"Come on Tandy! Just take off!" A slim woman in a chic ski suit of green and white, Tandy isn't quite ready to heed her companion's call. Below her stretch 3,000 feet of crisp white powder, the redeye run at the Virginia ski slope called Bryce Resort.
"I don't know. I just can't stop," she mumbles with apprehension as her skis edge her forward involuntarily. To the rear, the more seasoned skiers bound off the chairlift and, digging both poles into the snow, launch themselves into their ninth and 10th runs of the day.
Before long, Tandy is among the hardy souls zigzagging their way down the icy slope. Some are children of four, their parents just behind to lend a steadying hand. Others are professional grade performers who steer for the Bootletter run, the steepest that Bryce has to offer.
Never mind that it's only two degrees above zero -- so cold that the ink in the reporter's pen freezes solid. Tandy and all her friends are going to enjoy themselves.
For residents of the Washington area, where temperatures dropped as low as 14 Sunday morning and the wind chill factor was minus 18 degrees at noon, cold spells mean slippery roads and galloping furnace bills. For owners of the half dozen or so ski resorts in Maryland and Virginia freezing temperatures are a gift from God.
The Wisp, a resort of 11 runs in the far panhandle of Maryland, reported record business since cold weather descended on the region over the holidays. "This December was better than any in the past," said Director Helmuth Heise.
At Bryce, 2 1/2 hours by car to the west of Washington, staff members reported that a record 1,500 skiers plied the slopes on Saturday as the holiday season peaked.
At ski lodges up and down the East Coast, managers have been relieved to find that this season is not replaying the last one. Last year many slopes were left with grass showing. Skiers cancelled out by the thousands and resorts slipped deep into the red.
"During Christmas and New Year," said Bryce general manager Manfred Locher, recalling 1979, "we had record high temperatures. It was in the 70s . . . for a while we had only one slope going." Now skiers are using three slopes and artificial snow machines are about to begin burying a fourth.
It is these machines -- their nozzles spew out clouds of fine crystals which skiers glide through -- that make ski resorts feasible close to Washington. Having the machines means managers worry over temperature, not snowfall.
Adjacent hillsides can be free of snow. But on the slopes skiers ride atop a 20 inch "base" of artificial snow as long as the air is cold enough to keep it frozen.
Today there was no question about that. With wind chill factors skiers faced temperatures down to 20 below zero -- something which persuaded more than a few to pass the day sipping coffee in the lodge.
Nonetheless a steady stream of aficionados ascended abroad two yellow chairlifts for the thrill of solitary high speed and bracing, clean wind in the face.
Greg Renner, and 18-year-old student at Peary High School in Montgomery County, tried out skis for the first time on Tuesday. "It began kind of rough, now it's great," he said before pushing off for his seventh descent of the day.
Tam, 17, and Hau, 15, left Vietnam as refugees in 1975. They are now completely fluent in English and getting there in skiing which they began two years ago.
"You go fast, it's scary, it's a challenge," said Tam, before she and Hau shoved off confidently for another run.
Watching the skiers from the lodge's restaurant, 20-year-old John Kreger of Camp Spings, made up his mind, despite the cold, to try skis for the first time. "If all those little kids out there can do it, I can give it a shot," he said.
Perhaps 80 percent of the skiers own property in the surrounding hills and valley. This year-round "recreational community" of 550 condominiums and houses offers special access to the ski slopes as an incentive to buyers.
Founder Pete Bryce spent many years in the Navy so large numbers of career military men and their families have bought homes here. Diplomats, lobbyists and other Washington professionals flock out for the day -- there is a 2,500 foot airstrip for those with private planes -- and keep the slopes active.
Resort managers are withholding predictions for the rest of the season. It all depends on how low the mercury stays -- hopefully cold enough to keep the snow and warm enough to keep the skiers.