"Think snow," proclaim the bumper stickers. But "What's new?" is likely a thought to anyone who's been sampling nearby slopes for several seasons. With a few resorts hoping to open this holiday weekend -- and most of the rest ready to go when the weather cooperates -- the good news is that many have made improvements over the summer. For example, you can try:
A new intermediate slope at Bryce Resort, named "Bootlegger," parallel to the No. 2 chairlift from top to bottom. It's billed as "the racing slope for the southern skier."
Hot tubs at Snowshoe, which opened Saturday. The three-tup spa ($8 an hour per person or $40 for a group) is part of a major effort to upgrade its apres -ski life that will include movies, square dancing and music "West Virginia style."
A revitalized Laurel Mountain, where new management with a 35-year lease from the state has invested "hundreds of thousands of dollars" to build a cafeteria and bar and install snow-making equipment and lighting.
Twilight skiing -- for the late riser who can't get to the mountain before 1 p.m. New this year at Masanutten and bryce, it was introduced earlier in several Pennsylvania resorts. For the price of a full-day ticket, you ski afternoon and night. With variations, these resorts keep their lifts running nonstop from 9 a.m. to 10 or 11 p.m.
A racquet-ball club, indoor swimming pool and exercise room at Hidden Valley Resort, for those who see a day on the slopes as just a warm-up. Should open in mid-season.
Now the bad news:
Weekend (and holiday) lift tickets at the three close-by Virginia resorts, Bryce, Massanutten and Wintergreen, have jumped to $18 -- like the super resorts in the Rockies. And at Snowshoe -- about a six-hour drive away -- a one-day adult weekend ticket is $19, though the price drops to $17.50 a day if you buy a Saturday-Sunday ticket. That's up from $15-a-day weekends last year.
Most other areas have raised their prices at least $1 or $2, too, charging from about $12 to $16 on weekends. Weekday prices are generally a good bit lower; and, without the long lift lines, you get more runs for you money.
In Pennsylvania, Ski Liberty and Ski Roundtop have held the line at $14, but raised the daily rate to match it.
Back on the brighter side, almost all of the 19 or so larger ski areas within a five- to six-hour drive of Washington have increased their snow-making capacity.
Ski Liberty, for example -- already able to lay snow on all its slopes -- has installed yet more equipment this year, says assistant manager Dick Whitney, "to make more snow in a shorter period of time." Last year, even with an abnormally warm December, he says, "We skied 106 days."
Steven Springs, which operated 103 days last season, has "nearly doubled" its snow-making, says president Herman Dupre. Now any day the temperatures drops to at least 26 to 28 degrees, the resort can -- "starting from bare ground" -- blanket all its runs "in 24 hours" and operate all eight lifts.
Ski Liberty and Ski Roundtop have both bought "snowtillers" to help break up those ice-like hard patches that terrorize novices.
Blue Knob has "revamped" its No. 2 chairlift, says the resort's Patsy Wiley, so that it -- like the the parallel No. 1 -- will carry skiers all the way to the top of the mountains.
Massanutten has started building a 260-room motel across from the slopes; about 60 units are expected to be ready for January.
Wisp has added snow-making and lights to its "Roadrunner," "Squirrel Cage" and "Deer Run."
And Camelback has installed two more double chair lifts and opened three novice and intermediate runs.
Finally, also new for the novice and the expert:
A 60-page guide to "Ski Resorts Within 5 Hours of Washington & Baltimore (1980-81)" by John R.H. Cotter, a Silver Spring skier, for sale at local ski shops for $1.95..
Money-saving, chaperoned teen-age ski trips (day, weekend, Christmas holiday). For information: Teen Ski Adventures, c/o Teen Weekend, 6511 Tenth Street, Alexandria 22307. Phone 768-8277.
A course for skiers interested in becoming professional instructors, December 15 to 19, at Bryce. Early sign-up deadlines. For more information: Eastern Professional Ski Instructors Association, Lathem, New York. Phone 518/783-1130.