Skiing...With or without snow


The warning sign carries words familiar to anyone who does much downhill skiing:"No jumping, freestyle or ballet." The difference is that here, a good jump would carry you into the weight lifting area.

For while nearby ski areas have had a frustrating early season, with roller-coaster temperatures playing havoc with snowmaking operations, the slope at the Bare Hills Ski Training Center always has a good skiing surface. It's made of nylon carpet on a moving treadmill that simulates the feel of snow skiing.

While the 1990-91 ski season is well under way in the major resorts of the west and in New England, thanks to natural snowfalls, the popular resorts within a few hours drive of Baltimore have been bothered by mild temperatures. Well up into New York, resorts depend on cold to enable them to make snow.

Weather is not a factor in skiing indoors, however. Now in its sixth season, the local training center is located in a corner of the Bare Hills tennis and athletic club facility off Falls Road above Lake Avenue. Adjacent to the club's weight training area are actually two "slopes," including a fixed ramp with carpeting and the treadmill ramp.

"In some ways it is easier to learn on the rug, and the movements really do translate readily onto snow," says Debbie Rock, director of the indoor ski school. There's even a swinging lift chair to help neophytes master the surprisingly difficult art of getting off the darn thing and skiing downhill.

The center has about 15 instructors offering classes for all levels of skiers, with equipment provided if needed, as well as instruction in the relatively new sport of snowboarding and also cross-country skiing. The slopes are also available for practice sessions to skiers who bring their own boots to carve turns, usually in half-hour sessions. (Private lessons cost $19 per half hour, with a variety of package prices available. Practice sessions cost $60 for four half-hour supervised ramp workouts. For more information call 823-1628.)

Two Pikesville 13-year-olds, Charles Wiseman and Ryan Taylor, took practice sessions the other day -- Wiseman was on a snowboard -- preparing for ski trips later in the season.

Can "the rug" substitute for the real thing? No, but it can help. A short session on the carpet demonstrated that, while lacking the sensual thrills of outdoor skiing, the moving surface does simulate some of the sensations and offers a chance to improve technique. A big slanted mirror even offers the unusual opportunity to see your flaws, much the way dancers train in a studio.

"It's a lot easier to teach when you can stand right beside somebody and offer advice," says instructor Nick Eastman. Like some others at Bare Hills, he also teaches on snow at the Ski Liberty area in Carroll Valley, Pa. And Rock says all the teachers participate in a monthly clinic on real snow to assure instruction techniques translate well.

Last week's heavy snowfall was a boon, falling on top of man-made snow most areas had built up over a week of sub-freezing nighttime temperatures. But subsequent balmy temperatures and rain were a setback.

"The warm weather's tricky, but it doesn't hurt us that much so long as its cold at night," says Wendy Rosenmiller at Ski Roundtop north of York, Pa. And at sister area Ski Liberty, Debbie Bowman says, "we should be in fine shape for this weekend" because of predicted below-freezing temperatures for the next week or so.

Both areas opened on weekends in early December, and had good crowds of skiers over Christmas.

"We took a beating with all the rain," concedes Mark Ruhe of the Wisp ski area in Garrett County in Western Maryland. But he says the mountainous region's climate means "even average temperatures would be OK for snowmaking."

Not too far from Wisp in western Pennsylvania, the Seven Springs resort had 27 of its 30 slopes snow-covered and open to skiers just a week ago, according to resort spokesman Scott Bender. But the weekend thaw arrived and by early this week, only eight slope/trail combinations were open.

"The good news is, there's no warm weather in sight" for the next few weeks, says Bender.

In the Pocono Mountain ski areas roughly three hours north of Baltimore, "the crowds are down a bit so far," concedes Camelback Mountain's Joan Montgomery. But she says "we make snow every minute the temperature is under 28 degrees," and adds that "the Farmer's Almanac says it's going to be a colder than average winter."

And the legendary woolly worm caterpillar has also made a cold forecast. According to the ninth annual Lee County Woolly Worm Survey out of Pikeville, Ky., 88 of 188 woolly worms sampled this fall were sporting dark black rings, a sign of a very cold winter.

Well, maybe so, maybe not. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also predicted in December a 63 percent probability of colder than normal temperatures in Maryland and elsewhere up the eastern seaboard. But just this week, the National Weather Service Climate Analysis Center reversed the forecast, now saying there's a 55 to 60 percent chance of a warmer than average winter.

That would make the remaining few months of the ski season more like last winter. Remember? A sharp December cold spell had nearby ski areas setting early-season snow cover records, only to be followed by a much balmier January and February which brought an early close to the season.

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