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Pilot Getaways: Shenandoah Mountain retreatPilot Getaways: Shenandoah Mountain retreat

Bryce Resort, VirginiaBryce Resort, Virginia

Editor's note: We asked the GA travel experts at Pilot Getaways to share some of their favorite nearby fly-out destinations. This article originally appeared in the Pilot Getaways magazine. Want more? We've secured exclusive AOPA members-only discount pricing for a subscription.
  • Richard Hesson and Jeff Sherr from Skytech, Inc., in Baltimore, Md., approach Rwy 23 in a new Piper Saratoga 6XT. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • Aerial view of Sky Bryce Airport (VG18) facing north. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • After landing, you can tie down next to the library and walk 250 yards to the lodge. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • Five lifts provide access to eight ski runs; the longest is 3,500 ft. Photo courtesy of Bryce Resort.
  • Flying over the tubing park and the condos at the base of the ski hill. Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • Bryce Resort offers activities for all ages, including varied ski and snowboarding runs. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Photography.
  • An aerial view of the resort, ski runs, and runway.Photo by George A. Kounis.
  • The tubing park is a blast for kids. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Photography.
  • Spring skiers and snowboarders test their luck by “surfing” across a pool of water. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Photography.
  • Pilots will like the convenience of the Ridge Townhouse, within walking distance of the airport and ski lifts. Photo by Monica Nielsen.

Subscribe to Pilot Getaways at a special AOPA members-only rate.In Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains, you’ll find a fly-in community with an unusual combination of skiing, snowboarding, and golf just a few steps from the tiedown area. Family-friendly Bryce Resort is known for its all-season fun for everyone; even the bookworm in your party can enjoy a special public library right in the airport terminal. In wintertime, you’ll step out of your plane to hear squeals of glee from children careening down the snow-covered tubing hill. Inside the rustic mountain lodge, stories and laughter are shared next to a roaring fire over steaming mugs of hot chocolate. As night falls, you can grab a bite at the resort’s restaurant and watch night skiers through giant picture windows, then retire to your lofty townhouse or eclectic condominium rental. If you stick around longer than an afternoon, everyone is sure to know your name.

Flying There

Sky Bryce Airport (VG18) is 62 nm west of Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) and 43 nm north of Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport (CHO). It is only about 50 nm west of the edge of the Washington, D.C., Special Flight Rules Area, so exercise caution if you’re coming from that direction. You can avoid the SFRA by remaining south of a line from Patuxent VORTAC (PXT 117.6 MHz) to Brooke VOR (BRV 114.5 MHz), or north of a line from Westminster VOR (EMI 117.9 MHz) to Martinsburg VOR (MRB 112.1 MHz).

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From the west, mountains approach 5,000 ft., so the minimum safe altitude for crossing is 6,500 ft. You can transition at 4,500 ft. if you divert to the north and cross the mountains along I-68 from Morgantown (MGW). When checking the mountain weather, keep in mind that conditions can vary greatly from valley to valley. There is no weather reporting at or near Sky Bryce Airport. Reports from Elkins-Randolph County-Jennings Randolph Field Airport (EKN) on the west side of the mountains 51 nm west of Sky Bryce, and Grant County Airport (W99) on the east side of the mountains 20 nm west of Sky Bryce should give you an idea of the weather in the mountains.

Sky Bryce is a private airport, but public use is encouraged. Call ahead and speak to Kevin Drennan for current runway conditions and landing permission, 540-856-3600 or 540-999-8895. In winter, you’ll want to find out if volunteers have plowed the runway.

Inbound, make position reports and state intentions on 122.8 MHz. You may not spot the airport until you are on top of it, since it is at the bottom of a narrow valley at 1,263 feet between two ridges that rise as high as 1,800 feet MSL. Pattern altitude is high (2,400 ft. MSL/1,137 ft. AGL), due to the mountainous terrain. Keep in mind that the winds through the canyon can be substantially different than the winds at altitude, so fly over the strip and check the windsock carefully. Runway 23 is the preferred runway; left traffic is used for both runways. It is best to extend your downwind and fly a long final to allow adequate time to get established. Expect windshear when you cross the ridgetops. On short final to Runway 23, you’ll come close to houses on the hill just north of the airport. Wave at the people on their balconies as you pass them at eye-level. Touch and goes are not permitted, though it’s unlikely you’ll want to perform them on the short, 2,240-foot runway.

The runway is right across the river from the ski slopes. Photo by George A. Kounis.

The airport is unattended and unlighted; operations are only permitted in VFR from sunrise to sunset. The nearest airport with fuel (self serve) is New Market Airport (8W2), 10 nm south.

Tiedowns are on the ramp next to the threshold of Runway 23. There are ropes in the shed just beyond the parking lot. Landing and tiedowns are free, though donations are recommended and highly appreciated. Envelopes are available in the pilot sign-in binder in a wooden box outside the pilot lounge on the east side of the terminal building. Runway maintenance is accomplished by volunteers and paid for solely from contributions.

Restrooms, telephones, and Internet service can be found in the community library in the terminal building, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon–Sat, and 4:30–6:30 p.m. Tue & Fri. When the library is closed, there is still free WiFi. The restrooms are accessible through an outside door; use the VFR squawk code (1200) to unlock the doors.

Wind permitting, Runway 23 is the preferred departure runway. Take a dogleg to the right over the golf course and then climb to 2,400 feet before making any turns to clear the ridges on either side of you.

History

In 1909, William Brice bought a 1,000-acre farm close to Basye, Virginia, after “taking the waters” (bathing in hot springs) in nearby Orkney Springs. To separate family and business matters, he named it Bryce Mountain Resort, with a different spelling of his last name. He invited many friends to visit and in 1922, he started operating his property as a summer retreat.

By the mid-1950s, the family was running a summer resort complete with accommodations. At that time, William’s grandson, Pete Brice, worked around the country, and as a pilot, he wanted to be able to fly home easily. He cleared an 1,100-ft. dirt strip on a hillside southwest of the present-day airport. Regardless of wind, he would land uphill and takeoff downhill due to the slope. When he wanted to land at night, he would telephone ahead or buzz his house to prompt someone to light the fire pots lining the runway.

It was a flight into this strip that served as the impetus for building a ski area at Bryce. While flying over familiar hills in the spring of 1964, Pete noticed some remaining snow on a nearby mountain slope. He envisioned opening a ski resort, but given Virginia winters, he knew that consistent snowfall was a rarity. After researching snowmaking equipment, Pete conducted a feasibility study on maintaining a hill with manmade snow. He put his plans to work and slated the winter of 1965 for the grand opening of the ski slopes. It was unseasonably warm, so there wasn’t enough snow. But this didn’t stop Pete. He trucked in crushed ice and, in the end, his was the only resort in the eastern U.S. with snow that Christmas week.

This opening drew attention from near and far. Two German brothers, Horst and Manfred Locher, were skiing in New Zealand when they heard about the only ski resort in the eastern United States that had snow for Christmas. Intrigued, they came with the intention of spending three months in Virginia before following the ski season elsewhere. Nearly 40 years later, they still haven’t left Bryce. They do everything from conducting racing clinics and heading the children’s instructional programs to producing the man-made snow all winter and researching grass skis for the summer. If you can find them, they’ll always make time for a friendly chat.

What to Do

Five lifts provide access to eight ski runs; the longest is 3,500 ft. Photo courtesy of Four Seasons   Photography.

Bryce boasts year-round activity right at the 400-acre resort. In the winter and spring, guests spend their days skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. As it warms up, pastimes include golf, tennis, boating (paddleboats and canoes), swimming, fishing, hiking, and even skiing (grass skiing, that is). Upon arrival, head across the road from the runway to the main lodge, which has an information desk, rental offices, restaurant, and lounge, 540-856-2121 or 800-821-1444.

In 2014, Bryce Resort installed a new quad chairlift. The quad, plus one double chair lift and three carpet lifts, serve eight skiing and snowboarding runs on the 1,750-foot mountain with 500 feet of vertical drop. Redeye, the longest run at 3,500 feet, gently meanders down the mountain and is suitable for all levels. Beginners who want to stay closer to the lodge appreciate Bunny and Little Nip, the runs off a carpet lift. Well-groomed blue runs provide plenty of room for intermediate skiers to practice wide carving turns. Hangover is a steep black diamond trail that connects the intermediate trails White Lightning and Revenuer’s Run. This challenging route may be short, but it will get the adrenaline pumping. Snowboarders and skiers alike will enjoy the Terrain Park just under Chairlift No. 1. As you ride the lift, you’ll see daring souls hurling themselves off jumps and—we hope—gracefully landing farther down the hill. Ski and snowboard equipment can be rented at the Ski Lodge, adjacent to the main lodge, $29–$32. The ski season normally runs December through March, 8-hour lift tickets $40–$63, 4-hour lift tickets $32–$55, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun–Tue, night skiing $25, 4:30–8:30 p.m. Wed–Sat (open Sun evenings on weekends with a Monday holiday).

Exciting events are held throughout the year, from slalom competitions to springtime water surfing. Every March, a pool of water is placed at the base of the hill so skiers and boarders can tempt fate by building enough speed to make it across without getting wet.

SkiWee ski instruction.Photo courtesy of Four Seasons Photography.

The Horst Locher Snowsports School offers lessons for all skill levels. A first-time ski/snowboard package includes rental equipment, a 60-minute group lesson, and a carpet lift ticket, $69–$83. Your carpet lift ticket can be upgraded to a chair lift ticket for $10 ($20 on weekends or holidays) after three hours of skiing or boarding, and it may be used during the night skiing session. You also may sign up for private lessons (reservations required), $73 one hour, $130 two hours. Children from 4 1/2 to 7 years old can enroll in the SkiWee Program, where groups of two to six kids will be taught how to ski by an instructor, $59 half-day, $74 with rentals.

Nothing will put a smile on your face faster than tubing at Ridge Runner’s Tubing Park. Even spectators can’t get enough of this blend of traditional sledding with a snow-covered slip-n-slide. Miniature figures bundled in warm clothes squirm their little bodies down the top of the hill before accelerating down the 800-foot course. Then it’s a ride on the carpet lift back up the hill for another go. Hiking boots or waterproof shoes are advised. Tubing sessions are one hour and 45 minutes, $20–$24, Wed–Fri 6 p.m., Sat (and Sun when Mon is a holiday) 10:30 a.m. and 1, 3, 5, and 7 p.m.; Sun and holidays 10:30 a.m. and 1 and 3 p.m. One person per tube, children must be at least 4 years old or 36 inches tall.

Bryce is one of few places where you can ski in the morning and enjoy a round of golf in the afternoon. Even when the slopes are covered with snow, the course often remains playable. Golfers take in a breathtaking scene of the white ski mountain against the green of the fairway. The 18-hole, par-71 championship course offers a mix of mountain style and parkland holes, with Stony Creek winding its way through the well-manicured fairways and greens. There are 48 bunkers throughout the course, and plenty of water and sand to keep you on your toes. The front and back nine are on opposite ends of the runway. You’ll also find a natural grass tee driving range, pro shop, and snack shop, greens fees include cart rentals $29–$55, daily 7:30 a.m.–7 p.m. 540-856-2124 or 800-821-1444 x249.

Two years ago the resort built the Bryce Mountain Bike Park, with seven lift-accessed trails that range from beginner to advanced. Some trails are over two miles in length. Rentals include Trek bikes, full face helmet and body protection, day $90–$110, 4-hr $50–$70; lift ticket $35. The “Find Your Bearings” beginner package includes day lift ticket, all-day bike rental, and two hours of instruction for $135; instruction times 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Open Jun 9–Labor Day holiday open Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat 10 a.m.–8 p.m., Sun 10 a.m.–5 p.m., Sep 6–Oct 26 open Sat–Sun 10 a.m.–5 p.m., day pass $34, 4-hr pass $28, 560-856-2121 x229.

Bryce Resorts’ Zipline Adventure is unusual (in a good way!) in that it takes nearly two hours to complete, with 10 different lines. The entire guided tour begins with a chair lift ride to the top of the mountain. Zip between the trees in dense forest, high over gullies, and make a low-level pass right over the grass before the ground drops away from under you again. Eight years old and up, closed toe footwear required, hair must be tied back, weight must be over 70 lbs. and under 230 lbs. $35–
45. Open Memorial Day weekend–Oct, hours vary but are longer in summer, multiple sessions per day, visit website for details. There’s also a summer tubing run, a climbing wall, and a bungee bounce, all kid favorites, $15–$20, 540-856-2121 x229.

If you need a break from the outdoors, take off your sweaters and coats and snuggle up with a book. The Basye-Orkney Springs Community Library is inside the airport building. Unless you live in Shenandoah County, you won’t be able to check out a book, but you can make yourself at home in this log cabin. You can read or catch up on e-mail at the computers with Internet access. Some used books are for sale, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. Mon–Sat, and 4:30–6:30 p.m. Tue & Fri, (540) 856-8084.

Where to Stay

Condominiums, townhomes, and private homes are available for rental on a nightly or weekly basis. Pilots will find the condos most convenient; they are right next to the ski slopes, across from the runway. Townhomes and private homes are up to 3/4 mile away from the slopes. Creekside Realty, in the main lodge, is the point of contact for all rentals, 540-856-3322 or 888-771-RENT.

Inside the Ridge Townhouse, within walking distance of the airport and ski lifts. Photo courtesy of   Creekside Rentals.

One of the townhomes is the Ridge Townhouse, just steps away from the restaurant and lounge (see Where to Eat) on the south side of the ski slope. Guests can sit around the fireplace and tell stories or soak achy muscles in the Jacuzzi tub. The prevalence of wood in the décor, from the oak floors in the kitchen to the cedar paneling in the living room, imparts a homey feeling. Large windows provide lots of light, and high ceilings create space in the main gathering area. There are three bedrooms and three baths, sleeps eight, $475–$500 first two nights, $85–$110 each additional night. Other townhomes sleep 6–12, $350–$500 for two nights, $815–$840 weekly.

The fantastic views of the mountain from Aspen East Condominiums, just east of the ski lodge, will inspire you to get out on the slopes. Each condo is individually decorated by its owner, so you will find eclectic furniture and charming personal touches. In one unit, its bedroom features an antique sleigh bed covered with a beautiful handmade quilt, and delicate lace is found under lamps and clocks. Journals are filled with visitors’ comments, a delightful treat to connect you with the extended family at Bryce, units sleep two to six, $250–$275 first two nights, $75–$100 each additional night, $575–$750 per week.

Where to Eat

A grand piano and a floor-to-ceiling wine rack set the scene for an elegant and enchanting evening at Copper Kettle in the main lodge building. A wall of windows overlooks the slopes; twinkling lights from the night skiing outside illuminate the dining room. This is truly a rustic mountain lodge, with wooden beams that arch high into vaulted ceilings and a fire in the hearth. Your server will no doubt greet you with a smile and ask about your day’s adventures. The menu rotates with the seasons. A good start to dinner is the fried green tomatoes, which come with goat cheese and homemade marinara. All meats are cut in-house and prime rib is offered every Friday and Saturday. Barbequed baby back ribs, another favorite, are smoked in-house, entrées $13–$24. Families love the winter Saturday Brunch Buffet $14.

The Copper Kettle also offers a popular meeting spot for lunch or cocktails after a day on the slopes. Snowshoes, tennis rackets, and skis decorate the laid-back sports bar adjacent to the more formal dining room. For lunch, unique sandwiches are served with a garlic pickle and choice of fries, pasta salad, coleslaw, or potato salad. The restaurant offers signature burgers including the Black Jack Burger, served with lettuce, tomato and onion on toasted wheat Kaiser roll with cheese, mushrooms, onions, and bacon as optional add-ons, $10–$12. The grilled Angus ribeye comes with a baked potato and vegetable of the day, $23. You can always order from the bar menu, which includes a Blackened Chicken Sandwich with honey mustard, $12. Finger foods include Nachos Grande, tortilla chips with chili, olives, cheese and served with salsa and sour cream, $12. The bar has either a DJ or live entertainment every Saturday night during the ski season, lunch 11 a.m.–4 p.m., bar normally closes at 11 p.m., but may remain open until 2 a.m. if business dictates. Copper Kettle and bar food service open daily 11 a.m.–9 p.m., weekends until 10 p.m., winter Sat brunch 10 a.m.–noon, reservations suggested, 540-856-2121 x285.

The ramp is only 250 yards from the lifts. Photo by George A. Kounis.

Inside the ski lodge, the Fireside Grill is a casual place to grab a bite any time of day. With cafeteria-style dining, it caters to the skier in a hurry. Breakfast selections include scrambled eggs and pancakes. Lunch and dinner are fast food choices like burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, or pizza, open daily 8 a.m.–8:30 p.m., 540-856-2121 x259.

Transportation

One of the best features of Sky Bryce airport is its close proximity to the facilities. After you tie down your airplane, you can walk everywhere you will need to eat, sleep, and play. If you have heavy bags and ski equipment, you can request a golf cart when you call the resort to obtain permission to land. They will gladly help transport your gear approximately 250 yards to your accommodations, 540-856-3600 or 540-999-8895. Routes between restaurants, lodging, ski lifts, and tubing hills are primarily paved so tennis shoes and warm socks should suffice, but snow boots may be necessary, depending on the weather. Hiking boots are recommended for walking off the standard trails.

At Bryce Resort, you can fly, ski, golf, and dine in style all in the same day. Known for its warm hospitality and family orientation, this East Coast resort is a friendly place. Sounds of airplane engines revving, children laughing, and snowboarders whooping after landing a sweet 360 will keep your energy high. The impeccable attention to detail—from family heirloom decorations in your room to exquisite tastes at your meals—sets Bryce apart.

Photo by George A. Kounis.
Topics: Mountain Flying, Technique, Weather

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