SWOOSH! Ski season: Nearby areas offer weekend options for local skiers


November 27, 1997|By Dave Eisemann and Tom Renda | Dave Eisemann and Tom Renda,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As families gather 'round the table for Thanksgiving dinner, the most avid skiers among them may grow fidgety when they learn that at least one nearby ski area has been open a full week.

"This was our earliest opening ever," says Steve McKnight, general manager of Blue Knob near Johnstown, Pa. And with forecasts for cold weather in the days leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, McKnight predicts that his area would open several more runs by tomorrow and urges skiers to get an early start.

Other ski resort operators are showing similar, yet cautious, optimism. "Our research has shown that winter weather in western Pennsylvania has been colder and produced more snow when significant El Nino patterns hit the United States," says Matt Sawyer, director of marketing at Whitetail Ski Resort in Mercersburg, Pa.

Jerry Geisler, general manager of Wisp, Maryland's only ski area, agrees. "We tell people that El Nino is a local Indian word which translates roughly to 'much snow,' " he says.

For skiers who want to stay on top of the latest trends in gear, area ski shops are noting the move toward "shaped" skis (also called "super side cut" or "hourglass" skis) is now complete. "Almost every new ski model offered this year has more side cut than traditional skis," says Kate Klender, manager of the Ski Shoppe Limited in Reisterstown.

"Skiers at every level tell us that shaped skis make skiing easier and more fun. They can ski harder slopes with less effort and spend more hours on the slopes," she adds.

Boot design has changed too, albeit in more subtle ways. "The new boots are reinforced at the sides to make them more responsive, but they are more comfortable to wear," says Klender.

But, after buying all that gear, can you still afford a lift ticket? With Aspen, Colo., resorts charging $59 for a single day of skiing, and Killington, Vt., charging $49, area resorts look like a bargain. Most are at or below $40 for a weekend lift ticket; Timberline and Blue Knob tie for the lowest weekend pass: $35 for a full day of skiing.

This year, in addition to Wisp and the three closest Pennsylvania resorts (Roundtop, Liberty and Whitetail), we profile four other resorts within a four-hour drive from Baltimore. (With speed limits on most interstates raised to 65 mph, resorts are a lot closer to Baltimore than they used to be!) All resorts offer ski equipment rental, adult lessons and (with the exception of Timberline) night skiing under the lights. All permit snowboarding.

LIBERTY, Carroll Valley, Pa.

ROUNDTOP, Lewisberry, Pa.

These resorts, owned by the same company, are a staple among Baltimore skiers. Just over the Pennsylvania line, both resorts can be reached in less than 1 1/2 hours. Liberty and Roundtop have expanded their services this year to provide enhanced service to skiers, snowboarders and snowtubers alike. Both have new, state-of-the-art equipment.

Liberty Facts and Figures:

Vertical: 600 feet

Trails: 15

Slope mix: Beginner -- 30 percent

Intermediate -- 40 percent

Advanced -- 30 percent

Lifts: 6 chairs, 2 surface (also known as a tow)

Capacity: 10,920 people per hour.

1997-1998 lift ticket prices: Adult (weekend/weekday): $39/$30; junior: $35/$26; nights: $25.

For the children: Nursery seven days a week, reservations required. Ski camp for ages 4 and up.

For nonskiers: Snow tubing. No regular live music.

WHFSkimo Concert Feb. 27.

Information/snow conditions/Web site: www.skiliberty.com

Directions: Md. 140 West, which becomes becomes Pa. 16. Continue on Route 16 west to 116 east, right on 166 east to Liberty.

Roundtop Facts and Figures:

Vertical: 610 feet

Trails: 15

Slope mix: Beginner -- 35 percent

Intermediate -- 30 percent

Advanced -- 35 percent

Lifts: 5 chairs, 4 surface

Capacity: 10,400 people per hour.

1997-1998 lift ticket prices: Adult weekend/weekday: $37/$30; junior: $33/$26; nights: $25

For the children: Nursery available seven days a week, ski garden for children ages 3-10.

For nonskiers: Snow tubing. No regular live music.; 98 Rock Winter Carnival Dec. 19.

Information/snow conditions/Web site: www.skiroundtop.com.

Directions: I-83 north to Exit 13, left on Route 382. Left on Route 177. Right on Pinetown Road. Left on Moore's Mountain Road. Right on Roundtop Road.

WHITETAIL, Mercersburg, Pa.

One and a half hour's drive from Baltimore, the area's newest resort continues its real estate development this year. Condominium units are expected to be ready for occupancy in 1998. In the meanwhile, Whitetail continues its policy of encouraging reservations for ski tickets (the only area to do so) and limits the number of tickets sold on peak days to eliminate overcrowding.

Facts and Figures:

Vertical: 935 feet

Trails: 17

Slope mix: Beginner -- 30 percent

Intermediate -- 40 percent

Advanced -- 30 percent

Lifts: 5 chairs, 1 surface

Capacity: 11,200 people per hour.

1997-1998 lift ticket prices: Adult weekend/weekday: $42/$30; junior/senior: $35/$23; nights: $25/$18.

For the children: Nursery available 7 days a week, free midweek. SKIwee for children 4 and up.

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