Baby, it’s cold outside. But that doesn’t mean you can’t embrace the season we’re in. From snowshoeing and sledding to sipping cocktails and enjoying staycations, we’ve got everything you need for a wonderful winter right here.
By Kelly Magyarics and Renee Sklarew
Take the Plunge
Think you’re tough? Prove it by jumping into a freezing lake. These annual polar plunges let you wake up your senses while raising money for a good cause.
Lake Anna Polar Bear Plunge is an actual glacial nosedive into frigid Lake Anna—a tradition beloved by the hardiest among us. The event raises funds for the EOD Warrior Foundation, a nonprofit supporting National Guard Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians and their families. This year’s jump in the lake is scheduled for Feb. 13. // 300 Lawyers Road, Spotsylvania
Put on Your Snow Shoes
Learning the sport of snowshoeing is easy, but the opportunity to practice is limited in NoVA. To try this challenging, low-impact activity in a stunning winter landscape, book a getaway at one of these mountain resorts, where local outfitters will set you up with gear, demonstrate technique and send you out with a trail map of the rugged, snowy terrain.
• Nordic Center at Wisp Resort rents snowshoes and teaches basic skills before sending you out for a tour of countryside trails along the resort’s Fantasy Valley Golf Course. // 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Maryland; $19-$39
• Cross-Country Skiing & Snowshoeing rents snowshoes and cross-country skis for a wintery trek across Canaan Valley Resort’s 35 kilometers of marked trails. Beginners will enjoy hoofing it across the golf course’s groomed fairways. // 230 Main Lodge Road, Davis, West Virginia; $20 per day rentals -RS
Visit a New Museum
There’s no shortage of museums in the DC region, and now there are two more to add to your must-see list. These two museums—one an homage to language, the other a salute to our soldiers—opened in recent months. Like other local museums that are now open, plenty of safety protocols are in place, including timed entry, social distancing rules and extensive sanitizing. (Ed. note: As of this posting, the following museums are temporarily closed due to the pandemic, but both are offering online content.)
National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir opened in November 2020. The exhibits at this modern museum illuminate the history of the U.S. Army during the past 200-plus years, starting with the establishment of an organized military during the War of 1812. The innovative galleries trace the Army’s role both during wartime and as peacekeepers. // 1775 Liberty Drive, Fort Belvoir; free
Dedicated to language and communication, Planet Word is the world’s first voice-activated museum. Opened in October 2020, it features evocative installations like the Speaking Willow Tree and a 22-foot-tall wall of words that will spark enlightened conversation. Advance passes are required. // 925 13th St. NW, Washington, DC; free with suggested donation -RS
Find the Highest Hill
Looking for the best sledding hills in NoVA? There are dozens throughout the region, but these sledding hills get rave reviews and have served local families for decades. Pack up your helmets and sleds, then head for the hills.
Make Some Figure Eights
Outdoor rinks pop up around town every winter, and most remain open through the end of February. For a euphoric spin over a sleek slab, lace up and try these. -RS
The Winter Village at Cameron Run // 4001 Eisenhower Ave., Alexandria; $12.19, includes skate rental and one hour of skating
Reston Town Center Ice Pavilion // 1818 Discovery St., Reston; $9-$10, skate rental $7
Pentagon Row Outdoor Ice-Skating // 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington; $9-$10, skate rental $5
Stonebridge Ice Rink at Potomac Town Center // 14900 Potomac Town Place, Woodbridge; $9-$10, skate rental $6
Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center Ice Rink at Winter Square // 201 Waterfront St., National Harbor, Maryland; $17, includes skate rental
Go on a Sleigh Ride
While most carriage rides close down after the holidays, you can still enjoy the magic of a horse-drawn sleigh at The Greenbrier in the Allegheny Mountains. Sipping a mug of hot chocolate and cuddling under a warm blanket, you’ll long remember this festive glide through a winter wonderland. // 101 Main St. W., White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; $30-$59 per person, free for kids under 9 -RS
Pick up a New Sport
The sport of pickleball, though invented in 1965, has recently been taking the country by storm, and now NoVA has the first indoor pickleball recreation facility in the mid-Atlantic. Pickleballerz has 20,000 square feet of space with six courts, a “dinking” practice court and a spectator lounge. The facility is open for lessons, leagues, socials, drop-ins and tournaments, and it has an active juniors program. What is pickleball? The sport resembles a blend of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong. It is fast-paced, competitive and uses a whiffle-type ball with small holes, paddles and waist-level nets in the center and sidelines. Playing pickleball is fun and great exercise for all ages and skill levels. // 14424 Albemarle Point Place, Chantilly; 90-minute Pickleball 101 class is $15, reserve a court for $40 per hour -RS
Before you go, you’ll need to purchase a $44.50 fishing license at gooutdoorsvirginia.com. There’s a wealth of information in the Freshwater Fishing & Boating in Virginia manual at dwr.virginia.gov. Additional advice can be found at fishingva.com and woodsandwatersmagazine.com.
To meet the experts in person and ask specific questions, head to Jake’s Bait & Tackle, a service-oriented tackle shop that stocks name-brand fishing gear and bait. On some weekends, anglers give talks about fishing and adventure trips. Jerry Mounts, owner of Jake’s Bait & Tackle, says the small ponds and lakes are better in the winter, and the fish are more likely to feed after three warm days in a row. “Fish have got to eat,” says Mounts. “There’s lots of good fishing starting in mid-to-late February.” // 234 Ezra Lane, Suite 3, Winchester -RS
Get a New View
Nothing delights like a sweeping view, but hey, it’s cold outside. Where can you thrill to a stunning sunset from above the fray? Stay warm at these heated, high-rise destinations.
Skydome Restaurant at DoubleTree Crystal City Hotel is a circular restaurant at the top of a 15-story hotel overlooking Reagan National Airport. From its 200-foot-high perch, the unique venue gently rotates 360 degrees to unfurl sweeping panoramas of the National Mall, Arlington and Alexandria. // 300 Army Navy Drive, Arlington
The restoration of the Washington Monument, one of the most notable landmarks in the U.S., means that visitors can once again enjoy an unparalleled 360-degree view of the city. A National Park Ranger rides the heated elevator with visitors, sharing the history of the monument and describing fun facts, like how the marble was quarried in nearby Baltimore. When you reach the top, you’re free to walk from window to window to see the east, west, north and south vistas. Timed tickets and advance reservations are required. Limited to four to eight passengers in elevators, with a maximum of 10 minutes at the observation level. // 900 Ohio Drive SW, Washington, DC; $1.50 -RS
Take a Staycation
Embracing the cold weather is great, but after a day spent outside, retire to one of these new or recently reopened hotels for a truly luxurious winter staycation.
Learn to Scuba
You might not be able to jet off to a Caribbean coral reef teeming with colorful fish right now, but you can still get ready for your next adventure in the deep blue sea with lessons from a local outfitter. “The indoor pool is nice and warm year-round,” says Cheryl McWilliams of Aquatic Adventures Scuba Academy in Springfield. “What a great way to chase off the winter blues.” Anyone 10 and up can get scuba certified after completing a medical screening (and getting a doctor’s approval if necessary); the center also offers a program for those with physical limitations. The online portion of the course takes around 15 hours and can be completed at home. During the two full-day in-person classes that follow, you’ll familiarize yourself with the equipment and take your first breaths; once students have mastered the shallow underwater skills, the class moves to the deep end of the pool. The final portion of the course involves four open-water checkout dives, which can be completed at Lake Phoenix south of Richmond; if the student has travel planned, he or she can get a referral and complete the dives during the trip. If you just want to test the waters, the Discover Scuba option lets you experience the underwater environment with one of the center’s highly trained staff. “Most people who try it love it and move on to taking the full course,” McWilliams says. // 5408-C Port Royal Road, Springfield; $450 for online and confined water training -KM
Build a Better Fire
Gas may be faster and more convenient, but there is nothing quite like the crackle, pop and aroma of a real wood fire. Assistant general manager of 2 Silos Brewing Co. in ManassasChris Foley shared=s his tips for building a roaring fire at home this winter here.
Swish Down a Mountain
Race down a double black diamond trail or meander down the bunny trail at a leisurely pace at one of these regional resorts.
Wisp Resort: The Maryland resort with 33 trails for downhill and cross-country skiing, snow tubing and even snowshoeing has a Midweek Madness package starting at $116 per person with a night at the renovated slope-side Lodge at Wisp and a one-day lift ticket; add on a learn to ski or snowboard package for just $15 more. The Wisp Weekend Experience package starts at $448 per person including two nights’ lodging and a two-day lift ticket, with rentals and lessons for an additional $60. // 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, Maryland
Massanutten Resort: Situated at 2,922 feet in elevation, this popular spot has wide, well-groomed trails, a dedicated learner’s area, terrain parks and night skiing, with 14 runs serviced by seven lifts over 70 skiable acres. At press time, winter packages and promotions were still being finalized, but guests can expect changes this year including no walk-up purchases, priority for season pass-holders and those staying at the resort and private and semi-private lessons rather than groups. // 1822 Resort Drive, Massanutten
Seven Springs Mountain Resort: The Pennsylvania winter playground for skiing and snowboarding boasts 33 slopes and trails, seven terrain parks and 10 lifts. Their Winter Family Memories package starts at $394 per adult midweek with lodging, unlimited skiing and snowboarding, breakfast, dinner, one round of snow tubing, miniature golf, bowling, roller skating and more; up to two children ages 11 and under receive free lodging, skiing and inclusions when sharing a room with paying adults. // 777 Water Wheel Drive, Champion, Pennsylvania -KM
Look up at the Stars
During the winter months, when Earth faces a spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy rather than the star-packed disk, the night sky appears brighter; this time of year is perfect for spotting Orion, Taurus, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini and Auriga. Here are some great places for star gazing.
Have Happy Hour at Home
Keep that shaker stashed in the bar cabinet and order these libations that let you get to liquid enjoyment much quicker with these five watering holes.
Soak in Natural Hot Springs
Hot springs are produced when water heated by the Earth’s crust rises. On the way to the surface, that water often passes through mineral-rich rocks that lend it purported health benefits including detoxing and softening skin and alleviating psoriasis and eczema, not to mention easing sore muscles and joints. Virginia actually has more than a hundred of these nature-fueled pools, which can invigorate and rejuvenate, including at these two nearby resorts:
One of the most popular amenities at The Omni Homestead Resort in the aptly named town of Hot Springs is the adults-only Serenity Garden, which features an Octagon Pool with an average temperature of 96 to 97 degrees fed by two natural springs rich in magnesium, potassium and calcium. The same waters are used in the Deluge Shower and the River Reflexology Walk, on which stones are strategically placed to massage the 15,000 nerve endings in your feet; an Infinity Pool is heated to 85 to 92 degrees, and the hot tub is kept at a cozy 103 degrees. // 7696 Sam Snead Highway, Hot Springs; limited number of day passes offered at $75, waived with spa treatment
People have been flocking to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, for more than 200 years to take in the healing waters, and hydrotherapy is a popular option at storied property The Greenbrier. Take a Sulphur Soak in a private soaking room, a Mineral Mountain Bath with bath salts and the warm waters of Alvon Springs or a Detoxifying Bath to boost your immune system and balance your body’s minerals. // 101 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; prices vary -KM
Swing for the Fences
While it might be a bit chilly this time of year at a conventional driving range, the Ashburn location of the sports complex Topgolf has heated bays, couch seating and table service, with 11 feet of social distance from tee to tee. (Masks are required for guests over the age of 10 upon entry and while moving through the venue but not while you are at your bay.) Grab your quaran-team and reserve your spot either online in advance or once you arrive, then play one of a handful of games invented by founders—and twin brothers—Steve and Dave Jolliffe, including hitting targets at four consecutive distances, a snooker-based format and one that tests accuracy. All games are automatically scored, leaving more time for you to nosh on garlic-Parmesan wings, cauliflower-crust farmhouse flatbread and bacon and avocado burgers, washed down with wine, cocktails or craft beer on tap and in bottles and cans, including regional options from Port City and Devils Backbone. Check the website for promotions including half-price Tuesdays, $15 unlimited play and heroes discounts. // 20356 Commonwealth Center Drive, Ashburn; bays range from $27 to $50 per hour depending on day and time, with an additional fee for reserving in advance -KM
Get a Brew with your Dog
In the winter, when there aren’t many patio seating options for your pooch, dining out with your dog can be difficult. Enter Brewski’s Barkhaus Dog Bar. The new space is the DMV’s first-ever bar and restaurant with an off-leash indoor and outdoor dog park. Barkhaus welcomes guests to eat and drink while their dogs make new friends. In a collaboration with the Laughing Pig, the menu features hors d’oeuvres and small plates paired with locally sourced craft beer and wine. // 529 E. Howell Ave., Alexandria; free -KM