by Candyce H. Stapen
As Washingtonians, my family and I have been enjoying mountain getaways at Wintergreen Resort for more than 25 years. Wintergreen, situated in Nelson County, VA — a three-hour drive from Washington D.C., two hours from Richmond and less than an hour from Charlottesville — offers spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain views, two golf courses, hiking, boating and skiing, as well as creative children’s programs and family-friendly accommodations.
The resort sprawls on 11,000 mountaintop, slopeside and valley acres. Of the resort’s 1,080 condominiums and townhomes and 350 houses, about 300 units are in the rental pool. Personally, we prefer to rent a Wintergreen condo, rather than a house, because the condos, especially those built on the mountaintop along the ridgeline, often come with better views. All the units have kitchens — studios feature kitchenettes. That makes it easy for us to save money and time by preparing breakfasts, snacks and simple dinners.
And, we like the space provided by Wintergreen’s accommodations. Separate bedrooms for the kids afford us (and them) privacy. The living room gives us a place to gather in the evening and work on jigsaw puzzles, a family tradition, while sharing the day’s adventures.
Each time we drive up the mountain to check in at the Mountain Inn, we pause at Founders’ Vision Overlook. From there, we savor the expansive views of the Blue Ridge Mountain peaks. On a plaque, Don Faulkner, one of the founders, inscribed his vision for Wintergreen: “forever our island of re-creation within a sea of mountain wilds and nature.”
When developers began construction at Wintergreen in the 1970’s, they reserved 6,000 acres for conservation. Unlike many mountain resorts, Wintergreen still maintains a woodsy feel. For the most part, builders have set houses and “neighborhoods” back from the road, preserving trees. Also, the George Washington National Forest abuts two sides of the resort, providing more natural views.
Wintergreen is best known as one of Virginia’s top ski resorts. (That’s right — Virginia really does offer good ski resorts.) At age 5, my daughter learned to maneuver Potato Path, the beginner run, and as a teenager, my son perfected his downhill techniques on Lower Cliffhanger, Big Acorn and other black diamond slopes.
My husband and I, however, prefer the resort in fall, spring and summer, when we go swimming and horseback-riding and play tennis. In autumn, Wintergreen’s hillsides billow with ribbons of red, orange and yellow leaves. In spring, wildflowers bloom, and in summer, the mountaintop — at an elevation of 4,000 feet — is a welcoming 10 to15 degrees cooler than the valley.
Whenever you and your family visit, you will find much to do at this laid-back, family-friendly resort.
Our Editor Loves
- Convenient condominium accommodations
- Year-round family activities
- Ski programs and childcare in winter and nature and children's programs in summer
- Water Sports
- Children Programs
- Family Room 5+
- Game Room
- Meal Plan
- Onsite Dining
Find the Best Price for Your Stay
Wintergreen offers a variety of accommodations, from studio to five-bedroom condominiums and townhomes, as well as mountain homes with two to nine bedrooms. First, decide where you prefer to be situated -- near the Mountain Inn for easy access to the slopes, children's programs and the Edge and Copper Mine restaurants or high on the mountain for great views and quick access to the Wintergreen's pools and spa.
When our children were young, in winter, we preferred the convenience of ski-in, ski-out condominiums near the Mountain Inn, but in summer, we rented lodging near the Wintergreen for the views and quick access to the pools. In winter, the resort operates shuttles on a regular basis that carry guests from the mountaintop to the chairlifts near the Mountain Inn. While the shuttle runs in summer, the schedule is less frequent.
For panoramic Blue Ridge views, select one of the mountaintop condominium "neighborhoods," perched on the ridge. They include the ledges, cliffs, vistas, overlook, high ridges and highlands. Although the Seasons' 3,600-square-foot townhomes offer four to five bedrooms and luxury kitchens, the two units currently built sit in a parking lot near the Wintergarden Spa. You could do better for good views and quiet.
Something else to note: All the units at Wintergreen are individually owned. That means they are individually decorated. Most owners who place their condos and homes in the rental pool select a "neutral" decor. With the economic downturn, some owners who have never rented their units may have joined the program. Remember, too, that development at Wintergreen began in the 1970's. Some of the original units look their age, especially if they have older bathrooms and kitchens. Be as specific as possible as to the location, decor and upgrades that you prefer.
Rollaways and cots are available, as are port-a-cribs suitable for tots up to 20 pounds. Generally, Wintergreen rents a one-bedroom unit to two people maximum. Discuss fees, if any, if you have a toddler. The smallest accommodation a family with two children and two parents would need to rent is a two bedroom unit.
Wintergreen puts a good deal of thought into its children's programs for both ski and non-ski seasons. In winter, most kids begin their ski day at the Treehouse, a multiroom facility, geared to youngsters 30 months to 12 years. A full day at the Treehouse runs from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and a half-day, without lunch, is either 8:15 a.m. to noon or 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
During ski season, generally December through March, depending on the weather, little ones younger than age 3 combine snow play and crafts at the Treehouse. Three year-olds get more instruction, learning the basics through one-hour ski lessons in the morning and in the afternoon. With Ridgely's Rippers, kids 4 to 12 can opt for a half or full day of snow instruction and indoor activities. Kids are generally divided into age-appropriate groups. The resort offers snowboarding instruction for ages 8 and older. At age 5, my daughter learned to ski at Wintergreen, gently encouraged by the caring instructors.
Half-day ski or boarding programs, Monday through Friday, cost $60 when booked more than 24 hours in advance and $70 when booked less than 24 hours in advance. It's $85 for Sunday if booked more than 24 hours in advance and $95 if not. (No half-day Saturday programs are available). Full-day programs include lunch. When booked more than 24 hours in advance, these cost $90, Monday to Friday, and $130 on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. If booked less than 24 hours in advance, Monday to Friday, programs cost $100, and Saturdays, Sundays and holidays cost $140.
Once kids ages 7 to 14 master the basics, they can sign up for Mountain Explorers. This advanced beginner program includes lift tickets, 2.5 hours of ski or snowboarding lessons, as well as practice time and snacks. The full day costs $115, and a half-day, $85. You must reserve in advance, as this program operates only on weekends and holidays when two or more children of similar abilities register.
Kids younger than 5 and accompanied by a paying parent always ski free. Wintergreen offers a variety of value-added ski-and-stay packages. In winter, nonskiing kids -- ages 30 months to 12 years -- create crafts, cook, play group games and listen to stories. In winter, the Treehouse works best for younger, nonskiing kids since most children 8 and older will be skiing or riding.
From June through Labor Day weekend, Wintergreen offers an imaginative array of children's programs. Kids in Action, whose facility is the Treehouse, is a nature-based supervised, activities program, for ages 30 months to 12 years, that operates from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Full-day programs cost $55, and half-day programs cost $35.
Divided into groups for toilet trained kids ages 30 months to 4 years, 5 to 8 and 9 to 12, kids romp through butterfly hunts, salamander walks, scavenger hunts and enjoy a daily swim at the pool. Over the years, my daughter has come back from camp with pressed sassafras leaves, Popsicle-stick birdcages and other crafts. In summer, the nature theme continues for older kids, ages 9 to 14, who sign up for weekend sessions of the Junior Explorers Specialty Camp. At Rocks!, for example, 'tweens and teens learn how to tie knots and rock-climb. At Survival Training, they find out how to read maps and use a compass.
In summer, on Friday and Saturday nights, Kids Night Out operates from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. for ages 6 to 12. They swim in the pool, go on hikes with flashlights and watch movies. The program costs $32 for the first child and $29 for each additional child. On select summer Wednesday evenings, ages 6 to 12 enjoy an overnight campout at Lake Monocan. The cost is $64 for the first child and $58 for each additional child. In fall and spring, the Treehouse is typically open on holidays and some Saturdays; check ahead of time with the resort.
Year-round. There's much for families to do together. At Wintergreen, one of the mid-Atlantic's best ski resorts for families, ski or snowboard down 26 slopes (rated beginner to expert with 14 lit for night skiing), try tricks in the terrain park, and glide down two tubing hills. The Plunge, a teen-pleaser, zooms you down a hill as long as three football fields at speeds up to 30 mph. At Ridgely's Fun Park, geared toward ages 2 and older, little ones glide down a mini-tube hill and ride on carousel that pulls them around in snow tubes.
In spring, summer and fall, we have rock-climbed, hiked, played golf and tennis, swam at the indoor and outdoor pools (depending on the season) and simply savored the spectacular views from our rental condo's deck. In summer, you can also tackle the 7.2-mile fat tire bike trail that leads from the mountaintop to the valley. Or, fly fish, canoe, kayak and paddleboat in Lake Monocan.
In summer, on Monday nights, watch family movies; on Friday nights, gather 'round the campfire for stories and s'mores. Take your kids, ages 8 and younger, to ride the carousel at Ridgely's Fun Park. The hills come alive with music during the summer music festival. In 2009, there were more than 200 performances of classical, chamber, pop and bluegrass music. Check out the Wintergreen Performing Arts.
Year-round, take on a family challenge at the Out of Bounds Adventure Center. Gradeschoolers and teens like to find out how high they can jump on the bungee trampoline and how close to the top of the 25-foot-tall rock-climbing tower they can get. The Dome, an indoor activities center open year-round, is a good rainy day venue. Little ones play in the faux castle, and 'tweens and teens engage in Foosball, air hockey and a range of computer video games, including Nintendo Wii. Amusing yourselves at the Dome costs $12 per hour or $18 for two hours, so look for packages that include Dome passes.
What else can you and your children do? Go horseback riding in the valley, drive the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway (access is just one mile from the Wintergreen's gatehouse), and hike Crabtree Falls, one of the highest waterfalls east of the Mississippi River.
Over the years, Wintergreen's food has really improved, especially at the Devil's Grill, located at the mountaintop golf course, and at the flagship Copper Mine Restaurant in the village area behind the Mountain Inn.
For lunch, the Devil's Grill serves hamburgers, grilled cheese, tomato soup, vegetarian wraps and salads costing $8 to $10. Dinner entrees range from eggplant parmesan and chicken breast to grilled sea scallops and pot roast ($16 to $26). Kids can pick chicken tenders, burgers, grilled chicken, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and steak from the children's menu ($4.50 to $11). The Devil's Grill closes in November and reopens in spring.
In the evening, the Copper Mine, the resort's signature restaurant, serves traditional items like roast chicken, filet mignon and grilled rack of lamb ($21 to $37). The children's menu reflects a bit of sophistication too -- a nice touch for older gradeschoolers who are accustomed to more than chicken nuggets. Kids can dine on grilled salmon, grilled chicken, pasta marinara or steak for $8.
The Edge, the resort's casual restaurant, serves moderately priced salads, sandwiches and burgers for lunch and dinner ($8 to $12). Corn dog nuggets, spaghetti, peanut butter and jelly, cheeseburgers and chicken fritters are choices for kids ($4.50 to $5.50).
For grab-and-go cuisine, as well as groceries, head to Black Rock Market near the Mountain Inn. The facility serves sandwiches, paninis and pizza ($6 to $19 for a 14-inch meat lovers' deluxe pizza). You can also buy deli meats and cheeses, as well as milk, salad items, cereal and other groceries. For generally lower prices on groceries, go to the market in the valley.
For off-mountain fare, try the Devils Backbone Brewing Company, 200 Mosby's Run, which serves lunch and dinner. Located at the crossroads of route 151 and route 664, the casual eatery offers wraps, sandwiches and burgers ($8 to $10), as well as ribs, salmon and seafood linguini ($15 to $19). The place gains fame for the four to six microbrews it has on tap. The children's menu offers pasta, grilled cheese, burgers and chicken strips ($6). Reserve ahead for a table at this popular place, or call ahead to pick up pizza to go.
Planning & Tips
All About the Extras
For $14 per hour, a baby sitter will watch your child in your rental condo or house, but arrange this service in advance.
Wintergreen offers a nice spa, but a small gym. If you can't get your workout from hiking, playing tennis, skiing or doing other sports, then this facility will do.
The Art of Smart Timing
Wintergreen's rates are highest in winter, with ski season weekends and holidays prime times. Spring, summer and fall rates are a bit less. From November to the beginning of December's ski season and after the end of ski season (mid-March through mid-April), there may be more mud than snow or wildflowers. Like all resorts, Wintergreen offers value-added packages year-round.
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport, the nearest commercial facility, is 40 miles from Wintergreen Resort. Wintergreen's gatehouse is 1.5 hours from Richmond, two hours from Roanoke, three hours from Washington D.C. and five hours from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We always allow 20 minutes to drive up or down the mountain.
For Mom and Dad
The Wintergarden Spa, expanded and renovated in 2006 as part of a $4 million upgrade to the spa and the Aquatics and Fitness Center (indoor/outdoor pools and gym), offers a range of soothing massages and treatments.