Finding Snow

© by Mary Burnham

Finding some good powder can be tough in the mid-Atlantic. But it's not impossible, from a Virginia ski resort with state-of-the-art snow-making to cross-country trails in snowy West Virginia, here are our picks for getting your fix of the white stuff.

Back when we moved to Hampton Roads, Virginia, from snowy upstate New York, everyone said I was nuts for bringing our cross-country skis. Particularly since we had no storage in our little Buckroe Beach apartment. Yet, I was hopeful.

Lo and behold, the freak snowstorm of January 1996 saw us gliding across the snow-capped sands of Buckroe! It was the first and the last time that happened. I soon learned that we'd have to go elsewhere to find snow, or sit and wait for a freak weather phenomenon.

breaking a fresh trail

Going Cross-country: The next time I got to use those skis was several years later at White Grass Touring Center in West Virginia's High Alleghenies. This is a bit of the north dropped into the mid-Atlantic with as much as 160 inches of snowfall a year coming off the Great Lakes.

These dedicated lovers of the white stuff carefully groom about 30 km of wooded trails with snowmobiles. On the rest of the 50 km of trails, you may just find virgin powder. And when mother nature doesn't cooperate, they have some pretty innovative ways to stock the trails by "snow farming," collecting windblown snow and moving it to where it's needed. The best snow is mid-January through early March with an average of 95 ski-able days per year.

cross-country skiing

If you've never tried cross-country, here's how it differs from downhill: the skis are slimmer and longer, with only the toes attached. This enables you to climbs hills. Yes, climb. There are no lifts. The reward is silently gliding through forested glades on trails where you might not see anyone for hours.

It's a great work-out, and at the bottom, a rustic but warm natural foods café offers homemade soups and wine.

The other upside is the cost. This is recession-proof recreation: Day use of White Grass trails is just $12 for adults and $3 for kids. Lessons cost just $6 and rentals are available.

Getting there: From I-81 in Harrisonburg, VA, take Route 33 west to Harman, WV, then Route 32 north to Canaan Valley.

Harman's North Fork Cottages are a great place to stay nearby, with jetted whirlpool tubs and more trails just outside the door of your own log cabin.

Wintergreen Resort

Ski Wintergreen

You just can't beat the convenience of top-down skiing at this family-friendly 11,000-acre resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville. You can rent a ridge-top condo and wave to the kids on the chairlift.

They're experts at snow-making here, and this season they've added 20 automated fan guns to the arsenal.

Ridgely's Fun Park is a new family fun area at Discovery Ridge where kids and parents can play, tube, and slide. In addition to 25 slopes, Wintergreen has the largest tubing park in Virginia.

Wintergarden Spa

Adrenaline junkies will find lots of moguls and advanced trails. Skiers and snowboarders hone their freestyle skills at the Terrain Park. On any given day you might find: rainbows, battle ships, down-kinks, s-rails and fun boxes (whatever they are). The park is continually re-shaped so you'll find different features each time you come.

Take a mid-slope break at The Lookout, with dining and a wrap-around viewing deck. Or really indulge at the mountain-top Wintergreen Spa.

Getting there: Wintergreen is SW of Charlottesville. From the Blue Ridge Parkway, take Reeds Gap exit (MP 13). Go east on Route 664 one mile to the entrance on left.

Homestead in winter

The Classic Homestead

It could be said this legendary Hot Springs resort helped invent southern skiing, opening one of the first ski areas in the south in 1959. The 45-acre ski area of seven trails is relatively small, but usually uncrowded, and 50 inches of annual snowfall combined with full snow-making capabilities means chances are pretty good for skiing mid-December to mid-March. With a top-rated ski school and a good bunny slope, it's a great place for beginners.

But skiing and snow-boarding are just the beginning of winter sports at this historic hotel in the Allegheny Mountains.

Snowmobiling at the Homestead

Guided snowmobile tours are available for adults, and kids as young as 6 on kiddy-sized sleds. Learn cross-country skiing or snowshoeing with lessons and guided tours, or explore their 30 km of trails on your own. Full moon snowshoeing tour is something not soon forgotten. There's also an Olympic-sized outdoor skating rink.

The accommodations and dining are unparalleled at this resort where people have been "taking the waters" since before the American Revolution. When you need to relax and warm up, soak in the natural hot springs in the spa, or the indoor spring-fed swimming pool.