FRUSTRATED by long lift lines or ski slopes turned into lumpy trails by the crowds? There is a way to have more fun on the slopes: Change the time you ski.
You will find better skiing in midweek, in the morning, on the unpopular slopes and particularly after the George Washington holiday.
Midweek skiing is better because lift tickets are cheaper, sometimes by as much as half, and there are fewer people on the slopes.
Morning skiing is better because the slopes begin to deteriorate after being pounded down by the crowds. Despite their best efforts, the area's ski resorts don't have a lot of powder to work with in preparing the surface of their slopes.
Slopes unpopular for whatever reason -- the degree of difficulty, distance from the ski lodge, or a different type of lift -- have fewer skiers and a surface that isn't as worn as the ones on the popular slopes. If the slope you are on becomes crowded or full of moguls, shift to the less-used ones, but don't ski a trail more advanced than your skill level.
After the Washington holiday, area skiers seem to abandon the slopes. Oddly enough, this happens even though the slopes then have their deepest snow base and prime weather conditions for natural or man-made snow. The number of skiers declines so much that the resorts are forced to offer discount lift tickets. When else can you ski under better conditions at lower prices?
The Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks is sponsoring cross-country ski trips to Cunningham Falls State Park or New Germany State Park on Sunday, and on February 14 and February 20. The $10 fee includes a guide and instruction. Car pools will leave from Cedar Lane Park in Columbia at 8 a.m. and return at 6 p.m. Only a few spots are open for Sunday's trip. For more information and reservations, call 301/992-2483.
Here's a look at ski resorts within a six-hour drive of Washington: BIG BOULDER, 225 miles. LAKE HARMONY, PA. 717/722-0101. Base of 30 to 44 inches, with a surface of natural packed powder. Eleven slopes open and four lifts operating. Reciprocal lift tickets with Jack Frost Mountain, 6 miles away. Snow report: 717/722-0104. BLACKWATER NORDIC CENTER, 180 miles. DAVIS, W. VA. 304/259-5511.
Base of 8 to 12 inches, with 25 kilometers of trails open. Surface of powder and packed powder. Ten kilometers machine-groomed. Mountain State Marathon, a 25-kilometer cross-country race, will be held Sunday. BLUE KNOB, 150 miles. CLAYSBURG, PA. 814/239-5111.
Base of 10 to 38 inches, with a surface of packed powder. Eighteen to 20 trails open and seven lifts operating. CAMELBACK, 230 miles. TANNERSVILLE, PA. 717/629-1661.
Eighteen inches of new natural snow, with a base of 36 to 72 inches. Surface is packed powder. Twenty-five trails open and 11 lifts operating. Snow report: 800/233-8100. CANAAN VALLEY, 180 miles. DAVIS, W.VA. 304/866-4121 or 800/225-5982.
Base of 26 to 46 inches, with a primary surface of packed powder. Two inches of new snow. Thirteen trails open and three lifts operating. CRANBERRY NORDIC CENTER, 225 miles. MARLINTON, W.VA. 304/572-3771.
Base of 6 to 10 inches, with a surface of packed powder and powder. Fifty-five kilometers of trails open. Special back-country tours this weekend. Snow report: 800/225-5982. ELK MOUNTAIN, 260 miles. UNIONDALE, PA. 717/679-2611.
Base of 18 to 36 inches, with a surface of packed powder. Fifteen slopes open and four lifts operating. State downhill championship races held Friday. The Allegheny Collegiate Championship Giant Slalom will be held Saturday and Sunday. Snow report, 800/233-4131. ELK RIVER TOURING CENTER, 225 miles. SLATYFORK, W.VA. 304/572-3771.
Base of 8 to 14 inches, with a surface of powder and packed powder. Forty kilometers of trails open, with 25 kilometers machine-groomed. Clinics on "skating" -- a Nordic technique -- will be offered this weekend. Snow report: 800/225-5982. HIDDEN VALLEY, 191 miles. SOMERSET, PA. 814/443-6454 or 800/458-0174.
Base of 20 to 38 inches, with a surface of packed powder and natural snow. Ten trails open and four lifts operating. Cross-country ski trails open. THE HOMESTEAD, 200 miles. HOT SPRINGS, VA. 703/839-5079.
Base of 15 to 50 inches with a packed-powder surface. Seven slopes open and four lifts operating. JACK FROST MOUNTAIN, 225 miles. WHITE HAVEN, PA. 717/443-8425.
Base of 28 to 60 inches, with a surface of natural packed powder. Nineteen slopes open and seven lifts operating. Reciprocal lift tickets with Big Boulder, 6 miles away. LAUREL MOUNTAIN, 190 miles. BOSWELL, PA. 412/238-6688.
Base of 24 to 35 inches, with a groomed surface. Some natural snow. Eleven slopes open and two lifts operating. Snow report: 412/238-4460. MASSANUTTEN, 125 miles. HARRISONBURG, VA. 703/289-9441.
Base of 20 to 60 inches, with a surface of machine-worked packed powder. Five trails open and three lifts operating. SEVEN SPRINGS, 190 miles. CHAMPION, PA. 814/352-7777 or 800/458-2313.
Base of 8 to 38 inches, with a surface of powder and packed powder. Twenty-eight trails open and 14 lifts operating. SHAWNEE MOUNTAIN, 210 miles. SHAWNEE ON DELAWARE, PA. 717/421-7231.
Base of 20 to 55 inches, with a surface of packed powder. Fourteen to 18 inches of new, natural snow. Twenty-one slopes and five lifts operating. Snow report: 800/742-9633. SNOWSHOE, 245 miles. SLATYFORK, W.VA. 304/572-1000.
Base of 36 to 72 inches, with a surface of groomed powder. Twenty-eight slopes open and six lifts operating. Snow report: 800/225-5982 WHITE GRASS TOURING CENTER, 188 miles. CANNAN VALLEY, W.VA. 304/866-4114.
Base of 4 to 12 inches, with a packed-powder surface. Fifty kilometers of trails open, with 25 kilometers machine-groomed. Nightskiing this weekend. WINTERGREEN, 168 miles. WINTERGREEN, VA. 800/325-2200.
Base of 32 to 76 inches, with a groomed surface. Ten slopes open and five lifts operating. WISP RESORT, 185 miles. OAKLAND, Md. 301/387-5503.
Base of 8 to 24 inches, with a surface of packed powder. Eight inches of new natural snow. Twenty-two slopes open and eight lifts operating.