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Round the mountain

There's a herd of green zebras in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Uh, better make that a fleet.

They can be found roaming in the vicinity of Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Snowshoe, W. Va., where the open military-style all-terrain Tomcars of that moniker scramble off-road over a dozen-mile course of rocks, roots, hills, switchbacks, creek beds and mud pits.

These Green Zebras do travel in a fleet, with as many as six on a given guided tour, but don't jump to the conclusion that it's a choreographed experience. True, the first order of the tour is an introduction to the vehicle, which boasts automatic transmission with its racing-style harnesses, and a tilt steering wheel along with its roll cage. Next is a safety briefing; then the decision whether to go with the optional coveralls. At last, any guest over age 18 can choose to do the driving. Tomcar models hold two or four riders and can travel up to 40 miles per hour.

The variety of trails and gorgeous views at which to stop for photo opps while traversing more than 2,000 vertical feet of elevation change mean repeat visitors are unlikely to take the same route twice.

"Guests think it'll be a basic resort tour. They don't expect how exciting it is," says Laura Parquette, Snowshoe's communications manager. "You see smiles on teens that are hard to get otherwise."

Tours run through Sept. 5, 2011 on Thursdays through Sundays, and Sept. 9-Oct. 9 Fridays through Sundays. Times are 9 and 11 a.m. and 1, 3 and 5 p.m., the latter on select days only. Rates begin at $149 for one person and decrease to $79 per person for four people.

Euro-bungee (a wacky-sounding combination of harness, giant rubber bands and trampoline), a climbing wall and whitewater rafting are a few of the other activities Snowshoe offers during the summer.

There are more ways of going down or coming around the mountain than you may have guessed, and like Snowshoe's Green Zebra fleet, all are available to the public, with the proviso that reservations should be made in advance if you're day-tripping, because resort hotel guests have priority. Snowshoe's annual Fire on the Mountain Chili Cook-off on July 8-10 and Blues, Brews and Barbeques Fest on Aug. 12-14 are two extra-busy weekends.

Limos with knobby tires

For a more elegant off-roading experience, visitors can reserve a Jeep Rubicon to take the Driving Adventure at the tony Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. These particular Rubicons are not only top-of-the-line but have been tricked out with accessories such as steel bumpers, and are equipped for winching, reports James Crews, manager of the driving school.

So steep, rocky and potholed are the 20 miles of trails that they must often be handled at speeds of a mere one to four miles an hour. Hence also the winching equipment and the presence of an instructor at all times.

They work with a lot of teen drivers, says Crews. "It's a confidence builder as much as anything. You can tell us what kind of vehicle you drive and we can tailor the lesson to that. Or you can just have fun."

New this year is the Rock Crawl, a field of giant boulders, logs and deep mud holes arranged "to allow the design of our Jeep Rubicons to get you to the other side (or top or bottom) when such appears to be impossible," says Robert Harris, director of sports and recreation. The area is often used for group activities including — wait for it — actually driving blind. Team members alternate donning a blindfold and taking directions from each other. Good thing those Rubicons are The Greenbrier's.

Lessons are offered daily. "The driving school is bulletproof when it comes to the weather," says Crews. In fact, this adventure is busiest in inclement conditions. It's all part of the learning experience.

Rates range from $225 for a one-hour session to $575 for four hours, or $250 for 90 minutes at the Rock Crawl. How many of the three possible passengers can drive and how many merely ride will vary with session length (and of course, age).

Adventures at The Greenbrier might also include falconry or fishing, whitewater rafting or canopy tours of the New River gorge. Instructors are certified by appropriate organizations.

Fire on the Mountain

Bryce Resort in Bayse, Va., is the only place in the United States to offer grass skiing, and there's a reason (besides topography) for that.

"Grass skiing and mountain boarding are not easy; they require extreme balance and exertion. The summer heat gets you hot and sweaty, plus you have to wear padding. Most who do them are extreme-sports people," explains Bryce's mountain manager, Ryan Locher.

"Too much strength and skill are required," agrees his father, ski director Horst Locher, who should know, having introduced the European sport there during the 1970s. "Now we have a zipline tour and mountain tubing, which require no skill." And he doesn't even mention the resort's climbing wall and Euro-Bungee.

Mountain tubing, however, is a sport that can be enjoyed by kids of all ages older than 4, individually or in a group, day or evening. Bryce's 340-foot-long runs, consisting of gliding mats constructed of Italian Neveplast, offer rides as slippery and exciting as snow tubing, but minus the snow.

Three generations sometimes link together to scoot down the slope at speeds up to 25 miles per hour, according to Ryan Locher, and indeed they go a bit faster in the evening when the dew falls. Depending on demand, there's time during the Tuesday, Thursday and weekends 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 6:30-8 p.m. operating times for as many as 20 turns, at a cost of $12 per person, he says. Or do mountain tubing, climbing wall and Euro-Bungee for $25. Group rates and arranged parties are also available for 15 people or more. The season runs from June 15-Sept. 4 this year.

Snow kidding

The notion of skiing in the summer — and we're not talking waterskiing here — sounds mighty cool, especially since it can be done outdoors at Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.

Two years ago, this man-made mountain rose overlooking the Liberty campus. The first year-round Snowflex terrain park in North America, it's designed with beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes for skiers, snowboarders and snow tubers (plus a lodge where they can stay).

The mountain has hosted everyone from beginning snow bunnies to the 9-year-old third-ranked boarder in the nation to the U.S. Olympic ski coach, says manager Drew Sherwood.

And visitors have come from as far as West coast states and Canada; one family has reportedly moved there from Utah for the year-round instruction, even though users are required to wear long sleeves and pants on a slope that the summer sun makes about 10 degrees warmer than its surroundings.

The 150-foot-vertical-drop surface is not snow but synthetic Snowflex, which remains moist to maximize speed and edge control. It's the only synthetic material on which the true motions of skiing can be replicated, according to Sherwood.

LMSC is one of the state's top attractions, he adds; with its westward-facing slope, "the best view from the state of Virginia is on our mountain."

The center is open daily except major holidays, 4 p.m-12 a.m. Skiing and skateboarding lift tickets cost $5 per hour Monday through Thursday, $7 per hour Friday through Sunday. Equipment rental is $12 per day.

Snow tubing runs $10 per hour Monday through Thursday, $5 for each additional hour; $12 per hour Friday through Sunday, $7 for each additional hour.

Private lessons are $30 for one hour of instruction and one hour practice, and include all equipment. Group lessons are $15 with the same terms.

Just say Wheeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Blue Ridge bound

Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, 10 Snowshoe Drive, Snowshoe, W. Va. 26209; 1-877-441-4386; http://www.snowshoemtn.com . Also see http://www.gogreenzebra.com.

The Greenbrier, 300 W. Main St., White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. 24986; 1-800-453-4858; http://www.greenbrier.com

Bryce Resort, 1982 Fairway Drive, Basye, Va. 22810; 1-800-821-144; http://www.bryceresort.com

Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre, 4000 Candlers Mountain Road, Lynchburg, Va. 24503; 1-434-582-3539; http://www.libertysnowflex.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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