Garrett County’s Chamber of Commerce promotes their “neck of the woods” as providing “mountains of possibilities” for outdoor enthusiasts. Typically chambers of commerce tend to overstate those kinds of claims. In the case of Garrett County, Maryland it’s probably an understatement! While this particular story is to highlight the winter activities, you should know that Garrett County and specifically McHenry, Maryland offers a wealth of four seasons of activities that include ATV trail riding, mountain biking, boating on beautiful Deep Creek Lake, camping, carriage rides, sleigh rides, caving, cross country skiing, dog carting, dog sledding, fishing, fly fishing, golf, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, kayaking, rock climbing, sailing, water skiing, snow skiing, snowboarding, skydiving, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, swimming, tennis, and whitewater rafting. WHEW!
While some areas may boast of being able to include some of these same activities, Garrett County offers numerous companies and guides that can assist you in participating in a wealth of these activities! In fact, Garrett County is becoming known as a true “mecca” of some of the best adventuring in the entire United States!
The multitude of activities in Garrett County & the Deep Creek Lake area are nearly as endless as the mountains in which they’re nestled. From extreme adventure to total relaxation, casual nightlife to fine dining, there’s something fun in store for everyone – anytime of the year! Truly few destinations along the entire Eastern Seaboard can offer such a variety of outdoor fun activities and attractions.
Before we dive into Wisp Resort’s winter fun and offerings, we featured a full story about the resort’s newest activity scheduled to open this Spring – the Adventure Sports Center International. The ASCI will be the only mountaintop artificial whitewater course in the world and the center will also host rock climbing and more. CLICK HERE TO SEE MORE ABOUT THE ASCI.
By now you’ve gotten the point that Wisp at Deep Creek Lake Resort is a happening place! I have had the pleasure of visiting Wisp twice now over the last two seasons and I can tell you that it is definitely a must see resort. Wisp certainly pulls most of its traffic from Washington DC and the surrounding region, but the resort is an easy, interstate drive from most of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic.
The commercial township portion of McHenry, Maryland is quite nice with plenty of shops, restaurants, grocery stores and more. On my last trip back in late January, Wisp had just received 7” of snowfall on the day of our arrival. The drive was about 370 miles for us and we never saw much snow on the roads until we exited off of I-68 which is just 20 minutes or so to the resort.
As we drove in off of I-68 and headed up the steep elevations towards McHenry, the snow got deeper and deeper on the road until we were driving through drifts close to a foot or so! The road crews were out in full force readying for the weekend traffic that would make their way there on the next day.
Wisp is only 2 hours from Pittsburgh and less than 3 from the DC metro area and Baltimore. From areas such as Raleigh, N.C., the trip is probably closer to 5 hours or so. We did it from Banner Elk in a bit more than 6 hours and that included stopping for dinner, so it’s not a bad drive.
We stayed in the Wisp Hotel which offers a true resort experience. The hotel and conference center is a sprawling complex that offers slopeside, ski in/ski out convenience, wireless internet access, a fitness center, huge heated indoor pool and Jacuzzi.
Conveniently located just steps away from all of the mountain activities at Wisp, the newly remodeled hotel features 67 well-appointed guest rooms and 102 two-room suites that overlook the slopes, golf course, and nearby Deep Creek Lake.
The area also offers hundreds of vacation cabin and chalet rentals that are convenient to the slopes…and even more that are all a short few minutes away and close to the slopes, the lake and more.
The Wisp Hotel and Conference Center is also home to DC’s, a very nice restaurant offering great burgers, specialty sandwiches, casual lunches and dinners and more. Feast on a variety of fare including steaks, prime rib, seafood, pasta dishes and evening specials. Maryland is world famous for crab and DC’s won’t disappoint! Be sure to try some of the crab based appetizers. DC’s also offers a great bar that offers your favorite cocktail and a wonderful assortment of fine wines. The restaurant, as well as ski rentals, shops, and their slopeside cafeteria are ALL assessable from your room without ever having to go out in the weather (until you’re ready!).
The Wisp Resort Food Court (cafeteria) is huge and offers great views of the main slopes of Wisp through huge floor to ceiling windows. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and I can tell you that you can’t beat them for a great (and fast) breakfast prior to hitting the slopes. There’s everything from cereals, to full breakfasts including rolls, eggs, sausage, bacon, pancakes, waffles and more.
There are many other dining options located within minutes from Wisp Resort including Perkins, and a very nice establishment called the Santa Fe Grille. They are within walking distance of the Wisp Resort and offer Southwestern and traditional cuisine served in a unique, rustic atmosphere.
When it comes to fun on the snow (which is what this feature is about) Wisp at Deep Creek Resort has more than enough to keep you busy! With the addition of the North Camp Expansion that took place prior to the 2005-2006 season, Wisp now offers 35 trails that offer terrain for all ski levels. Most of the North Camp trails are very gentle glide trails that are geared more towards beginners, but Wisp also provides plenty of challenging terrain as well! Their longest trail is about 1.5 miles long and their 700 foot vertical is a leading misleading as their terrain gives you the feel of much more downhill than that. Their terrain offers 31% beginning trails, 41% for intermediates and 28% for advanced or expert skiers that covers 132 acres. Wisp Resort is unique to many of the ski areas that I have visited in the sense that you can take any of the lifts to the top of the mountain and from that vantage point you can ski off in almost 270 degrees of the mountain. The North Camp trails offer nice glide trails and the trails straight back down the mountain and off of the left side include some very scenic views of Deep Creek Lake and the surrounding mountains below.
From our room within the Wisp Hotel we could watch each morning as several groomers would work their magic to produce some amazing corduroy on all of the trails, including Squirrel Cage, which is a black diamond that offers an adrenalin producing, gravity-enhanced rush almost straight down the mountain.
Squirrel Cage often has some pretty big bumps off on the right side that can create quite “the thrill” on your way down! Another similar trail is Main Street off of the left side of the mountain which offers some gorgeous views of some of the mountains more beautiful homes as well as an enormously beautiful view of Deep Creek Lake below. Oh yea, the slope’s very nice as well. Main Street offers a wide bit of fall-line skiing that can really get your heart pumping.
The Face is really a sweet drop when there’s ample snow and on this particular trip Wisp was covered in fresh powder so The Drop was as exhilarating as I’d hoped. I also took the opportunity to have a look at Devil’s Drop. It wasn’t open, but it was easily assessable so I clicked out of my skies to take a peek! Devil’s Drop is only open during natural snow cover and although it looked like it had plenty of snowcover, I avoided poaching it! (FYI, NEVER ski unopen terrain.) That is yet another heart-pumping drop that I look forward to trying sometime in the future though!
For those wanting something a little more tame, The Big and Little Dipper trails is a very nice, top-to-bottom run.
The mountain is serviced by 13 lifts that ALL look nearly brand new. Wisp’s trails are all well-manicured, well maintained and you can tell that they are a family friendly trail system with an emphasis on safety because EVERY obstruction, pole, etc is well protected by soft barrels, heavy mat padding and slopeside netting where warranted.
If you’re looking for a little exercise with your snow fun, Wisp has more than 30 kilometers of Nordic and Snowshoeing Terrain. Most of the 2005-2006 season and for much of the last six weeks, Wisp has averaged more than 10-14” of natural snow cover that is open from 10am-4pm daily!
Snowboarders will love Wisp Resort as well. They offer three terrain parks which include the mini park at the base of the Belly Flop Trail, the rail park at the base of the Boulder Trail and they also have the High Mountain Sports Super Pipe at the base of The Face Trail. Wisp offers some challenging hits, rails and boxes as will as the Super Pipe!
Snow Tubing Park enthusiasts should take note that the Bear Claw Tubing Park is a MUST SEE! Their park offers an exhilarating, double, roller coaster affect that will get your heart pumping for certain. Some riders have been clocked at over 45 mph and trust me I can believe it! The night we were hitting the tubing hill, it was snowing like crazy (again) and that served to slow the lanes down just a bit, but that was fine by most of the people that I spoke with because you could literally catch air off of the second hill and roar down the second drop just before approaching the long uphill portion of the track that was designed to slow you down. The lanes are so fast that Wisp has actually installed some in-snow, “slow down” grids that insure a safe approach to the top of the hill! Getting back up is easy with an escalator that you literally stand on to ride back to the top! Then it all starts again!
I was at Wisp late in January for a three night stay and as mentioned we saw 7” of snow on the first night that we arrived and then another 6” of snow the night before we were to return home. I couldn’t resist some early first tracks, so I and my crew suited up, snapped in and enjoyed some amazing freshies on the Sunday before driving back. Coming down Main Street was amazing as off to the right side of the mountain was some 12”-16” of fresh, untracked powder that made for an outstanding final day.
Wisp Resort at Deep Creek is located in the snow-friendly, northwest corner of the state of Maryland, (so close to West Virginia that the state should annex it), and its 3115’ elevations receive an average of 100” per season. They saw 121” during the 2004-2005 season and 118.5” last season. With more than a month yet to go in the 2006-2007 season they are already showing 94” of snowfall this season…during a season that many other resorts in the Southeast have shown less than normal snowfall.
For the record, when “mother nature” doesn’t cooperate, Wisp Resort has what has to be the East Coast’s most high tech, and efficient snowmaking system. Their computerized weather and pumping stations are literally world renowned for their efficiency! In addition to housing the extensive snowmaking pumping system, a new control room was added a bit more than a year ago to monitor and control snowmaking machines, chairlifts, lighting, music and video, HVAC and weather stations.
I can tell you that the control center looks like something from the Starship Enterprise of Star Trek fame. On one wall are several flat panel monitors that rotate views from more 20 some odd web cams on the mountain. They can pan, tilt and zoom into shots all over the mountain and even zoom in to see if jets are outputting properly on snowguns. It was really quite impressive to see in person. The snowmaking operations at Wisp, with computerized weather and pumping stations, certainly place it among the very best in the entire country and perhaps among the top five. The 100% airless snowmaking system is capable of producing 145 acre feet of snow per day. Spread this out evenly over Wisp’s 32 trails and in just 24 hours the snow depth would be over 1 foot!
Wisp Resort is usually able to stay open for skiing and all of their snow fun for about 140 days per season and their snowmaking system will certainly make that number easy to achieve!
OWNING YOUR PIECE OF WISP!!!
Wisp is now in their 51st year of operation and even with all of the growth that they exhibited with the addition of the North Camp area just one year ago – they are not sitting on their laurels. I was fortunate enough to meet with Mrs. Karen Myers, one of the owners of the resort and one vibrant young lady! Mrs. Myers and her partners purchased the resort from the original owner, Ace “Helmuth” Heise, back in 2001. Mr. Hice, who is nearing 80, still goes to work at the resort five or six days a week. He has an office at the top of the mountain. You can tell how close knit the resort’s staff and personnel are just by hanging with them for a couple of days and it’s no fluke because Mr. Myers herself is a lifelong resident of Garrett County and that exudes a real love for the mountain, the area and its people.
Mrs. Myers graciously shared their vision of where Wisp Resort is headed and all I can say is “wow”. The partners own some 3000+ acres of land around The Wisp and that means that they are responsible for the snow operations as well as all of the amenities and land usage of the mountain. To that end they are truly devoted to developing the resort in the most environmentally proficient means as possible.
The first part of their planned growth took place prior to last season when they added 30% more terrain to the ski area. That was ten new trails and two new quad lifts. There’s plans for additional terrain expansion but more about that in a moment. More immediate plans are for a mountaintop village area much like that that you can find at Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia. They plan on beginning construction of the new village that will house vacation rentals and shops, etc in about one year. They will be doing some preliminary grading by this Fall, but anticipate the construction to begin in the Spring of 2008. First will come a new residential area that will house 75-130 condominiums and they also plan to construct a new skier services building up top that will house ski and snowboard rentals and ticket purchasing, etc. Plans include a 25,000 square foot spa and private ski club, etc. That is ALL part of a first phase of their growth plans!
Since buying the resort in 2001 for $12 million, Mrs. Myers and her group of investors has poured in another $30 million, hoping to lure some of the multitude of snow hounds who live in nearby Washington, Baltimore and Northern Virginia and who tend to think skiing means flying to the Rockies.
To make their investments pay off, Mrs. Myers and her partners know that they have to entice potential visitors with bigger and better ski facilities and thousands of planned new second homes. Listening to Mrs. Myers speak with such passion about the future (and growth) of Wisp inspired visions of Donald Trump. At one point during our meeting she offered, “Sometimes we like to think of ourselves as the Lake Tahoe of the East.” Before any of you chuckle – know that she’s serious and I can tell you that the feeling around the region is that the new owners will work to make that happen. They already have the beautiful Deep Creek Lake below and with the opening of a new championship golf course and community atop their high elevations…it looks like all of the pieces are there to make it come to fruition!
The community is behind their growth in an amazing way (hey Seven Devils, NC – you guys reading this?) as even though most people will visit Wisp Resort and McHenry, Maryland by car, the boom has influenced Garrett County authorities to lengthen the local airport’s runway from 3,000 to 5,000 feet.
The expansion plans has created an amazing growth in real estate and empty lots alongside the slopes are reselling for as much as $400,000 and resales of ski-in, ski-out homes are near $800,000 to over $1,000,000 (which is really a deal compared to slopeside homes in many other ski resorts of the Southeast and Mid Atlantic).
With 180,000 visitors last year and hopes for 200,000 this year, Wisp so far can’t even match regional rivals like Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia, which draws 300,000 to 400,000 a year.
But for 25 million people living within a three-hour driving distance, Wisp is convenient and with their growth and expansion plans will come more skier visits and even higher real estate values. Adding to the draw of Wisp is the fact that their summer business is even more popular than their skiing operations – at least for now. Wisp has an alluring mountain lake and a well-established identity as a summer resort.
Scott Johnson, an owner of Coldwell Banker Deep Creek Realty in McHenry, estimated that about 200 second homes are on the market at any time at prices from just under $200,000 to almost $2 million.
If you are reading this story and have been interested in purchasing a great vacation getaway home in the mountains, you’ll want to look into Wisp at Deep Creek Resort. The values are there and right now the prices are as low as they are going to get! They already offer one beautiful, 18 hole gold course and Hale Irwin is teaming up with Wisp to design and open a mountaintop, championship quality golf course and community. With truly four seasons of popular vacation fun, a second home or vacation home or condo would prove to be a valuable investment.
The Wisp ski area was created in 1955 by Helmuth Heise, a Pittsburgh native whose family owned hotels in the Deep Creek area, including one called the Will O’ the Wisp. He still serves as a consultant to the business and describes its evolution as "pretty much a continuation of my dream." He was quick to add, "I didn’t dream that big though!"
Suffice to say that Wisp’s new owners are dreaming and more importantly IMPLEMENTING some big ideas!
For more information about Wisp Resort, you can call them at 301 -387-4911 or email them at [email protected]
For Real Estate interests please call Toll Free at 1-866-526-9477 or visit their website at www.DeepCreekResort.com
Do us a favor and tell them that you read this story at www.SkiSoutheast.com !
Also to see a ton of GREAT photos that were taken at Wisp Resort – CLICK HERE!!!
Until Next Time…
THINK COLD AND SNOW!!!
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