By Scott Elder
Friday, January 29, 2010; WE19
WHY: Snow you can bank on, Appalachian surfing and butchers you can trust.
HOW FAR: About 150 miles from start to finish, and 70 miles from Washington.
The Washington area may feature plenty of sled-ready hills, but the inconvenient truth is that there aren't as many sleddable snowfalls as in winters past (minus one recent dumping). But in the Shenandoah Valley, there are no such concerns. Ski resorts in and over Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains train their trusty snow guns on snow-tubing slopes, adding to the valley's wintry mix.
For the longest runs, head to Wintergreen Resort, home of the Plunge! snow-tubing park. Thrill-seekers ride inner tubes with tough, slick-bottomed wrappers down a 900-plus-foot pitch with a 10-story drop. Tubers can clock speeds of up to 30 mph. In addition to the man-made snow, the park offers other improvements over old-fashioned sledding, such as snow ridges that divide the slope into lanes (no collisions) and a conveyor belt that carries riders to the top (no more post-sled hike back up the hill).
At the Frontier Culture Museum in nearby Staunton, historical interpreters explain that such winter merrymaking has been part of valley life for centuries. Without crops to tend, the area's yeoman farmers had free time for sledding and frontier-style frolic. "Visiting friends was much easier by horse and sleigh," says Gigi Kelly, who portrays the mistress of an authentic 19th-century house. "Those folks would have a shindig. They'd be shooting off guns and getting drunk."
When tired of winter, take a summer break at Massanutten WaterPark, where it's always a balmy 84 degrees. Under a soaring glass ceiling, the 42,000-square-foot facility simulates the warmer months with pools, a huge waterfall-soaked playground, a surfing simulator and water slides. Tube slides snake and spiral outside the greenhouselike building, but you won't have to don a wet suit. "There's only a two-degree temperature difference in the tubes," says manager James Tuomey, "so you never really feel the cold." It's winter without the chill factor.