The best cure for the winter blahs is not a mug of hot chocolate, a roaring fire, or even your fuzziest sweater. No, the very best way to warm up this month is a healthy dose of fun. You don't need to go West to find a snow-loving mountain town. Deep Creek Lake, Maryland, invites you to stay and play in the snow--right here in the South.
Closer Than You Think
Drive northwest from the Nation's Capital, and the urban tangle dissolves into the peaceful Allegheny foothills. Frosted trees frame a bluebird sky as the rural hills zip by. Before you know it, you're in Garrett County, home of Maryland's biggest lake; its largest state forest; more snowfall than Fairbanks, Alaska; and only 13 stoplights.
Frozen Deep Creek Lake shimmers in a quiet valley surrounded by high peaks, the centerpiece of a county that lives for winter fun. "Some people compare it to Lake Tahoe," says Steve Green, co-owner of High Mountain Sports, a local ski shop. Thankfully, you won't find Tahoe's traffic in McHenry and Oakland, the lake's two small mountain towns. It's easy to get around here. "You're 20 minutes from everything," Steve says.
Ride Through the Season's Beauty
From one of Ray Miller's Pleasant Valley Dream Rides, you can see clear into West Virginia. Beyond his fallow fields of corn and wheat, the backbone of the Appalachians brushes the clouds like the back of a stretching cat. Ray will tuck you under a thick wool blanket on his sleigh as he urges his giant Belgian horse, Red, to pick up the pace.
Sometimes Ray will stop in the woods on a starry night to let his guests soak up the glorious silence. It's no coincidence that he's seen 10 marriage proposals in his sled in the past three years. "All of them said yes," he says with a wink.
A Chilly Adventure
Squealing with glee, a rosy-cheeked girl zips down the snowy chute on an inner tube. Her father, squealing even louder, follows. The tubing park at Wisp Resort generates more giggles per acre than any other stretch in the county. This hilarious "sport" is so easy that anyone can do it--lying down.
Nearby, families in candy-colored parkas carve downhill slopes with rhythmic grace. Daredevil snowboarders grind rails and ollie off jumps in the freestyle terrain park. Wisp expanded its downhill ski runs by 30% last year, so you'll find plenty of easy rambling green trails and even a few black diamonds that can be as steep--though not as long--as the expert runs out West.
Friendly Locals, Heavenly Places
Outside of the ski slopes, you'll find countless ways to enjoy the delights of winter. Gentle hills beckon with virgin snow just begging for fresh footprints. Cross-country tracks lead to quiet fields. When the ice freezes hard on Deep Creek Lake, fishermen drill through with augers to pull out yellow perch and northern pike. Huskies race through distant fields pulling dogsleds and giddy tourists. The dance of sun on snow rejuvenates the soul.
Cozy Mountain Cabins
A warm fire blazes in the hearth of a cabin on the mountainside. One window frames skiers gliding by at dusk on the well-lit slopes of Wisp Resort. Another window reveals a picturesque view of the lake in the valley below. Surrounded by family and laughing friends, it's hard to imagine a better way to start a new year.
The rental cabins here are some of the grandest in the South. Giant log palaces that sleep a dozen or more, they offer big views and lots of space to relax and socialize. This makes them perfect retreats for family reunions or gatherings with friends. Fully loaded kitchens, flat-screen TVs, game rooms, and decks with steaming hot tubs reflect the best of rustic luxury. Though these cabins aren't cheap this time of year, it's possible to gather enough people to make renting one surprisingly affordable. With a group of six or more, a big cabin can cost less per couple than a hotel room. For a solo couple or family, the extra space, cozy comfort, and wonderful memories justify a splurge.
A crackling bonfire brightens the night, sending embers sailing toward the stars. The lights of Savage River Lodge glow warmly against the cool blue tones of moonlight. Guests inch closer to the flames, warming their hands and hearts.
This is a hidden, secret, special place. Bodhi the lodge dog greets you as you enter through a thick wooden door. You'll gather here for gourmet meals, a glass of wine by the giant stone hearth, or a spell in a rocking chair on the porch. At night, you'll retreat to your private cabin nestled in the woods to relax in comfort, warmth, and peace.
In the morning, you can take a walk in the woods or cross-country ski on the network of trails that meander through the trees. Maybe later you'll hike up a powdery slope to ride an old-fashioned sled back down. But for now, settle in for a night of glorious silence. Far removed from the rush of the world, you'll sleep like you've never slept before and awake to a brand-new year.
Plan Your Trip
Railey Mountain Lake Vacations: This company's 397 luxury rentals sleep 3 to 28. A two-night stay at a condo that sleeps six can cost as little as $400 (including taxes and fees). www.deepcreek.com or 1-800-846-7368.
Savage River Lodge: These simple, cozy cabins offer a respite from the world, with no TVs to distract you from the peace of the woods. Roomy one-bedroom cabins start at $220. Make reservations in advance for dinner at the lodge. www.savageriverlodge.com or (301) 689-3200.
Wisp Resort: Weekend lift tickets cost $55 per day for adults, $39 ages 6-12. Prices on weekdays dip to $39 adults, $34 ages 6-17; half-day or night sessions cost $28 adults, $23 ages 6-17. Tubing costs $20 for a two-hour session. Reservations are recommended. www.wispresort.com or (301) 387-4911.
Pleasant Valley Dream Rides: www.pleasantvalleydreamrides.com or (301) 334-1688.
"Enjoy This Winter Playground" is from the January 2007 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.