SKI PATROL:

Now that it feels like winter, you might want to head for the slopes. Cherokee, the new skiing facility at Linden, Va., 60 miles west of Washington on I-66, finally opened last weekend. Call 1-800-622-1226.

Recreational ski racers have a choice. Ski Liberty in Carroll Valley, Pa., an hour's drive from the Beltway, stages a giant slalom race at noon today and a modified giant slalom next Sunday; call (717) 642-8282. Washington Ski International runs recreational races at Wisp in McHenry, Md., today and at Snowpeak in Thompsontown, Pa., next weekend; call (301) 946-0190.

GONE FISHIN':

Maine fishing guide Chuck Duggins talks bass tactics at the Potomac River Smallmouth Club's meeting at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in National Wildlife Federation headquarters, 8925 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. The public is welcome. Call Jon Weimer, (703) 719-9588. . . .

D.C./Northern Virginia chapter of the Atlantic Coast Conservation Association plans a saltwater sport fishing forum with special attention to striped bass at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Alexandria Holiday Inn, Telegraph Road at the Beltway. The public is welcome. Call (703) 237-0349. . . .

Potomac-Patuxent Chapter of Trout Unlimited runs its annual trout fishing clinic, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. next Sunday at Wheaton High School, 12601 Dalewood Dr. Admission is $3, kids under 12 free. Call (301) 384-0424.

HONK:

Maryland reports a 30 percent increase in Canada geese wintering here, from 251,000 last year to 332,000 this year, according to preliminary figures. That's still far short of the mid-1970s, when the count was well over 600,000.

Ducks also were up -- mallards from 41,200 to 49,000; black ducks from 15,800 to 22,300; scaup from 26,500 to 100,000; and there were increases in ruddy ducks, buffleheads, sea ducks, redheads and goldeneyes. Canvasbacks and brant were down.

GIVE A HOOT:

Bird lovers, mark your calendars and set your clocks if you want to take part in the Wild Bird Co.'s owl hike next Sunday. Trip leader Tom Valega will head out from Rockville at 4 a.m.(!) to search for screech, saw-whet, great horned and barred owls. The trip is free but reservations are required. Call (301) 279-0079.

FRONT-LOADER:

Marylanders bagged a record 4,455 deer in the two-week muzzleloader season that ended Jan. 5. Top county was Garrett: 747 whitetails.