Whenever it snows, things happen in the world's routine that turn a lot of things around. There are automobile accidents and power interruptions. And schools close.

"I hear all those things on the radio all the time and I just laugh," George Scarola said with a wide grin. "Those things just don't affect us. For example, school is never out for us."

Scarola's school is different from most. When his students go to class, they walk down a mountain to get there. Heat is supplied by wood - wood chopped by the students.

"That's what snow means to us," 15-year-old Alan explained. "Chopping more wood."

Alan is one of 30 youths at the Wilderness School, which has operated year-round at the foot of Signal Knob Mountain just outside this small valley town since 1972.

The youths who attend the school have been in trouble, generally non-violent trouble. Most have had truancy problems at school, become uncontrollable at home, or been involved in relatively minor problems with police on more than one occasion.

They are not sent here by court order but may be recommended as an alternative to more orthodox counseling.

The tuition, $8,700 a year, usually is paid by a social service group and the parents. The amount paid by the parents depends on what they can afford.

Tents, heated by wood-burning stoves, are sleeping quarters for the boys and their six counselors. They live in groups of 10 at three separate campsites spread around the mountain.

Except for feeling a little arm-sore from chopping the extra wood, the youths say the snows of January and February, which have crippled much of the East, have not bothered them a bit.

"The cold really doesn't bother you after a while," said Bobby, who is 13. "When I go home now it's too hot for me inside. I must've built up a resistance or something."

The three men who run the school, Scarola, Howard Evergreen and Phil Rosenbaum, all 30 and all bearded, see to it that the roughing-it theme doesn't get out of hand.

"There's lots of room for energy and we try to encourage the boys to do lots of things outdoors and in the snow," said Evergreen. "But we also make sure they dress warmly, we watch their health closely, and when the cold gets very bad we sit around the fire a lot."

But getting inside often depends on the youths' behavior. The basis of the school's discipline is simple. No one is ordered to do anything. But if someone won't do something that others in his group are doing, everything stops and the group sits down, no matter where it is, and "has a problem."

"We can have a problem anywhere, in the middle of a blizzard or in the middle of a street," said Marcus, 14. "We just sit right down there and talk about it."

Last week, as much of the rest of the East was digging out of the latest disaster, the youths divided their time among sledding, chopping wood and preparing for a southern trip.

The youths are divided by age so they will spend most of their time in a peer group. The group with the oldest youths, the Mohawks, left on their trip at the end of last week, leaving the Cougars and Blackhawks behind.

"You can have fun in the snow for just so long," Scarola conceded. "There are just so many things you can do and they become a little monotonous when they go into their second month. So we try to give them a change."

The Mohawks are heading for Texas. The Cougars also will go by bus to Texas while the Blackhawks head for Florida. The trips are planned for months ahead (another one is generally made in the summer) and are contingent upon the youths' cooperating in the preparations.

"I'll tell you one thing I'm looking forward to doing some swimming," said Vernon, who at 15 has been at the school longest - 20 months. "Snow gets to be work after a while."

Vernon is a member of the Blackhawks, who have what is regarded by the youths as the best campsite on the mountain. The reason is that it takes less than 10 minutes to walk from the school's headquarters where meals are served to the campsite. The Cougar and the Mohawk groups both live a good 20 minute trek up the mountain.

The campsites each consist of three tents for the youths and a counselors tent - except in the case of the Cougars who have two counselors tents because one of their counselors is a woman - a cook tent, an eating tent and a crafts tent. The youths have the option of building extra tents whenever they wish or of replacing tents with new ones.

The campsites themselves almost serve to define the word wilderness. At this time of year one sees three things standing in front of a tent: snow, trees and mountains.

"Yeah but when we light the stoves it's as warm as you like," said Ricky, a 13-year-old Cougar, as he lit a fire. "Once we get it going you can really feel the difference."

"The tents don't do anything but block the wind," Scarola said. "We get a lot of sniffling, which you expect because of the changes from hot to cold. We're usually comfortable though."

Cozy would be a more accurate word to describe the scene as the Cougars pored over maps inside their eating tent on a friend Saturday afternoon. Outside the wind was howling, but no one seemed to notice.

While the Cougars were studying maps the Blackhawks were carrying equipment down the mountain to be loaded onto their van.

"This is a warm day," said 15-year-old Ron. "The wind isn't real bad, the sun is out and it isn't frigid. It's a good day to work outside."

To the youths of the Wilderness School - all from Washington, Virginia and Maryland - frigid is normal this time of year. They look at the snow, still a foot or more deep where paths have not been cleared, as something to work with but also something to enjoy. And, because of the conditions they are constantly reminded that they have to work together, something the school stresses.

"I always wanted to work with troubled kids and be near the outdoors at the same time, but I never thought I'd be able to do it," said Rosenbaum, who, like the others who work at the school, has a teaching background. "For me, this is ideal."

The youths don't go quite that far. They say they miss the warmth of their beds, the luxury of heat you don't have to chop wood for. But the concept seems to work for many. Scarola says about 75 percent of the youths successfully return to school after 14 months (the average stay) at the Wilderness School.

"And they have some incredible stories to tell," he added. "They do things most people never do. Snow is not paralyzing to them."

"There's only one thing I like better about snow at home," Marcus concluded. "When it snows there, they close school."