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Firsthand Report: New Year’s Eve at Whitetail
By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor
January 1, 2018

In recent days, Whitetail’s official Snow Conditions Report has been describing their conditions as the “best ever.” That’s a bold claim. After all, Whitetail was barely open just a week or two ago. Was that just typical marketing speak? As a service to DCSki’s dear readers, I had a responsibility to put these claims to the test in person, which led me to the Pennsylvania ski area on the evening of December 31, 2017.

A bonfire greets guests during Whitetail's New Year's Eve celebration. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

I’ve skied at Whitetail over two decades (including after a foot of fresh snow), and while conditions yesterday weren’t the best ever, they were excellent for late December. That’s a testament to two things: a week of very-sub-freezing temperatures, and the full horsepower of Whitetail’s modern snowmaking system, which continues to impress.

Guests were treated to a 15-minute display of fireworks. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Despite the ground being bare a little over a week ago, Whitetail’s trails were covered with ample machine-made snow edge to edge. In fact, I didn’t see a single bare spot poking through the snow. It may have only been December 31, but Whitetail’s slopes are already in mid-season condition.

Having said that, there were plenty of areas that straddled the thin line between “packed powder” and “powder packed so hard it could be mistaken for ice.” Sections of Angel Drop became exhilarating (terrifying?) testing grounds for edge control. I didn’t even attempt double-black-diamond Bold Decision on this visit, fearing that the steepest part would be a sheet of ice. Although some sections of some trails were slick, this was at the end of a long day after loose snow had been skied off, and most slopes were perfectly skiable.

A guest warms herself by the bonfire. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Normally, I might have been hesitant to head to the slopes at night when temperatures were forecast to dip into the single digits. But last night wasn’t just any night; it was New Year’s Eve, and Whitetail had a variety of events planned to celebrate the occasion. A very expensive buffet was offered in the Solstice Restaurant, which I opted to skip, instead favoring a very expensive but mediocre bacon cheeseburger in the Marketplace. (Like many ski areas, the quality/value proposition for Whitetail’s dining options isn’t quite there. You can save a lot of money by brown bagging or stopping at one of Frederick’s excellent restaurants on the way home.)

The bonfire burned for several hours. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
Photo by M. Scott Smith.

In the base area, which Whitetail refers to as the “mixing bowl” as most lifts start there (and most slopes end there), a raging bonfire was already going by the time I arrived around 8:30 p.m. Throughout the night, a circle of guests gathered around the bonfire to warm up. It was spitting out a serious amount of heat, which contrasted nicely with the lung-shocking cold air. Guests tried to get close enough to warm themselves without getting so close that they ended up with a face full of ashes.

Whitetail even had a disco ball hung in the base area at the top of a tower-mounted snow gun. Perhaps with less fanfare than Times Square, the ball was ceremoniously lowered as the clock struck midnight.

Hung from a snowmaking tower, Whitetail had a disco ball ready to drop at midnight. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Over in the (toasty warm) base lodge, local wedding and event band Retrospect provided live music throughout the evening, covering hits from the past five decades as guests in the Marketplace dined (and later danced).

The live band Retrospect entertained guests in the lodge with music. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
Guests enjoyed the warmth and live music in the Marketplace. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Whitetail’s lifts normally stop running at 10 p.m., but for New Year’s Eve, their bedtime was extended and they kept running until 1 a.m. There were probably more people inside of Whitetail’s lodge than on the slopes, thanks to the low temperatures; most of the time, I only had to share the slopes with a few other people, or none. Single-digit temperatures can scare all but the most hardy skiers and boarders away, and I found myself having to take a break every few runs to thaw out my toes and face. This was a common pattern for many skiers, and at times it overwhelmed Whitetail’s free ski check. Two employees worked as efficiently as they could, but another employee or two could have kept the line from growing to 20 or 30 guests.

Despite the frigid temperatures, many skiers and boarders braved the cold and took adventure of late night skiing through 1 a.m. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

The expert slopes were almost abandoned, and while I found good snow on Far Side, the long, slow ride up the Expert’s Choice quad combined with wind chills stinging against my face were enough to make me abandon the area and head back to Whitetail’s intermediates.

Lights in the valley twinkle in the distance from the top of black diamond Far Side. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
This dog waits patiently for the fireworks to begin, grudgingly posing for photos. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Just after midnight, Whitetail treated guests to a fireworks display that lasted almost 15 minutes. It was a nice way to cap off an evening of skiing and to bid 2017 goodbye.

Light and color burst through the frigid sky. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Unfortunately, the festivities at Whitetail on New Year’s Eve were dampened by a tragedy that occurred earlier in the day. Around 10 a.m., a middle aged male skier was found unresponsive on a slope. Despite valiant efforts from the Ski Patrol, who administered CPR, the skier was pronounced dead by responding EMS officials. As of press time, no further details have been provided on this incident while an investigation is underway.

After recent years where finicky weather did a number on early-season conditions, Whitetail and other Mid-Atlantic resorts are benefitting from a blast of arctic temperatures that has produced perfect snowmaking conditions. The extended forecast shows continued cold temperatures, which will allow resorts to continue building up bases and reach 100% operating capability if they’re not there already.

A fireworks crew at the top of Sidewinder waits until midnight to set off the night display. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

Whitetail continues to offer a modern and refined skiing experience. Over the past several years, Whitetail has made significant investments in all elements of the resort, upgrading snowmaking to use state-of-the-art airless guns, and expanding the base facilities to offer additional dining options. Whitetail’s Deer Valley-inspired base lodge includes multiple fireplaces inside as well as multiple fire pits outside, providing nice gathering spots.

All of these enhancements do come at a cost: lift ticket prices at Whitetail and other area resorts continue to climb upwards. Taking a large family to Whitetail for a weekend can approach the cost of a monthly mortgage payment once tickets, rentals, food and gas are factored in. With the abbreviated winter seasons in the Mid-Atlantic that can last less than 10 weeks and a continuing decline in interest from millennials, resorts may need to become more creative in attracting guests and new blood to the sport.

For those who are already sold on skiing and snowboarding, 2018 begins with great snow conditions — in fact, the Mid-Atlantic is in better shape than resorts in western states such as Colorado, where early-season snow has been lacking. If you can sneak away mid-week, you’ll find excellent snow and few crowds.

The upper station of the Whitetail Express high-speed quad. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
Whitetail rings in the New Year with 100% open terrain. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
A circle of New Year revelers stays warm by the bonfire. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

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6 months ago

Beautiful photos.  Thanks for the report and way to get after it!

6 months ago

That is an awesome report.  

 

6 months ago

Great report and eye-catching photos, Scott!  

 

My son and I skied WT earlier in the day, leaving at around 2pm when the surface was getting skied off and the crowds were increasing.  We found Bold Decision to have the most skiable suface of those runs off the Experts Choice lift.  Had a good time overall, and I’m glad that the New Year’s Eve revelers seemed to be enjoying themselves as well.

6 months ago

Great article Scott; amazing photos as well! The photo of Farside, my favorite trail at Whitetail was worth me stealing a screen shot. Whitetail has always been, for better or worse, home base for my family.  Thank you.

Scott - DCSki Supporter
6 months ago

Thanks, Bdw611!  If you’d like a higher-resolution version of that shot, I’d be happy to e-mail you one.  Just send me an e-mail (you can find my e-mail address here: http://www.dcski.com/about/contact.php.)

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