Cross-country skiers, alas, can't escape Baltimore's balmy weather for trails covered by machine-made snow: The kick-and-glide set needs the real thing.
But there's a ray of hope, if you're willing to make the drive. Garrett County, the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania and Canaan Valley, W.Va., have been socked with a series of winter snowstorms over the last few weeks. As a result, Nordic centers on the Appalachian Plateau are reporting the best cross-country skiing conditions in five years.
* In Garrett County, New Germany and Herrington Manor state parks offer 10 miles of groomed trails each. In addition, both ski areas boast new warming huts featuring fireplaces, lockers and showers. And talk about a deal: Skiing is free at Herrington Manor and only a buck at New Germany. For the latest conditions at New Germany call (301) 985-5453; Herrington Manor's number is (301) 334-9180.
* Hidden Valley Ski Touring Center, 10 miles west of Somerset, Pa., has 50 kilometers of trails -- and they're all skiable! The center, northwest of Cumberland, is about a four-hour drive from Baltimore. An all-day ski pass costs $8. Call Hidden Valley at (800) 458-0175, Ext. 415, for the latest ski conditions.
* At 3,400 feet, Canaan Valley, W.Va., is the highest alpine valley in the East -- and gets the most extreme winter weather in the Appalachians.
Canaan Valley boasts three cross-country skiing centers -- at Blackwater Falls State Park (25 kilometers of trails, 10 kilometers groomed) and Canaan Valley State Park (34 kilometers of ungroomed trails) and at White Grass Ski Touring Center (50 kilometers of trails, 15 kilometers groomed). Skiing is free at the state parks; White Grass charges $5 a day. For the latest ski conditions, call (800) 225-5982. Canaan (pronouned k'NANE) Valley is near Davis, about a four-hour drive from Baltimore.