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Skiing 101: where are the powder trails near Charlottesville?

Where are the best powder trails near Charlottesville in the Blue Ridge Mountains? Although Charlottesville is near the mountains, the nearest skiing is still an hour’s drive or better away. Ski resorts in Virginia hide in beautiful “hollers” off the beaten path, usually tucked away, down a long, winding road far from city lights. If skiing is on the itinerary, so is a car rental and a trek outside of Charlottesville, into neighboring counties.

Although in the moutains, the nearest ski slopes are at least an hour's drive from Charlottesville.
Photo by Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images

Great powder conditions are not the golden mean of Virginia skiing. But Virginia ski resorts are heavily invested in snow-making equipment and put good effort towards maintaining trails. The Virginia ski season is known to be “East Coast skiing,” not the big powder of the West, out in the mountains of Colorado or Utah, for example.

This means that ski conditions in Virginia are rather variable including, fresh powder, well-groomed trails, icy trails and at worst, trails with bare spots. Ski conditions in Virginia can change drastically from year to year and while there are great ski seasons, sometimes the Virginia ski season can be exceptionally short, or even non-existent.

The real-deal skiing closest to Charlottesville will be found out in West Virginia, a couple-of-hours-plus drive away in the Davis-Elkins area. Best bets are Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort or Canaan Valley Resort.

Until recently, the Virginia ski season usually ended by March of each year. Although pricey, skiing and snowboarding on a man-made synthetic that approximates the slip and grip of real snow became a year-round option in 2005 when Liberty University in Lynchburg opened its Snowflex Center.

Besides the Snowflex Center, four ski resorts are in close proximity to Charlottesville. The nearest ski resort is Wintergreen Resort in Nelson County, followed by Massanutten Resort in Rockingham County. Bryce Resort is just a little further north of Harrisonburg off Interstate 81. The Omni Homestead Resort is west of Charlottesville down Interstate 64, in Bath County.

Bryce Resort and Omni Homestead are both known as beginner to intermediate skiing, with a focus on family skiing. Wintergreen and Massanutten have more trails and more vertical drop, and are considered the more challenging of the four resorts. Both Wintergreen and Massanutten have one or two expert black diamond slopes and several blue diamond slopes in their ski runs; however, conditions at the top of either mountain may be patchy and icy, and all the runs of either ski resort may not always be open every day.

The real-deal skiing closest to Charlottesville will be found out in West Virginia, a couple-of-hours-plus drive away in the Davis-Elkins area. Ski resorts there include Canaan Valley Resort, and Timberline Four Seasons Resort, Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, and Winterplace Ski Resort. The extra drive time is definitely worth it for the amount, quality and consistency of both the snow and the number of intermediate/expert slopes. And Charlottesville’s central location does position it well for day ski trips to nearby resorts, or overnight trips.

Although a day trip to a West Virginia ski resort from Charlottesville is completely doable, it is not for the faint of heart. Wintergreen Resort and Massanutten Resort are much closer to Charlottesville, and the areas around the ski resort have plenty of amenities, such as quaint bars, restaurants, and shopping. Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort is the only West Virginia ski resort at present that can boast great skiing, shopping and eating. The small town resorts of Canaan Valley Resort and Timberline Four Seasons Resort, however, have their own distinctive small-town charms.

Timberline Resort is great for renting a house with your buddies and making a mini-vacation out the ski trip. Canaan Valley just oozes with old-time state park charm, lodging reminiscent of the 1950s when family was king. And the longer runs in a beautiful park like setting make Canaan a favorite place to get out on the slopes. If downhill skiing becomes too invigorating, White Grass Ski Touring Center offers a slower pace with cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

To ski near Charlottesville means planning at least a day trip to a nearby resort, or perhaps even an overnight trip. For the best ski experience, pick your pleasure: short drive times, and so-so ski conditions; or longer drive times with great ski conditions but a long drive home at the end of the day.

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