The brakes didn't work. The lift fell apart. At least two German tourists are dead and another 23 skiers were hurt as the industry, used to the "normal" broken bones and aching backs, recoiled this week from a tragedy at Italy's Val Venosta. The last fatal tramway accident in the United States occurred at Vail in 1976. "It's rare," said David Ingemie, executive director of Ski Industries of America. Nevertheless, the Italian collapse, which resulted from a brake failure, is a stern reminder: All too often, skiers mount and dismount haphazardly; nervous ones grab on to a lift mate, or firmly plant their poles between a companion's skis. In either case, someone takes a spill. After a nice run, riding the lift can be a giddy and restful experience. It should be safe as well. "Pay attention to what you're doing and don't take it for granted," said Sam Bonasso, a tramway engineer. "Or someone will end up with their face in the snow."
ALPINE LAKE -- Terra Alta, W.Va., 190 miles. No new white stuff. And the base is six to 24 inches with a packed-powder surface. The beginners' slope and the main trail, along with one lift and a rope-tow, are open. Alpine Lake is open only Saturday and Sunday, with night skiing from 6 to 10. Vertical drop, 400'. Call 304/789-2481.
BIG BOULDER -- Lake Harmony, Pa., 225 miles. Sparse covering of new, machine-made snow. Base is 24 to 36 inches. Machine, packed-powder surface. Seven lifts and all 10 trails are open. The three-day weekend should bring crowded slopes. Night skiing until 10. Vertical drop, 475'. 717/722-0104.
BLUE KNOB -- Claysburg, Pa., 150 miles. The dry spell halted any snowfall, but could weather has been kind to snow-making. Base, 12 to 20 inches. Powder and packed-powder surface. Another trail opened this week for a total of eight. Two lifts and two platter pulls are in operation. Vertical drop, 1,052'. Night skiing 6 till 10, 800/458-3403.
BRYCE -- Bayse, Va., 120 miles. Base, 10 to 20 inches. Primary surface is packed powder on Redeye and frozen granular on Bootlegger. Two trails and three lifts in operation. Night skiing from 6:30 till 10. Another run may be open by Saturday, 703/856-2121.
CAMELBACK -- Tannersville, Pa., 230 miles. The base dropped slightly this week, 18 to 36 inches. Surface shifted from granular to machine powder. Nineteen of 22 trails open, 10 lifts functioning. Night skiing 5 to 10 Vertical drop, 800'. 717/629-1661.
ELK MOUNTAIN -- Union Dale, Pa., 270 miles. No change in the base from last week, 18 to 30 inches. Granular and machine-powder surface. Four more trails were added recently; 11 are open, serviced by five lifts. Night skiing every day but Sunday, 4:30 til 10. Vertical drop, 1,100'. 800/679-2611.
JACK FROST -- White Haven, Pa., 250 miles. No new natural or machine-made snow. Base, 24 to 36 inches. Machine-powder surface. Twelve trails and six lifts open. Six miles of cross-country ski trails available. No night skiing. Vertical drop, 500'. 717/443-8425.
SEVEN SPRINGS -- Champion, Pa., 190 miles. Family-style resort, with swimming, shopping and other indoor sports. Base, two to 30 inches in machine-made areas, two to 10 on natural-snow slopes. The machines blew another six to eight inches of snow on most slopes. Surface is packed powder. Sixteen trails and seven to nine lifts open. Vertical drop, 997'. 814/352-7777.
SKI LIBERTY -- Fairfield, Pa., 65 miles. Base is down six inches, at four to 22. Primary surface is powder, secondary is granular. Ten trails and five lifts open. Night skiing from 5 to 10. Vertical drop, 575'. 717/642-8282.
SNOWSHOE -- Snowshoe, W.Va., 245 miles. The only resort to report new, natural snow -- six inches of it. One of the new runs, Widowmaker, is open with "great conditions." Lower Cup Run, a favorite for hardy skiers, remains closed. Surface is groomed, packed powder. Eighteen of 23 trails and five lifts are open. Base is 35 to 40 inches. No night skiing. Vertical drop, 1,500'. 304/799-6630.
WINTERGREEN -- Wintergreen, Va., 168 miles. A foot of machine-made snow, 18 to 36-inch base. Groomed, machine surface. Four trails and three chairs are open. Night skiing Tuesday through Sunday from 7 to 11. Vertical drop, 525'. 804/325-2200.
WISP -- Oakland, Md., 185 miles. The only new snow is machine-made. The base, six to 30 inches, declined by an average of eight inches. Groomed and loose granular surface. Sixteen trails and four lifts open. Night skiing begins January 5. Vertical drop, 610'. 800-638-1070.