IT'S THE WEEKEND for novice skiers to hit the slopes. Area ski resorts participating in the National Learn to Ski Day are offering first-time skiers free lessons, lift tickets and equipment rentals Friday.

How do you sign up? You will have to make reservations at a participating ski resort first. Space is limited, and many resorts have filled their programs, so call the resort or check with your local ski shop. Even if you cannot get into the free beginner ski program Friday, you can get coupons from local ski shops for discounts on lift tickets, lessons and rentals through February 7.

Speaking of ski lessons:

Seven Springs, in Champion, Pennsylvania, has a ski instruction program that offers rental of equipment, seven hours of lessons and a coupon good for a discount on future lessons. The cost is $28, less than the price of a one-hour private lesson at some resorts -- and the ski gear is included. Seven Springs' program starts the novice skier with an orientation session and then proceeds to lessons on a slope set aside for the school. Students can receive instructions, then practice nearby on their own, and return when they need more help from the teachers.

Holly Flanders, a member of the U.S. and World Cup ski teams, will be at Seven Springs Friday to help start the National Learn to Ski Day. Flanders will be at Canaan Valley in West Virginia on Saturday.

Wintergreen offers free lessons to beginning skiers who rent their equipment from their shop.

The arrival of real winter weather in the past week brought a little natural snow and perfect conditions for making even more. Here's a look at resorts within a six-hour drive from Washington:

BLUE KNOB, 150 miles.

CLAYSBURG, PA. 814/239-5111.

Base up to 25 inches, surface of packed powder. Six to seven runs, five lifts operating. CAMELBACK, 230 miles.

TANNERSVILLE, PA. 717/629-1661.

Base of 12 to 48 inches, with a surface of packed powder and granular. Twenty-one trails and nine lifts operating. Snow report: 800/233-8100. CANAAN VALLEY, 180 miles.

DAVIS, W.VA. 304/866-4121 or 800/225-5982.

Six inches of new snow midweek, base of 12 to 32 inches. Primary surface of packed powder, secondary surface frozen. Eight trails and three lifts open. CRANBERRY NORDIC CENTER, 225 miles. MARLINTON, W.VA. 304/572-3771.

Base of three to six inches, with a powder surface. Thirty kilometers of trails open; 10 kilometers of packed powder. More snow forecast. Snow report: 800/225-5982. DOE MOUNTAIN, 155 miles.

MACUNGIE, PA. 215/682-7109.

Base of 12 to 28 inches, surface of packed powder and machine-groomed powder. Nine trails, seven lifts open. Learn to Ski Program filled. Snow report: 215/682-7107. ELK RIVER TOURING CENTER, 225 miles.

SLATYFORK, W.VA. 304/572-3771

Base of 3 to 9 inches, surface of powder and packed powder. Twenty-five kilometers of trails open, with 15 kilometers of machine-groomed trails. Night skiing available. Snow report: 800/225-5982. HIDDEN VALLEY, 191 miles.

SOMERSET, PA. 814/443-6454 or 800/458-0174.

Base of 8 to 22 inches, surface of groomed powder. Nine runs, all lifts open. Learn to Ski Program filled. Day lift tickets on Tuesdays and Thursdays are $8. THE HOMESTEAD, 200 miles.

HOT SPRINGS, VA. 703/839-5079.

Base of 15 to 30 inches, surface is machine-made powder. Five slopes and three lifts open; ice skating rink open. Night skiing now available. Space available in Learn to Ski Program. Snowmaking in progress. On Sunday, the U.S. Ski Association will hold the Sepp Kober Cup, with Junior I and II and Senior giant slalom races, starting at 10. LAUREL MOUNTAIN, 190 miles.

BOSWELL, PA. 412/238-6688.

Base of 5 to 20 inches, surface of packed powder. Two trails, two lifts operating. Snow report: 412/238-4460. MASSANUTTEN, 125 miles.

HARRISONBURG, VA. 703/289-9441.

Base of 12 to 24 inches, with a surface of machine-packed powder. Four slopes and three lifts open. Snowmaking in progress. Learn to Ski Program filled. Weekend theme: Beach Party. SEVEN SPRINGS, 190 miles.

CHAMPION, PA. 814/352-7777 or 800/458-2313.

Base of 6 to 24 inches, surface of packed powder. Twenty-four slopes and trails open. Surface of packed powder. Learn to Ski Program filled. SHAWNEE MOUNTAIN, 210 miles.

SHAWNEE ON DELAWARE, PA. 717/421-7231.

Base of 12 to 48 inches, with a surface of machine-packed powder. Seventeen trails and five lifts open. Learn to Ski Program filled. Snow report: 800/742-9633. WHITE GRASS TOURING CENTER, 188 miles.

CANAAN VALLEY, W.VA. 304/866-4114.

Surface of up to six inches of powder; no base. Twenty-five kilometers of trails skiable; five kilometers machine-groomed. WINTERGREEN, 168 miles.

WINTERGREEN, VA. 800/325-2200.

Base of 18 to 48 inches; primary surface is groomed, secondary is groomed powder. Six trails and five lifts open. Free lessons available to beginners who rent their equipment from Wintergreen. Twilight skiing from 12:30 to 11 p.m. at a rate of $21 adults, $19 students available Wednesdays and Thursdays through February.