Ski resorts not just for skiers
By Bob Karlovits
Published: Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Two-person mountain coasters glide through the snowy woods in Maryland.
Inflatable "airboards" create a chilly type of ocean body-surfing in West Virginia.
Birthday parties often gather at a tubing center in Somerset County's Hidden Valley.
It just goes to prove clear, crisp afternoons and starry, starry nights also belong to people who do not ski.
"We're always trying to convince people of that," says Anna Weltz from the Seven Springs Mountain Resort in Somerset County.
Laura Argenbright from the nearby Hidden Valley Resort says the indoor activities are "nice and relaxing, and we try to encourage that."
While resorts such as Seven Springs and Hidden Valley tend to stake their reputations on the number of runs and the whiteness of their mountains, staffers also know there are guests who find it oddly curious to stand on a pair of sticks while speeding downhill.
Even sites such as Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Fayette County find a need to provide activities for guests who are not ready to handle slaloming. Nemacolin offers skiing, but is not centered on the sport.
At Nemacolin, for instance, a dog team will give you a way to ride a sled without needing a hillside for $150.
James O'Mara of the South Side spent the New Year's weekend at Seven Springs with a group of about 15 friends. Only half of them skied, but it didn't matter, he says. They were looking for a place to spend the holiday, and Seven Springs offered enough other activities to keep them occupied.
Resort staffs know they have to offer activities that are in the cozy warmth of the lodge or don't require the talent and good knees skiing demands.
Naturally, Seven Springs, Hidden Valley, Canaan Valley Ski Resort in Davis, W.Va., and the Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., offer indoor swimming pools that can add a little August-like humidity to a January day. Fitness rooms with exercise equipment are as regular a feature at resorts as they are at hotels.
Racquetball courts and gyms for basketball or exercise classes also can lure a visitor away from the downhill areas.
Seven Springs also offers bowling ($7.50 per person, per game), miniature golf ($6 per person, per game) and roller-skating and -blading ($6 entry, or $7.50 with rentals).
There are other warm activities, too.
"The spa is the big thing," Hidden Valley's Argenbright says.
Relaxing at the hands of a spa-rista includes a complete range of sensory pleasures from manicures and pedicures at Hidden Valley ($72) to warm-stone massages at Seven Springs ($160). Then, there is the Sweet Dreams package at Wisp. That overnight stay also includes dinner for two and a visit to the spa for $595.
At Nemacolin, spa use comes with room fees for $20 a day.
Wisp also has one of the most dramatic, non-ski attractions with its Mountain Coaster, billed as a hybrid of an alpine slide and a roller coaster. Two-person cars roll down a track on the side of Wisp Mountain, controlled by a braking system that does not allow the car to go beyond 26 miles an hour.
There also are other brakes to slow it more. Rides start at $10, but there are 10-ride packages for $80 and multi-event tickets that include snow tubing and ice skating that top at $42 on weekends.
In addition, Wisp has its Canopy Tour ($39), a zip-line course that often is used in the winter.
"It is entirely weather dependent," says marketing coordinator John McCracken, talking about the runs that send adventurers sliding down cables between tree-mounted platforms.
Keeping the platforms free of snow and ice is the difficult part, he says.
"You can't go up there on the lines, carrying a shovel and a bag of salt," he says.
Seven Springs does not operate its zip-line runs in the winter.
Tubing is popular at the sites with tickets ranging from $15 to $25, but Canaan Valley's Lenora Testerman talks of airboarding as the tube-like activity that sets them apart.
"It is like boogie-boarding without the ocean," she says about the activity that consists of riding an inflatable, triangular board down defined slopes. The boards have grooved bottoms to allow body-shifting to initiate quick stops and sharp turns.
To hit the boards that way, lessons and an airboarding license are required, Testerman says. But, she insists, they -- and the boarding -- are easy. A two-hour session that includes a lesson and license, rental and time on the mountain is $40, while a three-hour outing is $50.
There are other ways of seeing the terrain that do not require downhill skis.
Seven Springs offers rides in its Snowcat, the slopes-grooming tractor, at $22 a person. The tractors are used to clean the slopes early in the morning and late at night, when rides are offered at 11 p.m., midnight and 1 a.m.
Sleigh rides are offered there for two to four people at $50 a person at Seven Springs and $20 per person for a group ride. At Hidden Valley, sleigh rides are $15 for adults; $5 for ages 4 to 11; and free for those 3 and younger.
Snowmobile tours are offered at Wisp at a rate of $59 for the driver and $10 a passenger, while at Seven Springs they are $75 for the driver and $40 for the passenger.
Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are activities that are as difficult as a participant wants to make them. They can be pleasant walks or race-like outings. Because these activities can greatly interfere with downhill skiing, they generally are offered in different areas.
Wisp, for instance, offers snowshoe and cross-county ski rentals from $20 for two hours to $40 a day, while Hidden Valley officially offers neither. Canaan Valley has 30 kilometers of ungroomed trials for both, with ski and snowshoe rentals at $20 or $18 for juniors.
Nemacolin offers access to its cross-country and snowshoeing for $20 and also has rental equipment available.
Seven Springs offers snow-shoe tours at $30 with rental equipment or $20 if they are not needed.
Naturally, the resorts have a varieties of lounges, restaurants and game rooms if your winter needs don't involve any type of energy other than bending an elbow.
But Seven Springs' Weltz also says mentions activity that has a cold-weather home and one in milder days: target-shooting.
Like Nemacolin, the resort keeps popping targets year 'round, with fees going from $25 to $120.
"Sometimes, we even use the white clays instead of the orange," she says, "just to make it a little more difficult."
Seven Springs Mountain Resort: 777 Water Wheel Drive, Seven Springs, PA 15622; 800-452-2223; www.7springs.com
Hidden Valley Resort: One Craighead Drive, Hidden Valley, PA 15502; 814-443-8000; www.hiddenvalleyresort.com
Canaan Valley Resort: 23 Main Lodge Road, Davis, WV. 26260; 800-622-2141; www.canaanresort.com
Wisp Resort: 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, MD 21542; 301-387-4000; www.wispresort.com
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa: 1001 Lafayette Drive, Farmington, PA 15437, 724-329-8555; www.nemacolin.com