Gloriana Saylor has been a skier for 25 years, enjoying the snows of the Rocky Mountains, Northern California and the Northeast.
But ask this Owings Mills mother of two about her skiing plans for this winter and she'll tell you how much she's looking forward to the season at a local ski area that's right around the corner from Baltimore.
"Ski Liberty's a lot of fun and it's just an hour from my door," Mrs. Saylor says. "It isn't the Rocky Mountains or the Alps, but those places take an hour just to get to the airport. In an hour, I'm already unloading my skis at Ski Liberty."
Local resorts and ski areas like Ski Liberty, Ski Roundtop, Whitetail in Pennsylvania and Wisp in Western Maryland offer skiers the convenience of easy, frequent access to their favorite winter sport.
Here's what happening at those resorts this year.
Ski Liberty, Ski Roundtop
Ski Roundtop has invested in seven tower-mounted snow guns, an air compressor and a grooming machine to improve its snow-making and maintenance capabilities.
"The snow is the primary concern of our skiers," says Michael Cobb, director of marketing for Ski Liberty and Ski Roundtop in Pennsylvania.
That's why the two ski areas have a snow guarantee: If the experience is not to your liking after an hour of skiing, you'll get a voucher for another day at no charge.
"We want people to know that it can be 60 degrees in Baltimore, but up here at night, we're in the 20s and making snow," Mr. Cobb says.
For the comfort of skiers off the slopes, Ski Liberty has renovated its base lodge, adding a sun deck, a new eating area and lounge chairs, where skiers can relax near a fire. Ski Roundtop upgraded its rental equipment with 2,300 new boots, bindings and skis.
To control crowds on the slopes and long lift lines, Ski Liberty will continue its limited ticket/reservation system. Lift ticket sales will be restricted during peak times, and reservations are recommended to guarantee skiing on busy days.
"Last year there were three days when we turned people away," Mr. Cobb says. The skiers who were turned away received a coupon for a free day of midweek skiing, he adds.
The new "flex" tickets available at both ski areas also help to control overcrowding and are convenient for skiers -- allowing them to begin four- or eight-hour ski sessions whenever they want.
Frequent skiers can save by buying a Ski Advantage Card at Ski Liberty, which offers a 40-percent discount any day. The card can be used at Ski Roundtop, which has similar Frequent Skier Discount Cards for individuals and families. The Ski Roundtop cards are good midweek only at Ski Liberty.
To new skiers, Ski Liberty offers a money-back guarantee if an instructor can't teach them to ski. Ski Roundtop continues to teach novices until they learn on its newly expanded beginner slope.
"We specialize in finding creative ways to get people interested in skiing," Mr. Cobb says. Skiing could begin as early as Thanksgiving or a cold weekend in December at Ski Roundtop, outside Harrisburg, Pa., or at Ski Liberty in Carroll Valley, Pa.
Wisp Ski Resort
The earliest skiing in the region may be at Wisp Ski Resort near Deep Creek Lake, which has opened its beginner rope-tow area in early November for the past two seasons.
"Our projected opening date is Saturday, Nov. 6," says Mark Ruhe, guest services and group sales coordinator for Wisp, a four-season resort that has a 168-room slope-side hotel and ski-in, ski-out town houses. Additional lifts will be phased in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Mr. Ruhe predicts.
Wisp will increase its snow-making capacity this year after the November completion of several new ponds for water storage.
"We've also added new trail-grooming equipment," Mr. Ruhe says. Wisp is also phasing in new rental equipment inventory, adding 250 new boots, bindings and skis this year.
"And we've held the line on lift ticket prices," Mr. Ruhe says. Skiers who rent their equipment from Wisp may receive discounts on lift tickets and lessons.
And there's free skiing on Mondays if you turn in your previous Sunday day session or weekend lift ticket. Skiers who buy a two-day ticket for Tuesday and Wednesday may also ski free on Monday. The offer is not valid on holidays.
Early- and late-season rates will continue. Before Christmas and after the first weekend in March, $9 lift tickets, rentals and lessons will be available Monday through Friday.
Whitetail Ski Resort
This will be the third season for Whitetail Ski Resort. "People have been very receptive and excited about having a new place to ski," says Lisa Wolfe, communications manager at the resort north of Hagerstown, one mile into Pennsylvania.
Throughout the week, there are money-saving programs: Ski free on Monday if you bring a beginner who buys a lesson and lift ticket. Tuesday is for women, with lower fees for child-care and instruction. Skiers over 50 get discounts on Wednesdays, and on Thursdays, there are breaks for government and military workers.
Whitetail is also increasing its emphasis on skiing as a family sport. Kids Day on Sunday, with special prices, programs and activities, has been expanded to offer discount lift tickets and food to families during any night session.
And the ski school is offering a new "Ski With Me" combined lesson for parent and child that gives the youngster tips on skiing and the adult advice on how to help the child.
The resort has expanded its six-session program to provide a discount package of six lift tickets, four lessons and six equipment rentals to individuals as well as groups.
Whitetail will continue to limit the number of skiers on its slopes. Reservations will be accepted for 50 percent of its "comfortable carrying capacity," Ms. Wolfe says. "On weekends and holidays we encourage people to make a reservation or come early," she says. "We hate to turn people away, but we want the ski experience to be a good one."
Although Whitetail is primarily a day destination, there is plenty of lodging within a 30-mile radius for overnight visitors.
IF YOU GO . . .
Ticket costs vary considerably at the local ski resorts, depending on the time of year, package specials, equipment rentals, etc., but the average adult price for a one-day, high-season, weekend ticket is in the mid-$30 range.
For information, call:
* Ski Liberty, P.O. Box SKI, Carroll Valley, Pa. 17320-0703; (717) 642-8282.
* Ski Roundtop, 925 Roundtop Road, Lewisberry, Pa. 17339; (717) 432-9631.
* Whitetail Ski Resort, 13805 Blairs Valley Road, Mercersburg, Pa. 17236; (717) 328-9400.
* Wisp Ski Resort, P.O. Box 629, McHenry, Md. 21541. Skiing and lodging, (301) 387-4911; ski report, (301) 387-4000.
If you want to get a jump on the ski season, the Baltimore Ski and Travel Show will feature all kinds of information for novices and pros.
When: Nov. 5-7
Hours: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Festival Hall, Camden Street
Admission: $7 for adults; free for children 12 and under