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Making the Most of Winter in Pittsburgh

Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
     --Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, 1945

It's a catchy tune fersure, but staying indoors during the winter months is not the way to go.  Pittsburghers have plentiful options for outdoor fun when it's cold and snowy and it's in that spirit of fun and camaraderie that we offer our top ten list.  Biggest surprise?  A couple of our favorites take place (gasp) inside.

Keeping in mind "if you look good, you feel good," head over to Pavement in Lawrenceville for the latest in hats, gloves and scarves, many of them by designers with ties to Pennsylvania.  Xmittens are made from recycled polyester fleece in a host of bright colors and pair well with designer Amber Coppings' hats, scarves and shawls.  Pittsburgh-based Coppings is a veteran of Handmade Arcade and I Made It Market and sells her wares across the U.S.  B. ella churns out luxurious wool socks in one of the last woolen mills in the U.S., located in eastern Pennsylvania.  "It's no longer about the big scarf," says Alissa Martin, owner of Pavement.  "Think minimal this year but with more texture."  The hot toddy of fashion?

Take your hot new look to the Cross Keys Inn, a stately brick edifice in Indiana Township that served as a way station for travelers for over a century.  In the capable hands of restaurateurs Robert and Michael Uricchio, the Inn is known for its cossetting lounge, where deep leather chairs match the dark wood paneling keeping company with a bucolic, wraparound mural of ponds and trees.  There's a full-service restaurant, too, but you will linger longer in the lounge, with its wood-burning fireplace and low lighting.  The Cross Keys burger is a revelation, a half-pound of Kobe and Angus beef paired with pulled pork and caramelized onions.  The Pittsburgh wedge is drizzled in bleu and you can wash it all down with a Cygnet Merlot from Swanson Vineyards.

Make like a kid and go ice skating at PPG Place, a cozy sheet of ice that springs to life by Thanksgiving and melts away in March.  The downtown location will call to mind The Plaza and Eloise and assorted big-city fantasies in the shadow of PPG's graceful glass towers.  Further south, the outdoor ice rink in South Park has been the place to teach young ones how to skate for generations.  The expansive surface plays host to occasional hockey games but it's the weekend rec skate, a bargain at $3, that will have you making circles for hours in the embrace of trees and a steady westerly breeze.

If you'd rather leave the skating to someone else, pay a visit to the Penguins new home, Consol Energy Center.  Opened in the fall of 2010, our hockey heroes now boast of the best arena in the NHL, a cavernous space where every seat is a good one.  The lower bowl put you close to the action and, yes, you will see Sid sweat.  If the multimedia introduction that blasts out of the scoreboard at the start of every game doesn't get you pumped, nothing will.

Back outdoors, go north for snowshoeing at the Jennings Environmental Education Center in Slippery Rock.  If there's four inches of snow on the ground and rangers are on site, the center will happily lend you a pair of snowshoes (traditional or contemporary) and send you on miles of wooded trails that are as beautiful as they are calming.  A section of the North Country Trail, which runs from New York to North Dakota, traverses the property and comes with a stead of black cherry trees that's among the largest in Pennsylvania.  Hot cocoa and a seat by the fire await your return.  Equally sybaritic is cross-country skiing in Moraine State Park, where six miles of groomed trails are maintained on the south shore of the beautiful, boulder-rich,13,000-acre park. (Don't miss the covered bridge.) Bring your skis and consider renting one of the park's eleven two-bedroom cabins complete with kitchen.  A chili cook-off, cross-cut sawing demonstrations and nature hikes are all part of the park's annual Winter Fest.

At Seven Springs ski resort in the Laurel Highlands, the snow tubing rivals that found at much larger resorts on the west coast.  Sign up for a two-hour slot and bring a few friends, the better to connect individual sleds for high-speed flight down perfectly-groomed tracks.  If you turn right at the top of the hill, it's a mellower run than if you veer left; face masks and goggles will make the ride that much sweeter.  On an adjacent hill, you can partake of an hour-long, guided snowmobile tour.  Guides fore and aft lead a merry band aboard sleek GTX-300 sleds that seat one or two.  The ride starts out easily enough, a conga line of sleds zigging and zagging amid snow-covered trees.  Before long, you reach an open field and it's wheelies for everyone.  The biggest rush, however, is yet to come:  flying up, down and around hilly terrain that is an E-ticket ride.  The experience could be the best-kept secret at Seven Springs, but not for long.

If you feel you've exhausted your wintertime options in Pittsburgh, it's time to go to...Cleveland.  Yep, ground zero for lake-effect snow is a winter playland all its own.  Go ice fishing for perch and walleye on Lake Erie, tobogganing at The Chalet at Mill Stream Run Reservation, winter surfing at Edgewater State Park or take the surfing indoors at Kalahari Waterpark, the largest indoor waterpark in the U.S.  Dinner is at gastro-pub Melt, where the sandwich of the month could be the "Hungry Hungarian Paprikash Melt," tender, pulled roast chicken, huge homemade dumplings and creamy paprikash sauce, all smothered in provolone.  Go, Cleveburgh!

New Girl In Town Elaine Labalme is a fan of four seasons, by Vivaldi or Pittsburgh.

Photographs: Sledding; Hats at Pavement; Cross Keys Inn; skating at PPG; Consol Energy Center; Moraine State Park; skiing; Melt.

Skiing copyright Tracy Certo

All other photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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