YOU KNOW the ski scene: Lift lines snake through mazes and spill onto open ground. Waiting time stretches from 25 minutes into 30. Finally, you're on the chair, up the mountain and skiing down: three turns, two bumps, a run out and you're back in line. Elapsed ski time: three minutes.
That's the dilemma for the weekend skier: for every minute of schuss and boom there are 10 to 15 of waiting and riding.
The ski resorts have an answer: Ski weekdays and avoid long weekend lines. All well and good for those who don't have to answer to a time clock.
Deep-pocketed experts have another suggestion: Take an all-day, private ski lesson. Ski instructors have divine right to cut to the head of lift lines and bring their proteges with them. Which is all well and good for those who can afford to add an extra $100 to the $20 to $25 they've already paid for a Saturday or Sunday lift ticket.
There is another way: Ski long runs. You may not slash lift lines down to size but you'll improve your ski/waiting-time ratio.
In the best of circumstances, long runs will give you the space to develop your ski rhythm and take you high enough to afford views of the countryside. Unfortunately, not all ski resorts are blessed with mile-long trails that edge mountain peaks and curl through groves of primeval forest. And, some of the resorts that offer mile or more distances do it as a way to bring bunnies down -- they flatten out the steep pitches by taking the long way around. The trail goes way off to the right, takes an easy turn and trudges back to the left. The skiing isn't always exciting -- it's more cross country drudge than downhill ski -- and the vistas aren't too inspiring either.
But the long-run strategy can give you more run for the money if you ski the right run. Out West or in New England, such runs are common coin. At Sugarbush in Vermont, for instance, Jester twists and turns for 21/2 miles, pitching, darting and skirting the edge of a ridge that overlooks tiny, snow-covered Vermont towns with white church spires.
Local resorts within a weekend's driving distance don't necessarily have the same dramatic ingredients, but four have runs that come close.
One such run is 11/4-mile Cupp Run, at Snowshoe in Slatyfork, West Virginia. Cupp is for advanced and expert skiers only, with grades that get as steep as 39 degrees (most intermediate slopes clock in at 25 to 30 degrees). Jean Claude Killy, the former French Olympic champion, helped design the run, which sits on the west side of Snowshoe's Cheat Mountain -- the side that meets the weather. This means that Cupp Run tends to feel the wind and be subject to what is euphemistically called variable snow conditions -- crusty in one place, powdery in another; slick at one turn, corn snow on another. However, the west side also means Cupp Run looks out over a broad valley. At dusk, the views are bathed in a golden light.
As to the run, it heads straight down the mountain with moguls (bumps) to keep life interesting. Racers who set out to break records come down in two to three minutes. Those who set a less life-threatening pace ski down in half an hour.
The chair servicing Cupp tends to be uncrowded -- most skiers stay on the east slopes. Novice and intermediate skiers could come over for Cupp's sister, Cupp Cake. It's also long and lovely, but, because it has no snowmaking, it needs natural snow to open. That means it's usually open just 10 to 12 days a year.
At Laurel Mountain, in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, the snowmaking is behind the times and lift capacity woefully inadequate. But that doesn't matter to the local skiers who flock there to ski Wildcat, the best ski mile in Pennsylvania and, some claim, the best south of New England.
The run starts out as a moderate intermediate slope that's fairly wide, but halfway down, the pitch becomes steeper and the trail narrower. Intermediates can exit here. Those who continue down will be on a bona fide, Vermont-class advanced run. The steeps in this section are pocketed with moguls that ice up. Add to this the double-fall line and you have a challenge and plenty of variety on your hands.
Intermediates can make it down the lower half by slowing down, picking their way through the moguls and skiing the run only when snow conditions are excellent. When the slopes ice up, it's skier beware. Unfortunately, it's on these steep stretches that snowmaking is least adequate. Nonetheless, for a small, old-fashioned ski area, which is what Laurel is, it has a fine run. For novices, there's an equally long but not nearly as exciting run called Broadway.
Blue Knob, in Claysburg, Pennsylvania, has Mambo Alley, 21/2 miles of turns. The grade is easy at first, but once the trail passes the turnoff for Route 66 (another trail), it gets steeper for a long stretch and then gentles down again at the bottom. The trail is rated intermediate. While a good strong snow plower can ski it, there are enough interesting turns to keep intermediate skiers on the move. Intermediate skiers who like to catch their breath on the way down ski Mambo Alley in 15 to 20 minutes. Schussboomers in the tuck position could get down in less than five, but because of the many turns, this is not the recommended course.
Bunny Hop, which is almost two miles long, is Blue Knob's straighter, steeper shot and more for the strong intermediate skier. Its mid-section is steep but, again, the bottom is gentle. One of its more difficult turns has been graded out so that the bottom stretch is wider and straighter than it used to be.
Over in Tannersville, Pennsylvania, Camelback's mile-long Marc Antony starts out at the top of the mountain where there's a dramatic view of the Pocono Mountains. It's a gentle novice run, but unlike most novice trails, Marc Antony doesn't go big, wide and open. Rather, it winds through a white oak forest. There are lots of turns that force the novice to practice, practice, prctice. There's not much of a challenge for more advanced skiers, but it's a pretty trail for a change of pace. The novice skier who keeps plugging along will ski Marc Antony in ten minutes.