Gettysburg takes on a new perspective when you tour the snowy deserted battlegrounds on cross-country skis. Here there are breathtaking scenery and natural wildlife. And, with nature providing enough snow, you can ski into the past to a land where 150,000 soldiers fought for three days, and 51,000 never came home again.
For the novice or advanced cross-country skier, Gettysburg has enough varied terrain to provide either a mild introduction or a hilly three-filled challenge. The trails are dotted with historical markers, and you have your choice of skiing along the auto, bike, bridle or foot trails.
For the skier who likes a taste of downhill while doing cross country, Big Round Top Loop Trail just past auto marker No. 3 is excellent. Though the trail switch-backs up the hill, its steepness calls for properly waxed skis to grasp the snow while making the ascent. The spectacular scenery you can see from the summit makes all the effort worthwhile.
At this point on Round Top hill down through the Cemetery Ridge the Union troops stood firm against the Confederates under General Lee. From the Seminary Ridge area toward the left, 12,000 troops moved through the fields only to be bombarded by the Union soldiers, who had the advantage of being able to see them coming from their lofty vantage point. Only a third of the 12,000 Confederates wh fought on this day made it back to safety.
All over the fields the snow blackets the trees and monuments like a white shroud. Occasionally, the wind pricks up and gathers the snow, sending it into a swirling frenzy through the trees. It's an eerie sight as you conjure up visions of long-dead Confederate soldiers giving their all before the end, and still 115 years later roaming the battlefields defending a hopeless cause.
Part of the fun of touring Gettysburg on skis is the interesting terrain. On a really cold and windy day a good place to warn up and have a snack is the Devil's Den, where huge boulders enclose a small area with massive crevices to huddle in away from the wind. Most skiers have a backpack or fannypack on, so this makes an ideal spot to break out the wine and cheese for a leisurely lunch. This is where Union soldiers huddled on the second day of the battle, July 2, 1863, to protect themselves from the Confederate artillery.
without the summer crowds, the wildlife of the area shyly comes out of hiding during the day in search of water and food. It's not uncommon to see a white-tailed deer breaking through the ice in a creek to take a cold drink. If it see you, however, and becomes alarmed, it will scamper off into the woods.
One of the best parts of cross-country skiing is gliding over the gently rolling, snow-covered fields, making your own tracks in any direction. The Peach Orchard and Wheatfield, easily found along the auto tour, have this relaxing terrain. When the sun is out, the snow glistens over the peaceful acres of land as only the silent monuments cast shadows that reach beyond the stillness to the thunder of the past.
Gettysburg is much too large to see in one day, with 2,000 markers and monuments to guide you, so it's best to choose a small area and spend most of your day there. Motel accommodations and restaurants are available if you want to make a weekend stay of it, and information can be obtained from the Gettysburg Travel Council, Gettysburg, Pa. 17325.
Following I-270 to Frederick and picking up Route 15 into Pennsylvania, Gettysburg is about a 75-mile drive from Washington. There are no crowds of tourists, nor buses pulling into the parking lots at this time of year. The only problem with parking may be that the snow is not cleared out of the lots.
The Visitors Center in the heart of the battleground is open year-round, with maps to guide you through the various ways to tour the park. The National Park Service staff at the center are very helpful and will suggest the best trails to ski along go take advantage of the historic markers and snow conditions.
As you ski the deserted battlefields, listen and you'll hear the roar of the past.