Road Trip

Winter Sports Rule in Western Maryland

Sunday, February 17, 2008

WHERE: Garrett County in Western Maryland.

WHY: A flurry of sports, a very Special Olympics and lighting your fire.

HOW FAR: About 26 miles from start to finish.

Western Maryland out-snows Fairbanks. Perched high in the Appalachian Mountains, Garrett County receives more of the fluffy white stuff than the Alaskan city, 100 inches vs. 65 a year. Daytime temperatures average around 28 degrees in winter -- a heat wave compared with Fairbanks's 8 to -17 degrees -- and rise to the upper 40s in March, ideal conditions for those who like to schuss down in shorts and T-shirts.

The center of action is Deep Creek Lake, a 3,900-acre freshwater hole created in 1925 by the Youghiogheny Hydro-Electric Corp., which flooded the river valley to create a power plant. The company also constructed a resort town, with ski slopes that spill down like frozen waterfalls toward the crystalline lake. Lodges, sporting-goods outfitters and restaurants dot the shores, forming a buffer between peaks and waves.

Garrett County is a veritable Wide World of Winter Sports. The Deep Creek Lake area offers snowboarding, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and even dog sledding. Starting Feb. 24, Wisp Resort will take athletics to the next level with the Special Olympics Maryland Winter Games. About 300 disabled competitors from Maryland and Delaware will contend in alpine skiing and snowshoeing, among other events.

Wildlife also abounds in this winterscape, with white-tailed deer scampering through the hardwood and pine forests, plus black bears mistakenly emerging from hibernation during warm spells. And don't forget all those bunnies sliding down the slopes.

-- Ben Chapman

Special Olympics Maryland Winter Games: Wisp Resort, 296 Marsh Hill Rd., McHenry, Md., 410-789-6677, Opening ceremony: Feb. 24 at 7 p.m. at the McHenry House. Competition: Feb. 25, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; Feb. 26, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Closing ceremony: Feb. 26 at 3 p.m. at the McHenry House. Times are approximate and subject to change. Free.

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