Powder points

Slopes await skiers all over North America - here are pros and cons of top regions

November 09, 2008|By Dan Leeth | Dan Leeth,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Fall is fading, days are shorter and parts of Maryland are already seeing snow. That all means it's time to think about booking winter trips to ski country. The question, of course, is where to go. North America offers coast-to-coast regional options for vacationers yearning to slide down slopes. Each offers its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. With that in mind, here's a quick pro and con look at some of the continent's more renowned winter sports destinations.

Mid-Atlantic/Southeast

The region: : A surprisingly large number of ski areas dot the mountain regions of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

The pros: : Serving an area of more than 50 million inhabitants, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern ski areas provide opportunities for residents to carve turns down snow-covered mountains without the need to board planes. The slopes here don't rise to nosebleed elevations and the runs are short enough to keep quads from quivering on the descent.

That's why the focus at Wisp Resort in Western Maryland goes beyond skiing to a host of other winter activities, including cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, snow tubing and an attraction called the Mountain Coaster. "It's a cross between an alpine slide and an actual roller-coaster," says Lori Epp, director of marketing at Wisp. "It's different in that you can control your own speed - you can max out at about 27 mph."

The con: : The region is not noted for high snowfall. While some Western resorts get more than 500 inches annually, these resorts have to make do with an average of 180 inches of sky-delivered white.

"It's not as much as the other regions, but that means that our snowmaking technology and our snowmakers are the best in the country," insists Laura Parquette of West Virginia's Snowshoe Mountain resort. "It's what we continually invest money in." Snowshoe is off to a good start for this year's season, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 26, with nearly a foot of snowfall at the resort so far.

Wisp Resort can draw water from Deep Creek Lake to use in its snowmaking, if necessary. "As long as it's cold enough and dry enough, we can make our own winter wonderland," says Epp.

Information: : Ski West Virginia (skiwv.com), the Pennsylvania Ski Areas Association (570-443-0963; skipa.com), the North Carolina Ski Areas Association ( www.goskinc.com), the Maryland Tourism Council (410-974-4473; mdisfun.org) or the Virginia Tourism Corp. (800-847-4882; virginia.org).

New England / New York

The region: : Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and New York offer resorts ranging in size from a few hundred acres to more than a thousand. Air access is through New York City and Boston, as well as regional city airports.

The pros: : They may not have the powdery appeal of the West, but Northeastern resorts offer great groomers and grand glades. The proximity of ski areas allows visitors to sample multiple resorts on a single vacation. Best of all, visitors here can stay in historic hotels or small-town country inns and experience the region's Norman Rockwell culture up close.

The con: : The ice. While racers such as Bode Miller love it, most people prefer ice in their margaritas, not under their skis. "It's snowmaking, snowmaking, snowmaking," says Karl Stone of Ski New Hampshire. "You can be one day out of icy conditions and the mountains are going to be in great shape through the technology of snowmaking and grooming."

Information: : Ski New Hampshire (800-887-5464; skinh.com), Ski Vermont (802-223-2439; skivermont.com), Ski Maine (207-773-7669; skimaine.com) and Ski Areas of New York (315-696-6550; skiandrideny.com).

Quebec

The region: : Canada's Quebec province features resorts near Montreal, Quebec City and in the Eastern Townships. International air access is through Montreal or Quebec City.

The pros: : As the cliche goes, visiting French-speaking Quebec is like traveling to Europe without the jet lag. This part of Canada really feels foreign, and that makes it fun. Mount Tremblant, a 90-minute drive from Montreal, offers the amenities of a modern ski-in, ski-out resort. Quebec City allows the romantic option of staying within the stone walls of 17th-century Old Quebec. The Eastern Townships features small-area skiing around French-Canadian villages.

The con: : Winter temperatures in Quebec can be so cold that even a penguin would need a parka. Highs are typically subfreezing and lows average in the single digits. "The beginning of March is best," says local resident and avid skier Martin Belleville. "You have both the warm sun and good ski conditions. At the end of March, it's warmer but it's tougher to ski."

Information: : Tourism Quebec (877-266-5687; bonjourquebec.com).

Northern Rockies

The region: : Wyoming, Montana and Idaho hold several large resorts with a reputation for quality skiing. Smaller city airports handle the region.

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