McHENRY, Maryland — “Ski Maryland!” isn’t a cry often heard among winter-sports enthusiasts.
But Wisp Resort, tucked into the tiny sliver of western Maryland between West Virginia and Pennsylvania, could open a few eyes to the ski and snowboard potential of the Old Line State.
The resort is in the Allegheny Mountains on Marsh Hill, one of Maryland’s highest peaks.
Wisp offers 34 trails on 172 acres, gets an average of 100 inches of snow a year and has snowmaking equipment covering 90 percent of the trails. From the summit at 3,115 feet, skiers can travel down a vertical drop of 700 total feet to the base of the resort. Seven chairlifts spread over the mountain help speed skiers and snowboarders efficiently up the mountain.
OK, so it’s not Vail or Park City. But Wisp compares well with other regional ski resorts, with plenty of fun and challenges for all levels of skiers and snowboarders. And the ski-in, ski-out lodge makes it a great place to spend a weekend or longer hitting the slopes, not too far from home. There are also many vacation rentals around the resort, including some ski-in, ski-out homes on the mountain.
The main lift is just steps from the 169-room lodge, which is finishing up a three-year, $3.7 million renovation project. Lodge guests will find ski lockers, a large indoor pool and hot tub, and a fully equipped fitness room.
Plenty of nice eating and imbibing options can be found at the lodge and on the mountain. At the large food court, I was pleased to get a custom-made breakfast sandwich hot off the grill. The pleasant DC’s Bar & Restaurant became my go-to apres-ski establishment. Between runs, I also enjoyed a pint at the Sundown Cafe, in the yurt “village” at the base of the mountain that also houses the rental shop, the ski school and lift-ticket sales.
Visitors who don’t ski or snowboard, or who want to take a break, will also find snow tubing, ice skating and other winter activities at the resort.
Wisp is certainly more economical than the destinations on my annual Colorado ski trip.
Lodge rooms start at $99, with several packages available that can include lift tickets and lessons.
On my recent visit, I took advantage of the resort’s Monday Deal Day. For $49, visitors get an all-day lift ticket, rental equipment and a one-hour group lesson. Because I was staying in the lodge, I got out onto the mountain as the lifts were opening. Not only were the slopes relatively empty, but my group lesson turned private when no one else showed up. My terrific, knowledgeable — and very patient — instructor gave me a customized lesson with practical and confidence-building tips that should help a lot when I head out west later this winter. (Be sure to tip your ski/snowboard instructors, folks; it’s always appropriate and appreciated.)
After the lesson and a morning getting my ski legs under me, I felt strangely comfortable tackling the intermediate and challenging (for me) Grouse Way and Road Runner, two lovely runs with mile-long views of the surrounding countryside.
For my last run of the day, I attempted a steep, narrow but “intermediate” trail through the woods. Deer Run proved trying, especially when I discovered it dumped out onto an “expert” trail I’d been eying warily all day. Squirrel Cage was very wide, and probably wouldn’t rate its “black diamond” designation in the Rockies, but it looked practically vertical to a timorous skier like me. And it was the only way down.
So I called on my mad new skiing skills (or perhaps just a bit of my newfound confidence), and, turn by turn (at a very practical pace), conquered the Squirrel. My next stop was Sundown Cafe and a well-deserved pint before a visit to the lodge hot tub.
So — Ski Maryland?
Oh, yeah. I’m there.
— Steve Stephens can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveStephens.