"YOU ACTUALLY go skiing around here!" says one friend, aghast that I and my family don't head for the powder-dusted slopes at the lavish ski resorts out West. "Once you go skiing in Colorado or Utah, you'll never go skiing around here ever again."
Maybe so, but my heart belongs to the mid-Atlantic, for reasons of convenience, beauty and nostalgia. For example:
It's easier to get away. Trips to the West require too much planning, too much coordination of school, work and kennel schedules. It's hard to find a week or long weekend when the kids are out of school and we are free from work.
It's closer. By the time we leave the house, drive to Dulles or BWI, park, check our baggage, get our boarding passes and finally take off, we could be at Ski Liberty. Before the plane actually lands, we could be racing down the slopes, gentle though they may be, at more than a dozen other regional ski resorts.
Last-minute trips are possible. Face it: You just can't go skiing in Colorado after leaving work in Washington. Hundreds of Washingtonians, however, leave work and get in several hours of night skiing at Ski Liberty, Massanutten and other nearby resorts.
As grand as they are, the Rockies have no monopoly on magical moments. Have you ever seen the moon rise over the mountains at Massanutten? Or gazed at the sky filled with stars while soaking away in the outdoor hot tubs at Wintergreen? Or wondered where the color comes from as the first sunlight casts a pink tint over the Laurel Mountains at Hidden Valley? Beauty and magic is where you find it.
It's cheaper. Not the lift tickets, of course, which some area resorts have raised to the level of Vail and Aspen. It's cheaper because if the weather turns bad (and don't tell me that the weather is always perfect in Colorado and Utah) you can pack up and go home. Try doing that at Vail without paying a penalty to the airline and resort.
Apres-ski activities may be more chic out west, but where in Colorado can you go golfing at a resort after a morning on the slopes? Here, you can hit the slopes and then hit a four-iron at Wintergreen. Where in Colorado can you sooth away your aches at a large, five-star resort? Here you can bask in luxury at the Homestead. And where can you see the pine tree where I broke my thumb on my first ski lesson? Not in Colorado. Here, look for the bent white pine on the left side of the slope aptly called Belly Flop at Wisp.
True, the mid-Atlantic resorts are not all things to all skiers. Some cater to teenagers and the college crowd (Ski Liberty, Seven Springs), some are for families (Wintergreen, Hidden Valley, Snowshoe, the Homestead, Massanutten), and some offer little beyond slopes, a ski shop and a bar passing as a lodge.
Sure the snow isn't as deep, the surface may be more granular, and the cross-country trails are hostage to the whims of the weather. But even with all its faults, the mid-Atlantic is where we learned to love skiing, and it's where we will be on the slopes this winter.