Skiers are turning out in droves just north of Maryland line

The Inside Stuff

February 11, 1992|By Bill Tanton

A minor miracle is taking place this winter at Mercersburg, Pa., some 20 miles west of Hagerstown and two miles north of the Maryland line.

In the face of the recession, a new, $25 million ski resort -- Whitetail -- is drawing large crowds daily.

There were 4,971 skiers there Sunday. Yesterday, a picture-postcard, 30-degree weekday with clear blue skies, there were 2,500 on the slopes. There have been days when people were turned away.

"This has never been done before," Bruce Watson, Whitetail's vice president and general manager, said yesterday as he looked out the lodge window at the would-be AJ Kitts scattered over the 100 acres of terrain.

"When I came here in March, they were just starting to cut down trees," Watson said. "In 10 months, the whole place was built. We opened Dec. 20, and by the time we close for the season late in March we'll have skied 220,000 people.

"That's more than they'll ski at Stowe [Vt.]. Stowe will ski 190,000 people this season, 200,000 if they're lucky. Seasoned developers are amazed at what we've accomplished in such a short time."

All this in a recession?

"In a way the recession drives this," said Watson, who has opened three other resorts, including Okemo in Vermont. "The Baltimore-Washington market is not traveling the way it used to. People aren't spending the money to go to Colorado or New England. But they can drive here from Harborplace [94 miles, one way] in an hour and 45 minutes or less."

The operators advertise a vertical drop of 935 feet and state-of-the-art equipment, including 275 snow guns.

"I've got to give them credit for the snow, considering there's no snow around," said Baltimorean Donna Pinkard, who skied with her son, Wally, yesterday. "What I like about Whitetail is the vertical drop. They don't have that in most places around here."

Another Baltimorean, Elaine Born, skied Whitetail with her son yesterday and liked it enough that she plans to return Friday when her daughter has a school holiday.

* Shades of Whizzer White: Baltimorean Jimmy DiPaula and his wife, Pat, recently returned from a trip to San Francisco. While there, they talked to Gary Kerkorian, whom they knew in the '50s when Gary was the Colts' backup quarterback.

While he played for the Colts, Kerkorian attended law school at Georgetown. He not only became a lawyer; he's a judge in Superior Court in Fresno.

* Note to the admirers of Charlie Eckman who have inquired as to why he's not in the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame: Since the Hall of Fame began in 1956 (when Babe Ruth, Jimmy Foxx, Home Run Baker and Robert Garrett became the charter members) the bylaws have stated that only athletes can be admitted. Eckman was an outstanding referee and coach, but never a Hall of Fame athlete.

* The Blast's Cris Vaccaro, who will be in the goal for the East in the Major Soccer League All-Star Game at the Arena Thursday night (8:05), was not impressed by Sheffield, England, where the Baltimore team recently played a game. Says Vaccaro: "It makes you appreciate what we have in the U.S." This from a guy who grew up in Camden, N.J.

Thank Blast owner Ed Hale not only for bringing the All-Star Game here but for putting on the 5 p.m. game Thursday featuring 32 of the nation's top college seniors.

Says MSL commissioner Earl Foreman: "Ed's doing this. He's had the players here since Sunday practicing indoors. Many of these kids will be drafted Friday morning when the league holds its draft at Stouffer's. This is not like the NFL draft, where some agent says he wants $3.2 million for his client. In this draft, the parents of the boys from this area will be there cheering as their sons are picked."

* Much has been made of the terrific recruiting job done by Maryland's new football coach, Mark Duffner, but another first-year coach -- Morgan State's Ricky Diggs -- enjoyed the best recruiting season the Bears have had in years. He has 16 commitments, many more than usual.

This is the first year Morgan has had a recruiting budget. Previously, Morgan relied on alumni to sell prospects on the place.

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