- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

Maryland's only winter playground, Wisp, has, for most of its 47 years, proffered an image as a quiet, medium-sized ski area tucked along the shore of Deep Creek Lake in the state's far western reaches.
That image is undergoing a change. Despite statements to the contrary, Wisp at Deep Creek Mountain Resort is transforming itself into a significant winter vacation destination that caters to skiing and snowboarding families.
"We're not striving to be a Seven Springs [Pennsylvania] or a Snowshoe [West Virginia]," said Wisp marketing coordinator Sarah Duck of the two giants in the Middle Atlantic resort community. "We're not the biggest mountain, and never will be. We are who we are."
That being a gentle but fun mountain that skis much longer than its 610-foot vertical, thanks to 22 trails and slopes that measure about 14 miles if laid end-to-end. Half the trails on Wisp's 100 acres are deemed intermediate while 30 percent are expert and 20 percent beginner. A halfpipe and terrain park adorn the mountain. The slopes are served by three triple chairlifts and two doubles.
A flattened mountaintop accommodates a pond that stores water for snowmaking, and a connecting triple chairlift to ferry skiers from one side of the mountain to its center. That relatively flat top with gradual downward grades gives Wisp's trails their surprising length. A drop running along the mountain's midsection allows for some steepness leading to the bottom runout areas.
The summit of Wisp's Marsh Mountain stands at 3,080 feet, which has attracted more than 100 inches of snow this winter. Ninety percent of skiable terrain can be reached by snowmaking. Wisp has a tubing park that had 27,000 visitors in its initial season (2001-02), well above the national average of 15,000 visitors for first-year tubing parks.
Wisp had 71,400 skier/snowboarder visits by the end of January, a 52 percent increase in visits compared to last season. The increased popularity puts Wisp on track for a record season.
"What we have here is great customer service that sets us apart," said Duck. "We can offer a family experience because we have something for everyone."
That complete family experience extends from the video games that line two walls in the cavernous lodge to an array of restaurants all in the McHenry House, to various clinics, workshops and special events that dot the calendar during the season.
For children, 3 to 14, the resort has Willy Wisp, a youth center that is operated in conjunction with Garrett County Community College. There are full- and half-day programs available that include lift tickets, equipment, snacks and meals. Junior ski clinics are available for children 6 to 12, and the Wisp Adventures School has a variety of programs for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.
Beginners are welcome at Wisp, as are groups. Lodging is available at the resort's hotel, on the mountain in a number of stunning ski homes, and at many places around the lake.
"There's a lot of [lodging] options for families and groups," said Duck, emphasizing that Wisp works with the properties off the grounds of the ski area. The properties are managed by local real estate rental companies.
"One thing we're able to do is have a family's lift tickets waiting for them at the rental shop," she said.
An added plus for Wisp is its accessibility to the Washington/Baltimore skier. The resort is off Route 214, less than 15 miles from I-68, which is off I-70. The ride takes about three hours from the District. Information: 301/387-4911; skiwisp.com.
College nights at Liberty College students, with a valid student ID, will receive discounted rates at Liberty Resort, Carroll Valley, Pa., Wednesdays, 5 to 10 p.m., to the end of the season. Lift tickets are $19 and lessons $25, while rentals are free for students. Liberty also has a student learn-to-ski package: First Class lift pass (access to beginner lifts only), rental and lesson for $19. Information: 717/642-8282; skiliberty.com.
Moguls growing at Snowshoe
With an average base of 70 to 90 inches and snow continuing to fall, Snowshoe Mountain Resort in West Virginia is having a bumper crop of moguls. Six trails at the resort have gone to bumps, while the rest of Snowshoe's and Silver Creek's 57 slopes/trails are groomed smooth.
Snowshoe's Nordic Center reports great backcountry conditions. The 10 cross-country and snowshoeing trails have 30 to 50 inches of snow. The Mountaineer Terrain Park at the Silver Creek area has five rails, six tabletops and the 400-foot halfpipe. The terrain park area on Spruce Glades has two tabletops and three rails. Information: 877/441-4386; snowshoemtn.com.
Snow Sports appears on Sundays in The Washington Times during the winter. Contact: bclapper@washingtontimes.com.

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