WHETHER YOU'RE DRAWN to cross-country skiing for the aerobic exercise, the aesthetics or the sociability, it acquires an extra dimension of pleasure when coupled with food and lodgings at a country inn.
Should the snow fall in abundance this year, you can make tracks to nearby parklands, conveniently situated near inns. If you prefer to travel a little farther afield, higher altitudes and well-laid trails lead to remote inns that rekindle the spirits. Here's a sampling of both.
THE INN AT BUCKEYSTOWN -- Buckeystown. When snow carpets the C&O Canal and Catoctin Mountain Park, this is the place closest to Washington where you can take to the trails in classic country-inn style. Partners Dan Pelz and Marty Martinez have clear images of what an inn should offer, from sophisticated home cooking served on rose china and oaken tables, to inviting antique-filled rooms and Amos, the shaggy dog who greets you at the front door.
The handsomely restored Victorian mansion has three living rooms, American pottery on display, an array of current magazines and books and a collection of clown paintings and sculpture to keep you easily entertained. There's enough Victorian furniture to make it interesting but enough modern furniture to make it comfortable. The inn is wonderfully reminiscent of going to gramdma's house. Seven bedrooms; 21/2 baths to share. Phone: 301/874-5755. Price: $125, double occupancy, includes breakfast, dinner and wine; $95 midweek.
If you have questions about trail conditions, call the C&O park headqaurters (301/739-4200). For a ski map of the trails at Catoctin, call 301/293-3377. Neither the C&O nor Catoctin trails are groomed.
DIRECTIONS -- From the Beltway, take I-270 north to the Urbana- Buckeystown exit (Route 80), then west four miles on 80 to right on Route 85. The inn is half a mile ahead on the right. Approximate drive time from the Beltway: 40 minutes.
CASTLEMAN INN -- Grantsville. This old-fashioned brick inn, built in 1824, is 15 minutes north of New Germany State Park on U.S. 40. It offers antique-filled rooms and a parlor that appears not to have changed for at least a century. (There are also adjacent motel rooms.)
You can peruse a shelf of books that explain the Mennonite and Amish way of life or buy hymn albums, local maple syrup and baked goods. The restaurant menu isn't fancy (ham, chopped sirloin, honey-dipped chicken) but neither are the prices. No alcoholic beverages.
One organization -- River & Trail Outfitters (301/695- 5177) offers cross-country ski packages based at the Castleman. You may also book independently, 301/895-5055. Five bedrooms in the inn, two with private baths; the other three rooms share a bath. There are 40 rooms in the motel, all with private baths. Price: Inn, $32.50 to $38.50, the latter for room with private bath, double occupancy. Motel, $20 to $30, double occupancy; all rooms have baths. $1 discount if you pay cash.
DIRECTIONS -- From the Beltway, take I-270 north and I-70 west. At Hancock, take U.S. 40 west; at Cumberland take U.S. 48 west to Exit 19 (Route 495 north). Go 1/2 mile to U.S. 40 in Grantsville, turn right and go two blocks to the Inn. Approximate drive time from the Beltway: four hours.
JORDAN HOLLOW FARM INN -- Stanley. The inn sits on 45 acres in the Shenandoah Valley, bounded by Massanutten Mountain on the west and the Blue Ridge on the east.
After a good snowfall, the inn's pastures and hills provide ungroomed skiing. In the neighboring Shenandoah National Park ($2 entrance fee), you have open access to trails and meadows. There are no special markings for cross-country routes; you must bring your own equipment.
Jordan Hollow began 200 years ago as a single log cabin. A second cabin was added, and the inn, nurtured by Jetze and Marley Beers, has since evolved from those two hand-axed dwellings. The inn's restaurant features French country food.
There are no bedrooms in the main building. Adjacent are 20 rooms laid out in ranch style and furnished with antiques. Each room has a private bath. Phone: 703/778-2209. Price: $55, double occupancy.
DIRECTIONS -- From the Beltway, take I-66 to U.S. 29-211 south. At Warrenton turn west on U.S. 211 to U.S. 340 south. Continue six miles past Luray and turn left on Route 624. Inn signs direct you from there. Approximate driving time: two hours.
TRILLIUM HOUSE -- Wintergreen. Ed and Betty Dinwiddie designed their stunning new white pine inn on the top of Wintergreen Mountain. You can step out of the inn onto the golf course for a day of cross-country skiing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, at an altitude of 3,200 feet. (It depends on natural snowfall). It's a short walk to downhill skiing where you can schuss an afternoon away with the help of ski lifts. Bring your own equipment.
You enter the inn beneath an exquisite Jefferson Palladian window and pass into the sunny living room where a 22-foot chimney stretches to the ceiling. Oriental carpeting covers the wood floors. Meals are prepared by Betty Dinwiddie and chef Ellen English, who combine talents to create traditional American fare. Dinner begins with cockails by the fire at 7.
The 12 bedrooms and two suites have contemporary bedding and are furnished with family pieces, including antiques. All rooms have private baths. a
Phone: 804/325-9126. Price: $80, double occupancy, includes breakfast.
DIRECTIONS -- From the Beltway, take I-66 to U.S. 29 south. At Charlottesville, take I-64 west, then exit onto U.S. 250 west. Then south on Route 6 for 13 miles; turn right on Route 664 and go 31/2 miles to Wintergreen gate. Reservations required. Driving time: about 31/2 hours.
THE INN AT NEMACOLIN -- Farmington. This inn has its own private landing strip. Newly built and professionally managed, the inn offers 3,000 acres of surrounding woodland and lakes, with 12 miles of ungroomed cross-country skiing.
You'll want to pack something dressier than ski togs to wear in the Golden Trout Restaurant, where the superb fresh trout is encircled by a moat filled with hollandaise sauce.
During the week, the corporate crowd from Pittsburgh comes here to hash out annual reports, but on weekends the outdoors lovers come for peace and solitude. Twenty-two bedrooms, four suites, all private baths. Phone: 412/ 329-8555 Price: $95 to $115, double occupancy. Ski package rates.
DIRECTIONS -- By land: Take I-270 to I-70 west. At Hancock, take U.S. 40 west to Cumberland, then U.S. 48 west to Exit 14 (Pa. 219) toward Uniontown. Then west on U.S. 40 for 20 miles to Farmington. Watch for inn signs on the right. Approximate drive time: four hours. By air: 13 nautical miles SW of Indian Head VORTAC. Call ahead for landing clearance.
LIGONIER COUNTRY INN -- Laughlintown. The Laurel Mountain ski touring trails at Forbes State Forest are a few minutes from the Ligonier, which is on U.S. 30. There are 50 kilometers of marked and cleared trails in the forest, and this year volunteers will begin grooming a limited portion.
The wood-shingle inn, built in 1924 as a highway hotel and restaurant, was restored by young Katie Steitz and her father. It has been professionally decorated with contemporary colonial furnishings, including pencil four-poster beds and pine chests. Because of the highway the back rooms are preferable. The 14 bedrooms have private baths.
On Friday and Saturday evenings a guitarist plays by the fire in the small lounge. The standard American cuisine is chef-prepared. Rental skis, lessons and a snow report are available from nearby Lignonier Mountain Outfitters (412/238-6246).
Phone: 412/238-3651. Price: $55 to $70, double occupancy.
DIRECTIONS -- Take I-270 to I-70 west of Hagerstown; then U.S. 30 west through Bedford, Pa. Continue to Laughlintown; inn is on the left. Approximate drive time: 41/2 hours.
MOUNTAIN VILLAGE INN & CABIN LODGE -- Horseshoe Run. The inn is on the shores of Silver Lake, 3,000 feet up in the Alleghenies.Originally a roadside tavern, the lodge is seven miles north along U.S. 219 and offers three bedrooms.
There are a number of excellent places for cross-country skiing 15 to 30 minutes from the inn, including Canaan Valley State Park, Cathedral State Park, Blackwater Falls State Park and White Grass Ski Touring Center near Davis. Their cross- country trails are exceptionally beautiful. Skis can be rented from local touring centers.
The long, low wooden inn looks like a motel but it's all country inn. The cozy dining room, where meals are served on weekends, has handmade rockers, a fireplace and a view of the lake. Innkeeper Bill Reeves is an accomplished chef. The inn rooms, with windows on the lake, are small and functional with thick quilted covers. They share a single bathroom.
Patrons of the lodge share a downstairs living room and stone fireplace. The small bedrooms are furnished with some antiques. There's one bath in the lodge.
Phone 304/735-6344. Price for inn or lodge: $45 per person, includes breakfast & dinner. Open: Friday through Sunday.
DIRECTIONS -- Take I-66 to U.S. 50 west into West Virginia, then at Redhouse, Md., take U.S. 219 south to Horseshoe Run. Inn is on the left after the small church. Approximate drive time: 41/2 hours.
Brenda Chapin is the author of "Guide to the Recommended Country Inns of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia," published by Globe Pequot Press.