Next time a ferocious snowstorm dumps on the Baltimore region, why not make the best of it? Get out there and sample a winter sport that is fun, invigorating and guaranteed to help improve one's fitness.
Try cross country skiing.
There are more than 6.5 million cross country skiers in the United States. According to Gene Hagerman, sports medicine coordinator for the United States Ski Team, cross country skiing is one of the best forms of exercise. It works combinations of large and small muscle groups, including the arm and back, quadriceps, hamstrings and ankles, he says.
Cross country skiing also burns a considerable number of unwanted calories (a blessed relief after the holidays). Even the casual cross country skier uses about five calories per minute (or 300 per hour), and more vigorous skiers can burn at least twice that many.
Cross country skiing is relatively inexpensive. A complete ensemble (skis, bindings, boots and poles) can be purchased for about $150. Rentals, from local outfitters, range from about $15 to $20 a day.
Once you have the equipment, you can ski (free) just about anywhere it snows. A golf course, a field -- even a neighborhood sidewalk (before it is plowed) will do nicely. A popular Baltimore County spot after a snowfall is Oregon Ridge in Cockeysville, which offers a combination of wooded nature trails and wide-open spaces.
A number of nearby cross country ski areas are easily accessible for those who prefer to venture beyond their backyards. The following locations in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia include state parks, privately owned and operated facilities, and cross country trail networks that are connected to more elaborate alpine ski resorts.
Most offer free use of trails if you bring your own equipment or if you take a group lesson. Rental and lesson packages range from about $10 to $20 a day. Others simply allow cross country skiing within their boundaries. It is best to call a specific location for exact prices.
For the purpose of this article, easy terrain is relatively flat; most difficult means steep and windy.
Catoctin Mountain Park: Thurmont 21788 (Frederick County); telephone (301) 663-9388 or 663-9330. Facilities: Twelve miles of hiking trails; 2.5 miles of gravel road and 6 miles of horse trails available; trails are not groomed and are more suitable for experienced skiers when snow depths reach 6 to 8 inches; no rentals on site but available in Frederick; no on-site lodging or dining but both are available in Thurmont and Frederick.
Herrington Manor State Park: R.D. 5, Box 122, Oakland 21550 (Garrett County); park office (301) 334-9180. Total 11.5 miles of trails including 5.5 miles connecting trail to Swallow Falls State Park; all but connecting trail groomed when snowfall reaches 6 inches; terrain easy to moderately difficult; light meals, restrooms and rentals in small park lodge; ice skating also at trail head; campgrounds closed in winter but 20 winterized cabins available with additional lodging and restaurants in Oakland.
New Germany State Park: R.D. 2, Grantsville 21536 (Garrett County); park office (301) 895-5453; snow information (301) 461-0052. Facilities: Ten miles of groomed trails from easy to most difficult; warming hut with hot drinks and soup near trail head; no rentals or lessons but available three miles away -- call (301) 689-8515; 11 winterized cabins; lodging and restaurants available in McHenry or Oakland.
Camp Spears: R.R. 1, Box 89, Dingmans Ferry 18328; YMCA camp office (717) 828-2329. Located in northeast corner of state. Facilities: Ten miles of groomed and tracked trails, varying from easy to difficult; rentals and group lessons provided; snack bar and lunch available on weekends; 14 cabins near trails; restaurants and additional lodging nearby.
Gifford Pinchot State Park: 2200 Rosstown Road, Lewisberry 17339. Located 17 miles northwest of York on Route 74. Facilities: Eight miles of ungroomed trails, varying from easy to moderate; no rentals or instruction; lodging and restaurants in York or Harrisburg.
Hanleys Happy Hill: Box 67, Eagles Mere 17731; office and snow conditions (717) 525-3461. Located on Route 42 in Sullivan County. Facilities: Forty miles of groomed trails, varying from easy to most difficult; rentals and instruction available; lodging and dining for small and large groups; additional lodging in Eagles Mere, Dushore and Laport. Happy Hill is privately owned and operated.