Here comes skiing: the exhilaration of sweeping turns on packed powder, and the exhaustion of bouncing down a mountainside through a field of moguls.

Skiiing's a way to meet a season head-on rather than just watch it pass -- a way to measure it and feel it and how that the dry, clear days of mid-winter, when you can see for miles from a mountaintop, will lead into the sun, corn snow and bare spots of March, when the first traces of haze will show the loosening of winter's grip and the return of spring and summer.

Here in the East, skiing is also skittering across ice, out of control and frantic for a patch of snow where you can cut a turn and calm your nerves. For all its ice, rocks and people, you can surely say that if you can ski well on the harder slopes of this part of the country, you can ski well almost anywhere in the world.

On lesson from last winter for which skiers didn't stand in lift lines or pay $20 an hour, is that December skiing anywhere in the East can be a hit-or-miss proposition. True, Killington in Vermont "opened" last month, as usual, but that was its annual October media stunt of laying machine-made snow on two short novice runs at the bottom of one mountain.

Many of the better Eastern ski areas will probably again open the season with machine-made snow. This means that often only a few runs will be open during the first weeks of operation, so it's safest to call first and ask blunt questions about which runs are open, how long and difficult they are, what the snow conditions are, and what the lift lines are expected to be like.

Meanwhile, until the snow flies or the weather becomes consistent enough to make machine-made snow, it's time to start laying your plans, getting yourself and your skis in shape and checking out what the various resorts in the area have to offer.