by Rebekah Postupak
Nestled quite comfortably below the Mason-Dixon line, Virginia may not be every family’s first thought when making their winter skiing plans—but perhaps it should be! The Shenandoah Valley area alone boasts a whopping 100 acres of powdery perfect skiable slopes, at historic Massanutten Resort to the east of Harrisonburg in McGaheysville, and at Bryce Resort on the west side of the Valley in Basye.
Built in the late 1800s as a fresh-air escape from Richmond and DC’s muggy misery, Massanutten Resort still serves as a getaway for locals and visitors alike. Where families used to take the train and then switch to horse and buggy to reach the resort, now Massanutten is an easy “four lanes from anywhere on the East Coast,” said Kenny Hess.
Hess is the Director of Snow Sports at Massanutten Resort, where he has worked for the past 30 years.
“Who doesn’t remember sledding as a kid?” said Hess. Skiing, he said, is an exciting and natural next step. “We have a season-long competitive race program, with youth ski racing and snowboard competitions. Some of our athletes have gone on to compete at the collegiate level.”
Particularly noteworthy is Scott Veenis, whose powerful skill and athleticism crowned him, among many other accolades, the 2006 Giant Slalom National Champion. Native to the Massanutten area, Veenis now works as an assistant coach to the US Alpine Ski Team.
Of course, “Not everybody’s going to want to ski or snowboard,” said Hess, “so we also have the ice rink and the snow tube park. Snow tubing is a great way to get introduced to snow sports for the long term. We have a tremendous ski school, including our Pathway program for beginners. But we also have more advanced trails—we’re 100 percent lit at night for skiing.”
Across I-81 in Basye, Bryce Resort too claims a long and rich history of rejuvenating visitors, dating back to William Brice’s opening of a summer resort in 1906.
Bryce’s General Manager Ryan Locher practically has Bryce snow DNA. His ski instructor dad and uncle, Horst and Manfred Locher, immigrated from Germany in the 1960s and have been instrumental in the blossoming of the resort. It’s therefore little surprise that Ryan Locher himself strapped on his first skis at age 2 and dove into his first ski race competition at 6. An eventual four-time all-American skier with a degree in business administration, Locher said the “family” component of Bryce is what keeps people returning.
“Bryce is a place where entire generations come back,” he said. “My own family represents three generations of people at Bryce. Here, everybody knows everybody. We call it our little happy land.”
While cooperative weather always plays a part in a resort’s ability to make snow—ideal conditions require low humidity and temperatures around 24°—Locher shrugs off any concerns about the upcoming season.
“We’ve already started making snow,” he said, and the resort plans to open by the first week of December. “We have a ski school and offer classes and programs throughout the week, and we’re open to the public for skiing and snow tubing on weekends. Our restaurants are open daily. Our niche is families; we’re a family resort with a laid-back feel. We want families to come enjoy a relaxed weekend with their kids.”
Locher is excited at the resort’s planned 2018 construction of a new cafeteria with a modern design, which will hold up to 300 people and be ideal for weddings and other events.
But at the end of the day, it’s the snow that keeps his spirits flying, a joy that Massanutten’s Kenny Hess fully shares.
“I love the early morning fresh air at the top of the mountain when the sun’s rising,” said Hess.
And it’s a joy that the unmatched, snowy beauty of our Shenandoah Valley continues to grow in hearts everywhere.
“Here in the Valley we’ve turned many people into lifelong lovers of the sport,” Hess said. “And that’s our very purpose.”