Ski Whitetail, located in Mercersburg, Pa., just north of Clear Spring, aggressively courts beginner skiers and snowboarders. The ski resort also offers snow tubing. (Photo by Ryan Smith / November 3, 2011)

Although you've barely put away your bathing suits, the folks at nearby ski and winter resorts have been preparing, almost since the last snow season ended, toward this winter.

No, we don't have 15,000-foot mountains that climb above the tree line, but we do have plenty of options within a few hours drive. Snowmaking starts as soon as two consecutive nights are cold enough to let the frozen mixture stick and accumulate. Tentatively, the slopes are scheduled to open between the day after Thanksgiving and the middle of December, and will stay open until the middle or end of March. They run out of skiers long before they run out of snow, which means plenty of room and no lines for spring skiers.

For now, if you want to interact with the snow with a minimum of time and travel, here are a few suggestions and a short update on some of the "what's new" information.

At Deep Creek Lake, you can enjoy cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, tubing, ice skating (on an outdoor 50-foot-by-85-foot oval rink), and a mountain coaster at the Wisp Resort. Wisp has the state's only vertical slope (700 feet) to go along with those other activities and a zip line that runs during the winter. Within the Deep Creek area, you can also go snowmobiling, enjoy a sleigh ride or go dog sledding.


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When you're looking for a deal, check into the ski free/stay free packages with some of the local property-management companies. Yes, the real estate business has been slow recently, so you might find some interesting bargains if you're willing to spend a little time not participating in snow activities.

Also in Garrett County, you have two state park options. New Germany State Park offers cross-country skiing with groomed and tracked trails with sections for beginners (a flat, open "turnpike") and winding hillside trails for more experienced skiers. Snowshoers are asked to stay off the ski trails. Herrington Manor State Park offers 10 miles of cross-country trails that range from beginner to intermediate, and another 5.5-mile trail connecting Herrington Manor and Swallow Falls state parks. If you want to try the sport without a huge investment, you can rent skis, boots, poles, snowshoes and sleds at Herrington Manor.

Head northeast to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania and you can enjoy the activities at Blue Mountain in Palmerton, and Bear Creek Mountain Resort, in Macungie. At Blue Mountain, you can enjoy skiing or tubing with the state's highest vertical slope (1,082 feet) with 37 trails and a new children's learning trail called Pioneer Pass. They have 13 lifts and 39 trails, with the longest run at 6,400 feet and three runs over a mile long. They also have 21 tubing slides and the region's only BigAirBag (a huge air-filled pad that cushions the landing for aerial maneuvers). They offer a variety of passes, including morning, afternoon, night, and all day and night. That means you can go to work in the morning and still ski in the afternoon or evening, or vice versa.

Bear Creek also offers morning, afternoon and all-day passes; and you can ski, snowboard and snow tube. Each of the 21 slopes, trails and parks in the 86 skiable acres has 100 percent snowmaking and is 100 percent lighted. Those spending the night at the on-site hotel can enjoy the indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs.

Liberty Mountain about 60 miles from Columbia, just over the Mason-Dixon Line, is ramping up their learn to ski opportunities for beginners. In May 2010, the company purchased the neighboring Carroll Valley Resort, and is working to combine and expand the best of both.

Liberty is upgrading its automated snowmaking capabilities; and the Eastwind, Upper Strata, Vertigo and Blue Streak trails have already seen some of the improvement that a million dollars will bring. That means up to 80 percent of the mountain has computers capable of sensing and reacting to weather conditions — enabling them to be "green" while turning the landscape white.

Helping you reach the top of the slope is a loading carpet like a magic conveyor belt that makes boarding the Alpine Quad chairlift more efficient. And, just in case you managed to separate yourself from your electronic devices for a few hours or even a day, Liberty has placed digital screens to inform you of slope and weather conditions, and a few blurbs about upcoming events and special deals.

Liberty puts a strong focus on introducing new skiers and snowboarders to the sport and, with their sister resorts of Whitetail and Roundtop, were recognized by the industry for their beginner program. If you head toward Liberty before Dec. 23, they're offering a $39 Learn to Ski or Snowboard package for beginners.

All three Pennsylvania resorts are part of the 22 resorts that participate in the statewide fourth-fifth grade Snowpass program that lets the students learn how to ski or board for free.

Also in the Poconos, the Camelback Mountain resort added 50 high-efficiency snow guns, installed new tricks for the CBK Terrain Park for shredding snowboarders and free skiers, and a small rail garden to be used by beginners. They are also installing an inflatable stunt air bag so you can try those tricks and jumps, and plan on a soft landing.

Head about two hours south of Washington and you can enjoy a visit to Bryce Resort in Basye, Va. It's a family-friendly ski resort made even more so with their SKIwee program for toddlers, which separates the youngsters from older children and adults. For those who enjoy other activities, you hit the trifecta here because you can play tennis in the morning, golf in the afternoon and ski in the evening. An active ambassador program over busy weekends and holidays has members picking up guests with a golf cart to ferry you to the main lodge.

Wintergreen Resort in Wintergreen, Va., continues to add snow guns to make sure your trails have plenty of the white stuff, and they're sprucing up the Shamokin outdoor ice skating rink. Between Dec. 10 and March 25, 2012 (some blackout dates and some restrictions), from Sunday afternoon through Friday evening, they have a Get on Board Virginia! program that includes a lift ticket, rentals and group lesson for $49 (regular price is $122).