Let’s be honest: Most serious skiers and snowboarders will always see the resorts of the Mid-Atlantic as lesser lights than their counterparts in New England and out West. But even though we lack the sheer verticality of the Rockies, the Sierras or the White Mountains, there’s still fun to be had in the Washington region the moment the first snowflakes hit the ground. What’s more, the National Weather Service is predicting that this winter will be another La Nina season, which means lower temps and higher precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere (read: snow). To get you started planning your seasonal fun, here are our favorite winterized activities within a four-hour radius of the capital.
You don’t need serious vertical to explore the winter wonderland on a pair of cross-country skis or snowshoes, and this farm in central West Virginia, at the headwaters of the Elk River, is one of the best backcountry base camps around. More than three miles of trails snake through the 150-acre property, with another 20-plus miles weaving through neighboring Monongahela National Forest, including loops along Highland Scenic Highway. Detailed trail maps, equipment rentals and lodging are all available on-site. (And Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort is about 25 minutes away, if you yearn for a bit of lift-assisted riding.)
Information: Cross-country ski rental is $20 a day, including skis, boots and poles; snowshoes, $20 a day, $25 with boots; $5 area use fee.
U.S. 219, Slatyfork, W.Va., 304-572-3771, www.ertc.com
Grab a blanket and a thermos of hot chocolate and climb aboard the sleigh for a horse-drawn ride through Duntrussen Farm, a working Amish dairy in Maryland. You’ll learn about the Amish way of life while gliding through the pastoral landscape, with the gentle mountains of Pleasant Valley as a backdrop. Tours run every hour, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., so you can opt for a brisk midday or twilight jaunt or get lost in the explosion of stars after the sun drops. And if conditions don’t cooperate, Pleasant Valley can swap in wheeled skids.
Information: Rides run $16 and depart on the hour daily except Sundays.
1689 Pleasant Valley Rd., Oakland, Md., 301-334-1688, www.pleasantvalleydreamrides.com
Indulge your dream of racing in the Iditarod — the world’s premier dog-sledding event — without going to Alaska by visiting Mountain Maryland Kennels. First take a tour of the kennel to understand the care and responsibility that go into raising sled dogs. Then go on a 30- to 40-minute Mush Hour outing, a winding dog-sled ride through a snow-covered forest along historic logging routes and over expansive pastures. Or go big and sign up for the Musher Experience, which combines a kennel tour with a 1.5-hour outing where you get to pilot the sled. No snow? Wheel-mounted sleds replicate the cold-weather experience without the white stuff.
Information: Mush Hour costs $195 a person for two to four people; the Musher Experience runs $245 a person for a maximum of two riders. Both include the kennel tour.
2008 Bumble Bee Rd., Accident, Md., 301-746-7200, www.huskypowerdogsledding.com
Think of it as a hybrid of a roller coaster and that sled you drag up the neighborhood hill each winter. The ride starts as you’re gently pulled uphill in the two-person cart while you take in the expansive views of Maryland’s Deep Creek Lake. Then, when you crest the final ascent, gravity kicks in and you take control as you drop 350 vertical feet along a 3,500-foot-long track. The carts come with hand brakes, letting riders regulate their speeds throughout the thrilling descent (at least until the centrifugal brakes kick in at 26 mph).
Information: A single ride costs $10 for one, $15 for two; three- and 10-ride tickets are also available.
296 Marsh Hill Rd., McHenry, Md., 301-387-4911, www.wispresort.com
You travel this exhilarating mountain zip line for 900 feet at speeds approaching 40 mph in 30 fast and furious seconds. The good news: The ride runs regardless of the snowfall in this part of Virginia. The bad? It’s still gonna be cold, so bundle up. Afterwards, downshift a hair by taking a few rides on the Plunge, the 900-foot-long, 10-lane snow tubing park adjacent to the zip line.
Information: One zip ride is $10; $15 for two. Two-hour tickets for the Plunge are $20 midweek, $28 weekends and holidays.
Route 664, Wintergreen, Va., 800-266-2444, www.wintergreenresort.com
The first luge course on the East Coast opens this winter at Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain Ski Resort. Hop on a recreational sled and race across the 2,000-foot-long track, using your legs and shoulders to steer while speeding along on your back at 25 mph. Those with dreams of Olympic gold should visit Jan. 17-18, when the resort hosts the Blue Mountain Luge Challenge, where international luge medalists will teach the basics of the sport — and official USA Luge coaches and athletes will scout for novice riders who demonstrate potential.
Information: Three runs cost $10.
1660 Blue Mountain Dr., Danielsville, Pa., 610-826-7700, www.skibluemt.com
After a century of rumor and countless hours of data-gathering, you and your family can finally help gather evidence on whether the Snowshoe Sasquatch lurks within the forest-covered mountains of Shavers Fork Valley in West Virginia. Hop aboard one of Snowshoe Resort’s snow cats and track the elusive creature for a full hour under cover of darkness, narrowing your search with the help of motion sensors and night cameras. This year the resort also introduces a number of new snowmobile tours through its 11,000 backcountry acres, including a sunset family tour and moonlit guided trips.
Information: Sasquatch tours start at $39 (lap children 4 and younger $19). Backcountry snowmobile tours start at $39.
10 Snowshoe Dr., Snowshoe, W.Va., 304-572-4636, www.snowshoemtn.com
Okay, so no one can really predict when snow will fall this winter. (Sorry, Weather Underground.) But if recent years’ Dupont Circle snowball fights are any indication, you can trust that the D.C. Snowball Fight Association will organize one heck of a battle whenever the weather cooperates. Check its Facebook page at the first sign of a flake, then keep your fingers crossed and a good pair of gloves on hand. Afterward, swing by the ice bar at Dupont Circle Hotel to trade war stories and warm yourself from the inside out with a variety of libations.
Borchelt is a Washington-based travel writer and photographer.
More from Holiday Guide: