are for beginners.
Wintergreen’s Terrain Park is the place to hone freestyle ski skills. It’s progression of more than 40 features is designed to accommodate a variety of skill levels. Frequent changes to the layout of those features keep it challenging even for daredevils. On any given day the park might feature tabletops and fun boxes, spines and hips, straight, rainbow, and s-rails, battleships and down-kinks. A dedicated lift takes users back up the slope fast—but not as fast as they go down!
Virginia’s largest tubing park, the Plunge, is built on a hill longer than three football fields. Tubing fans (ages 6 and up, and at least 42 inches tall) zoom down this “Scream Machine” at speeds up to 30 mph, then take a conveyor lift back up and do it again. Slide, glide and spin fans can enjoy the 45×90 foot Shamokin Ice Rink located in the heart of the mountain village, just off the Blue Ridge Terrace. Refrigerated by a 125-ton chiller, it accommodates up to 60 people at a time.
Fun While Learning
Wintergreen Resort offers ski and snowboard instruction for all ages and ability levels based on the American Teaching System. The five-week Mountain Mornings ski program for kids ages 3-6 includes approximately two hours of on-snow time per lesson, a four-hour lift ticket, and rental equipment. Parents are encouraged to ski for free, or relax in the Terrace Café while their kids learn. The Treehouse offers half and full-day programs for kids 4-14, plus childcare for kids 2 and a half to 12. The Childcare + Snowplay for ages 3 and up is a full-day program offering an hour of introductory ski instruction, plus arts, crafts and group games.
Ridgely’s Rippers offers a full-day program for ages 4-12 with approximately four hours of ski lesson instruction, lunch, snacks and hot chocolate. The Ridgeley’s half-day program includes approximately two hours and fifteen minutes of instruction and one snack break. Children who are four will take longer breaks throughout the day, so their time on skis may vary depending on participation levels.
Mountain Explorers is for kids ages 7-14, skiing at intermediate level 4 and above. Each participant must be able to ski on their own proficiently and be able to ride Blue Ridge Express and Big Acorn chairlifts without assistance. The full-day program includes approximately four hours of advanced ski lessons, lunch, snacks and hot chocolate. The half-day program includes approximately two hours and fifteen minutes of instruction and one snack break. Children must have completed all levels of Ridgley Rippers, or have one of our instructors evaluate their skiing prior to being enrolled in Mountain Explorers.
Mountain Explorers Pro is a five-day program for intermediate-advanced skiers ages 7-14, which offers the same level of instruction as is found in the Mountain Explorers single-day program. A Mountain Explorers pass may be used on five consecutive days or any five days throughout the season. This program is designed to help young skiers develop skills that are compatible with joining the Wintergreen Freeride and Race Teams, while offering a fun, supportive, social atmosphere.
Kids, in Action Childcare for ages 2½-12, have an exciting day in the Treehouse enjoying arts and crafts, group games, music and stories. Childcare + Snowplay is a full-day program for ages 3 and up; kids get one hour of introductory ski instruction at a designated time slot and enjoy arts, crafts and group games the rest of the day. Rental equipment and a slope-access pass for the duration of lessons are included.
Kids Night Out lets parents have a night out from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m. while their children, ages 4-12, are provided for. Limited snacks are included; dinner is available for an extra charge.
More experienced and intrepid snow sporters can try a variety of seasonal competitions, including the Freestyle Double Cross and the Winter Terrain Park Series (three rail jams and two slope styles), and NASTAR (National Standard Race), the largest public grassroots ski race program in the world. Wintergreen’s NASTAR race course is open to skiers Saturday and Sunday afternoons from noon to 2:00 pm, weather permitting.
Kessler arrives as Wintergreen is undertaking major improvements. The Stoney Creek Fitness Center has been completely renovated from “wall to wall and floor to ceiling,” Fischer says. “This included adding lots of new natural light from a full wall of windows and completely refurbishing the locker rooms.”
The Wintergarden Fitness Center has been greatly expanded in both size and scope of equipment. “The addition extends into a lush wooded environment,” says Fischer, “with treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes facing the windows so users can feel like they are outside while working out in a fully climate-controlled environment.”
Projects currently under construction include the first floor of the resort’s Mountain Inn—the gateway building at the top of the mountain—where a new café, a new 24-hour convenience outlet, a renovation of the lobby reception area, and new membership and realty offices have recently been completed.
Next summer Wintergreen will begin construction of a new members’ ski locker room, renovations of the administrative offices and ski patrol facilities, and the creation of day-lodge and lounge spaces. In addition, part of the retail space in the Mountain Inn will be converted for use as a skier day-lodge space in the winter and a lounge/meeting space the rest of the year. More improvements will be announced early this year.
Wintergreen’s four seasons of mountain recreation attract homebuyers year-round. In addition to its winter offerings, the resort’s amenities include 45 holes of championship golf, an award-winning tennis program with 22 courts, a full-service mountaintop spa, 37 miles of hiking trails, three pools, a lake for swimming and fly fishing, and four places to eat. “The tennis program is highly respected, with our tennis camps rated in the top ten in the world,” Fischer says. “Our tennis program hosts top players for exhibition matches which our tennis members enjoy watching.”
Forty thousand square feet of indoor and outdoor function space plus audiovisual services also make Wintergreen a popular spot for banquets, weddings and conferences. In partnership with The Wintergreen Nature Foundation (TWNF), the resort supports and promotes wildlife habitat preservation and environmental education.
First and second homebuyers, attracted by Wintergreen’s natural beauty and abundant sporting opportunities (including golf, tennis, swimming and hiking in the warm months), can choose to live either “on the mountain” or in the Stoney Creek community in the valley below. Roughly 85 percent of homes on the mountain are second homes.
In Stoney Creek—where residents enjoy a range of activities including 27 holes of golf, an outdoor pool, tennis courts, and twenty-acre Lake Monocan Park with amenities—that proportion is reversed.
Both communities are close (no more than 45 minutes) to Charlottesville with its rich history, art and culture, foodie scene and intellectual vitality associated with the University of Virginia, and within day-trip driving distance to larger East Coast urban centers
The region’s cheaper home prices have special appeal to retirees and second home buyers and sales are up significantly in recent years. Sales of Wintergreen townhomes have increased over 100 percent, those of single family homes have increased 68 percent, and the average price of a condominium has dropped about 15 percent due to the addition of more lower end condos. Single family home sales in the valley community of Stoney Creek have increased as well.
“Nearby Stoney Creek is something that a lot of people don’t really know about,” REALTOR® Francesca San Giorgio notes. “It should be a bedroom community for Charlottesville; it’s less than 30 minutes to UVA. Every home is a custom home and you have the opportunity to live in the mountains or on the golf course. They’re priced well, from the mid-250Ks to a million dollars.”
Ten townhomes, 61 condos, and 112 single family homes are currently available on the mountain and in the valley. “If one were to compare standing inventory to the total number of homes, condos and townhouses within Wintergreen and Stoney Creek, it would demonstrate a vibrant and resilient real estate market at Wintergreen with a small percentage of properties for re-sale,” Fischer says, adding “People are again discovering Wintergreen.”