Perspectives: Hit the slopes and learn to ski at resorts around the region

You might be rallying behind Team USA’s brother-sister force Erik and Sadie Bjornsen, two siblings both competing in Nordic skiing, or maybe you’re rooting for 18-year-old Mikaela Shiffrin as she takes the spotlight in women’s Alpine skiing.

But if you’re a ski fan ambitious enough to grab the helmet and try the slopes yourself, there’s plenty of slopes within driving distance that can help you channel your inner-Olympian.

Living in the Mid-Ohio Valley means that just a few hours in several directions are ski resorts settled in the Appalachian mountains in Pennsylvania and West Virginia and all the way up to western parts of Ohio, where anyone can try skiing for the first time or even just get back on the slopes in honor of the Olympic games.

Mad River Mountain

Just northwest of Columbus is Zanesfield, home of Mad River Mountain, which not only bills itself as Ohio’s biggest ski resort, but as a great place for both experts and beginners.

“If you’ve never skied you don’t even have to worry about bringing anything, we rent it all,” said marketing manager Mike Mihnovets.

An avid skier himself, Mihnovets said Mad River’s beginner hills-ones that are relatively flat-are huge in area, and it’s the perfect place for someone who has never set foot, or in this case feet, into skis.

“It takes patience, you’re going to fall on your butt,” he said. “Especially if you’re older. If you’re a kid you’re more apt to get back up after your fall.”

Mad River Mountains offers its popular Kids Adventure Place for children ages 4 to 11 that runs on weekends and holidays that’s an all-inclusive, all-day skiing program. Mad River also offers a Mommy and Me Learn to Ski program, group lessons for anyone over age 11 and private lessons.

“We have a very good group of instructors that break kids out of their shells and get them comfortable doing something new that they can learn to do without their parents,” Mihnovets said.

But don’t shy away if you’re more experienced too. Mad River also boasts its 300-foot vertical drop, 144 acres, 24 trails and 12 separate lifts.

Mihnovets has taught people to ski as well as seen plenty of rookie mistakes.

“Take a lesson if it’s the first time, and be with someone that knows how to ski,” he said. “There are people that have never skied, go straight up the highest lift and realize they have to walk down.”

Winterplace Ski Resort

In Ghent, W.Va., at Winterplace Ski Resort, the top elevation of the mountain reaches 3,600 feet with a 603-foot vertical drop. Slopes are distributed fairly evenly between beginner, intermediate and advanced, and the site offers plenty of entertainment and packages that make it a great place for large groups and families.

The resort offers a learn-to-ski package during the week that includes a lesson, lift ticket and necessary rental equipment, all for only $88.95

“The learn to ski and snowboard is our best deal, and it’s a really popular choice here,” said Maranda Archie, a Winterplace representative. “It’s perfect for people who have never skied.”

Canaan Valley Resort State Park

If you happen to be afraid of heights or slopes of any kind intimidate you, Canaan Valley Resort in Davis, W.Va., offers cross country skiing for those interested in exploring trails on flat land.

Patrons can rent cross country skies or snowshoes and trek through 10 kilometers of three to nine-inch snow in scenic woods or through two-inch powder through beautiful open fields.

Canaan Valley also bills itself “one of the premier ski locations in the Mid-Atlantic for newcomers to the sport.”

Its new Critters Crawl, specifically built for beginners comes equipped with a magic carpet, a sort of flat escalator for those not yet used to traditional lifts.

For traditional downhill skiing, Canaan Valley’s mountain features an 850-foot vertical drop from an elevation of 4,280 feet.

Seven Springs and Hidden Valley Resort

Seven Springs Resort in Seven Springs, Pa., bought out Hidden Valley Resort just about three miles away in Somerset County last year. Owners have begun marketing the two separate mountains as complementary, despite being “all one big family.”

Seven Springs now offers a Highlands package, which includes lodging at either location but allows patrons to ski at either location, which between the two has 64 slopes and trails on more than 395 acres.

“At Hidden Valley we have some of the best beginner terrain, but there’s good terrain for intermediate, novice and advanced skiers too,” said Anna Weltz, Seven Springs communications manager. “Seven Springs is bigger and bolder in size and terrain.”

Seven Springs boasts one of only two Olympic-sized half-pipes on the east coast as well as freestyle snowboarding courses similar to those featured in Sochi this year.

Not to be forgotten are those trying skiing or snowboarding for the first time.

“It can be overwhelming for the first time and we try to go through the process so it’s a lot easier,” Weltz said.

The company’s first-time experience package includes a one-hour and 45-minute lesson, equipment rental, helmets, ski checks and equipment insurance.

Even making a phone call to Seven Springs, a beginner can learn some professional advice about how to start out.

“They’ll make sure you know what to prepare: Consider wearing sunblock, bringing Chapstick and some Tylenol. We also teach you how to dress in layers that are appropriate to stay warm,” Weltz said. “Cotton layers close to your skin get uncomfortable, so we teach people how to wear things that detract water.”

And if you bring the whole family and someone is hesitant to ski or there’s lots of younger children, Seven Springs has that covered too, with snow tubing hills that Weltz said are always a big draw.