Got those midwinter blahs? A trip downhill at nearby slopes could perk you right up


Don't let Thursday's snowstorm fool you: Baltimore is still in the grip of another lackluster winter.

Which means the landscape will stay more brown than white and temperatures will continue to range way above normal. For a lot of people, it's just plain depressing: The unseasonable weather makes it hard to get into a winter frame-of-mind.

Especially for skiers.

But there's hope -- if you don't let a Baltimore winter mind-set get between you and the slopes.

That's because excellent skiing is only an hour and a half away.

Consider this: In spite of the unseasonable weather, nearby ski areas report that this winter is one of the best on record. But what about the notable absence of the white stuff?

No problem. Thanks to sophisticated snowmaking technology, downhill ski resorts don't depend on Mother Nature: With consistently cold night temperatures this winter, the snow guns have been laying down plenty of snow on the trails.

So what are you waiting for? Great ski areas are close and offer more than snow-covered slopes: They all provide certified instruction for beginners, ski rentals, restaurants, lounges and child care.

In other words, everything you need to cure the warm-winter blahs.

To help you on your way, here's a mini-guide to the best in nearby ski areas that will help both experienced and first-time skiers in their quest to hit the slopes.

Let's start with the latest arrival on the scene: Whitetail. It's the first major U.S. ski resort to open in a decade. Located about 20 miles west of Hagerstown in Mercersburg, Pa., Whitetail is about a 90-minute drive from Baltimore.

And it's not only convenient: Whitetail is a world-class ski area, featuring a vertical drop of almost 1,000 feet, 14 trails and plenty of lift capacity.

As a result, crowds of skiers are flocking to Whitetail. The $25 million ski area, which opened in late December, is attracting close to 5,000 skiers a day on weekends. Midweek, it's not unusual to see 2,500 enthusiasts on the slopes.

Not bad, considering the recession. In fact, Whitetail's high-octane lift capacity is stretched to the limit on weekends, frequently spelling waits in the lift lines.

But it's not as bad as it sounds.

"On weekends the wait can run about 15 to 20 minutes," says Sally Bray, a spokeswoman for Whitetail. "But on weekdays and evenings, waits rarely exceed 5 minutes."

To speed skiers up the mountain, Whitetail boasts a high-speed quad chairlift, two fixed-grip chairlifts and a double-chair lift.

In addition, Whitetail assures good skiing conditions: 275 snow guns can take the slopes from bare ground to full skiing in 48 hours.

Amenities? You bet. There's a 30,000-square-foot ski center with a cafeteria and cafe-deli, a ski rental shop stocked with 1,800 pairs of skis, and a 4,000-square-foot child-care center that even accepts infants.

While Whitetail is a day-use ski area, there's a variety of hotels and motels in the area. Some offer special Whitetail ski packages; for more information on lodging call Whitetail at (717) 328-9400.

What's it cost to bomb the slopes? Single-day lift tickets at Whitetail cost $25 midweek and $33 on weekends and holidays. Evening sessions are priced at $20 midweek and $22 on Friday and Saturday nights. For the latest ski conditions, call (800) 944-8385.

If you'd rather avoid the big crowds jamming the nation's newest ski area, then consider two other nearby Pennsylvania ski resorts: Ski Roundtop (northwest of York) and Ski Liberty (west of Gettysburg). Both are about a 90-minute drive from Baltimore.

"This season we haven't had any long waits in lift lines, even on weekends," reports Angela Follett, Ski Roundtop's marketing manager. "But midweek is still the best time to ski." Ski Liberty also reports short lift lines.

Liberty and Roundtop, which are jointly owned, feature 600-foot vertical drops, 100 percent snowmaking capability and the capacity to lift more than 8,000 skiers an hour up the slopes. Both areas offer 13 trails, night skiing, ski rentals, full-service ski shops, cafeterias and child-care centers that accept kids as young as 18 months. Ski Liberty also has on-site lodging.

Lift ticket rates at both Liberty and Roundtop are priced at $23 weekdays and $30 weekends and holidays. Night skiing passes cost $19 Sunday through Thursday, and $21 Friday and Saturday. Ski Liberty's phone number is (717) 642-8282; for a toll-free snow report call (800) 829-4766. Call Ski Roundtop at (717) 432-9631; for a snow report, dial (800) 767-4766.

While Pennsylvania has three ski areas close to Baltimore, you don't have to leave the Old Line state to enjoy excellent downhill skiing: Maryland has Wisp, about three hours away in the mountains of Garrett County.

And the skiing? Wisp features 610 feet of vertical drop, 23 slopes and trails, complete snow-making ability, a lift capacity of 9,120 people an hour, and night skiing on 90 percent of its trails.

For amenities, the ski resort provides two restaurants, two lounges, a cafeteria, a pastry shop and a pizzeria in the base lodge. There's also child care for both skiing and non-skiing children. Note to kiddies: You've got to be potty-trained.

For lodging, Wisp offers a slope-side hotel, in addition to a wide array of cottages, motels and condominiums clustered around nearby Deep Creek Lake.

What's the price to ski Wisp? Daily slope fees for adults cost $34 weekends and holidays, and $28 midweek. Night skiing passes cost $22 on Saturday and $18 midweek (no night skiing on Sunday or Monday). For more information, call Wisp at (301) 387-4911; for the latest ski report call (301) 387-4000.

Here's a final word to Baltimore skiers craving that mogul experience: Skiing at these nearby resorts should continue through March.

But why wait? The skiing is excellent right now -- and it's an instant cure for the mid-winter blahs.

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