Every winter, Dave Karczmarek sets a goal for himself of skiing at least 20 days. "If I hit 30, I'm real happy," he says. "Last year, I hit 31."
As trip director of the 60-year-old Baltimore Ski Club, Karczmarek, 52, who lives in Abingdon, makes his task easy by scheduling trips to Colorado, New England, and even Europe. But he also enjoys skiing in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Some days, after a fresh snow, he'll sneak away for a half a day to Ski Roundtop in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, about an hour away, he says. "Skiing is the type of thing that, the first time you do it, you either love it, or you say it's not for me," he says. "It's just a constant rush to be out there on the snow—the crisp, clean fresh air as you come down the mountain, and some of the scenery is just breathtaking." Even if you're not an avid skier like Karczmarek, wintertime activities abound in Maryland—from dogsledding to ice fishing and snowboarding—and can be found within a few hours of your front door. And many don't even require natural snow. While Western Maryland is a hot spot (so to speak) of winter fun, there's also lots to do closer to home. Here's a sampling of what you'll find.
Get Wisped Away
Maryland's only ski mountain boasts 32 slopes and trails in a range of difficulties, seven chairlifts, a vertical drop of 700 feet, and special terrain parks for snowboarders and free-style skiers with ramps and half pipes for doing tricks. It also has one of the best snowmaking systems in the world, so there's no need to rely on Mother Nature to coat the trails with powder, says Lori Epp, marketing director at Wisp Resort. "We're really a snowmaking powerhouse," she says.
The ski season starts as soon as it's cold enough to make snow (think freezing, 32 degrees), typically around Thanksgiving, and runs through March. But there are plenty of other things to do at Wisp if you don't think gliding down a mountain with two sticks strapped to your feet seems like much fun.
Tubing at Wisp's Bear Claw Snow Tubing Park, which opened in 2001, is a particularly popular pastime, says Epp. So are snowmobile tours, introduced two years ago, which offer exhilarating rides through the pristine Western Maryland countryside. Kids younger than 10 can ride special safety-featured mini snowmobiles.
Snowmobiles are rented at the resort's Nordic Center, which is also the base of operations for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. It offers lessons, rentals, guided tours, or simply access to the groomed trails that transform the resort's golf course into a playground for winter, too.
Parents can get a few hours to themselves by enrolling their children in an evening of tubing, snowmobiling, and other activities through the resort's Kids Night Out program.
Wisp Resort, 296 Marsh Hill Road, McHenry, 301-387-4911
In a One-Horse Open Sleigh
What is it about a horse-drawn sled that makes people want to propose?
Ray Miller, who owns Pleasant Valley Dream Rides in Oakland with his wife Rachel, says people are always popping the question during the rides.
The trips, $50 a couple for a private ride, or $14 to go in a sled that holds as many as eight, take participants through bucolic fields and provide stunning views of Backbone Mountain. The 45-minute rides run from mid-December through April, Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Night is particularly romantic, when participants snuggle in blankets and gaze at the stars. If there's no snow on the ground, the sleds can run on wheels, Miller says. The price is the same whether there is snow or not, he adds.
Pleasant Valley Dream Rides, 1689 Pleasant Valley Rd., Oakland, 301-334-1688
Go (Ice) Fishing
Jim Gronaw, 56, of Westminster, has been ice fishing for about 25 years, often with his son, Matthew, 28. He particularly likes fishing at Deep Creek Lake, which is often frozen from mid-December to mid-March. Considered a prime ice-fishing spot in the state, Deep Creek is good for catching yellow perch and bluegills, Gronaw says. At Deep Creek, licenses and bait are available at Bill's Outdoor Center (20768 Garrett Highway, Oakland, 301-387-3474) and Deep Creek Outfitters and Hardware (32 Outfitters Way, McHenry, 301-387-2200). Deep Creek Lake State Park, 898 State Park Rd., Swanton, 301-387-5563. Gronaw also likes ice fishing at Rocky Gap State Park (12500 Pleasant Valley Rd., Flintstone, 301-722-1480), which often yields "blue gills, some crappies, and the occasional big bass," he says. "They stock it with trout, and sometimes you'll get trout through the ice as well."
Gronaw usually drags a wind shelter out on the ice for protection, but it's still cold out there. "It's just fascinating to me to pull a fish up through a hole in the middle of winter," he says. "The flavor of fish in the wintertime is superior to other times of year." The Savage River Reservoir (in the Savage River State Forest, 127 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, 301-895-5759) is also a popular ice-fishing spot.
A Woof Ride
If you prefer dogs to horses, Husky Power Dogsledding is the place to go for mushing through the mountain scenery. Options range from simple kennel tours to two-hour rides and sessions that teach you how to work with the dogs. If there's no snow, owners Mike and Linda Herdering can use sleds with wheels.
Husky Power Dogsledding, 2008 Bumble Bee Rd., Accident, 301-746-7200
In May 2007, Baltimoreans Catherine and Eric Benson started Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC. "We wanted to share our love of dogsledding and educate people about it," Catherine says.
Mushers-in-training travel along the Northern Central Rail Trail in north Baltimore County with a team of four Siberian huskies and husky mixes, and either Catherine or Eric along as guides. The tours include about 30 minutes of training and education, followed by a 90-minute ride. They run from September through April. If there's no snow on the ground, sleds with wheels are available.
Maryland Sled Dog Adventures LLC, 443-562-5736, marylanddogsledding.com.
Flip & Slide
Max Dubansky offers snowshoe and cross-country skiing tours on his Backbone Farm in Oakland. A system of about eight miles of groomed trails plus "lots of back-country skiing"
can keep outdoor exercisers busy for hours on the 520-acre organic vegetable, herb, and flower farm (some of which is still being cultivated).
Visitors can rent snowshoes or cross-country skies, go out on their own, take lessons, or sign up for a tour. Afterward, they can warm themselves by the fire with organic tea and coffee. "My mom's from Finland so we've always been into cross-country skiing," Dubansky says. Weather and conditions permitting, the farm is open for skiing Friday through Monday.
Backbone Farm, 530 Lynndale Rd., Oakland, 301-334-5633, backbonefarm.com.
At Herrington Manor State Park, visitors can rent snowshoes or cross-country skis or use their own equipment to glide along the 10 miles of trails, which are groomed if there's enough snow to pack down. A favorite activity is to ski the five-and-a-half miles from Herrington to Swallow Falls State Park, says park ranger Eric Savage. The ungroomed path between the parks runs through the woods, so you'll be breaking through untrammeled snow as you breathe the cold pine air and marvel at the silence around you. If there's enough snow, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing can't be beat, Savage says.
Herrington Manor State Park, 222 Herrington Lane, Oakland, 301-334-9180.
New Germany State Park has about 10 miles of cross-country ski trails. Ski rentals and lessons are available in the park through Allegany Expeditions (800-819-5170), when conditions and weather are acceptable, on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, or weekdays by appointment.
New Germany State Park, 349 Headquarters Lane, Grantsville, 301-895-5453.
Ice Skate Outdoors
Skaters can see gorgeous works of art and listen to music through a state-of-the-art sound system while on the rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C. The soothing space can hold more than 200 at a time. And the experience gets even more magical at night, when lights around the rink illuminate the ice. Rent skates there or bring your own.
The rink, which first opened in 1999, is typically open mid-November to mid-March, but the exact dates depend on the weather since it has to be cold enough for the ice to stay frozen. National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, on the National Mall in Washington, DC (between Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue, NW), 202-842-6353.
Hike a Trail
And if the ground is poking through, hey, you can always hike. At Swallow Falls State Park (222 Herrington Ln., Oakland, 301-387-6938), a mile-and-a-quarter trail passes four different waterfalls. Cunningham Falls State Park (14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd., Thurmont, 301-271-7574) also has some beautiful hikes, including three fairly short and easy trails (one is handicapped accessible) leading to the 78-foot falls, plus part of the 27-mile Catoctin Trail.
Sled Down a Steep Hill
You probably already know the best sledding hill in your neighborhood. But some hills, for reasons having to do with the length and steepness of the run and overall exhilaration, are worth a drive. In Baltimore, one of the best sledding hills is in Roland Park. Suicide Hill, as it is known locally, is located in the Baltimore Country Club (4712 Club Road, Baltimore). It could disappear if development plans go forward, so check it out while you can.
Other popular spots include Wyman Park, near Tudor Arms and 38th Street, and Leakin Park, behind the mansion at Crimea. Park your car at the tennis courts off Windsor Mill Road and walk back.
The hill in front of the Baltimore County Board of Education on Charles Street in Towson also deserves its reputation for excellent sledding. Another fine sledding spot is on the former ski hills of Oregon Ridge Park (13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville, 410-887-1818). There's no charge—all you need is your own sled and a couple of inches of snow to go underneath it. Bring your own sled or rent one for $6 a day ($3 for a half day) at Herrington Manor State Park in Oakland. Around 4 p.m. on Fridays, the park rangers usually light a bonfire at the top of the hill. The trail is lit for sledding after dark, says park ranger Eric Savage. A warming hut at the concession stand by a lake has a large open fireplace. Herrington Manor State Park, 222 Herrington Lane, Oakland, 301-334-9180.
Here are a few other ski slopes just across the state line.
Whitetail Resort 13805 Blairs Valley Road, Mercersburg, PA, 717-328-9400.
The mountain recently completed a $2.7 million renovation that included new snow-making and grooming machines, a new double chairlift, and new trails. The mountain's 935-foot drop is served by nine lifts that take skiers to 20 trails of varying difficulty. Night skiing, a terrain park for snowboarders, and tubing on 10 groomed lanes are among the attractions.
Ski Roundtop 925 Roundtop Road, Lewisberry, PA, 717-432-9631. With a 600-foot vertical drop and only 16 trails, no amount of squinting can make this mountain compare to the big boys. But Roundtop's tubing center, three terrain parks, ski and snowboard lessons, and excellent snowmaking make it an ideal destination for families and beginners.
Ski Liberty 78 Country Club Trail, Carroll Valley, PA, 717-642-8282. Fully automated snowmaking, better lights for night skiing, plus a bigger food court and a sports shop are among the improvements this year at Ski Liberty, which has a 600-foot vertical drop, 16 trails, and a terrain park and half pipe.
Don't Go Home Yet
After all that exercise, you might want to spend the night in Western Maryland.
Where to rest your head: Wisp Resort (301-387-4911) has suites and rooms with fireplaces. Indoor activities include a spa, restaurants, and an arcade. Though the Wisp Resort Hotel offers ski-in, ski-out convenience, Garrett County also has private homes for rent, ranging from tiny cabins in the woods to sprawling chalets that sleep 20 people. "You can have a whole family getaway if you want," says Sarah Duck, director of marketing of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce. Bed and breakfasts on the lake include Lake Pointe Inn (174 Lake Pointe Dr., McHenry, 1-800-523-LAKE) and the Good Timber Bed & Breakfast (2159 Mayhew Inn Rd., Oakland, 301-387-0097).
If you're looking for a romantic winter getaway at a bargain price, rent a cabin at Herrington Manor State Park in Oakland (301-334-9180). The cost is $80 a night for a two-person cabin ($90 for four people, $100 for six, but that's less romantic). The cabins are equipped with full kitchens and bathrooms, and have baseboard heat and fireplaces. Park ranger Eric Savage recommends booking early. New Germany State Park (301-895-5453) has 11 heated cabins for rent.
Where to feed your face: Restaurants in McHenry tend to be family-friendly, says Duck. Smiley's pizzeria (72 Fort Dr., McHenry, 301-387-0059) even has an arcade. But to please grown-ups, too, she likes the Silver Tree Inn (567 Glendale Rd., Oakland, 301-387-8333), "where you can sit and see the lake while you're eating," and Pine Lodge Steak House (1520 Deep Creek Dr., McHenry, 301-387-6500), which has elk on the menu.
For breakfast, everybody loves Will O'the Wisp (20160 Garrett Hghwy., Oakland, 301-387-5503), Duck says. And for late-night fun, check out Sante Fe Grille(75 Visitors Center Dr., McHenry, 301-387-2182) and Black Bear Tavern (102 Fort Dr., McHenry, 301-387-6800), which has dancing.