The three days of heavy rain ended a few hours before the ambitious festival, the glorious sun broke through the clouds, and the mud began to dry. The autumn leaves were in their full glory, and the steep, wide slopes of Whitetail were a breathtaking site as we drove towards them. All they need is some sustained cold, and the snow makers can work their magic. Whitetail hopes to join its sister slopes of Liberty and Roundtop, and try to open the 7th or 8th of December, 2007. But, all is ready for an earlier opening, if the temperatures drop. Perhaps the excellent Pennsylvania areas can open around Thanksgiving, if they have extraordinary luck.
Even with the erratic weather patterns of last season, Whitetail General Manager Don MacAskill said they had 80 wonderful days of skiing, with the best conditions occurring in January, February, and March. The five year average is 93 days, and all hope that goal can be met this season.
The two day Whitetail Festival is really a terrific event for the entire snow loving (and golf) community. Whitetail has bought the nearby golf course, and this year golf clubs were offered along with skis and boards at the Ski Patrol Swap and Sale. You feast your ears on the bluegrass music by Hickory Ridge, snack on Pennsylvania diet busters like funnel cakes, kettle popcorn, and fresh baked muffins from AME church sisters, shop for arts and crafts from numerous local vendors, pick up bargains in the Ski Patrol ski swap and Mountain Sport shop pre-season sale.
Riding the high-speed quad without heavy clothing and clunky boots takes one to a spectacular fall panorama and trail hikes and/or a ride back down. After several years of walking down, my husband Charles and I chose to ride the chair down this year. A cold wind picked up and we were reminded of the coming snow season. Perhaps I was deterred from walking by the annual exhibit of Pennsylvania snakes which can be found in the fields and woods before the snow covers them. Bill Wheeler of the Keystone Reptile Club brought his collection of 18 choice snakes to the exhibit area in the cafeteria. They included 2 large rattlers and 3 copperheads. Visitors played with some white snakes, wrapping them around their arms and neck. Nice snaky - you stay in your box, and I’ll stay in mine!
Other exhibits included falconry, retriever dogs, woodsmanship, and blacksmithing. Activities for kids of all ages included 4 H pony rides (I could not resist that one), horse wagon hay rides, petting zoo, climbing wall, fishing pond, and displays of snow tubes (including a new two person tube), snow grooming equipment, and lots of other activities. Thank goodness the rain had stopped. We have been there before when the rain drenched the Festival, but the hardy participants went ahead with it. Thankfully, their efforts were rewarded this year!
This year we had a fascinating tour of the updated snow making facilities. It is an intricate, expensive, high tech operation. We were shown around by Andy Goshorn, the Mountain Manager, and Jeff Main, the Snowmaking Manager. These men are terrific engineers and technical wizards. They explained the equipment to tour groups of about 20 of us at a time. Jeff said they have a 100 million gallon reservoir, and it is usually turned over twice during the 4 month season. Ten percent of the snowmaking is from waste water from the Whitetail resort, if it is needed. The water is cleaned and purified before it is recycled into snow. We are assured it is safe and environmentally friendly.
The snow is blown around by 100 blowers. The staff work throughout the night to lay down heavier base snow. Then, weather permitting, they blow powdered snow toward morning and perhaps later in the day. But the powder will not stay long - it gets skied or blown off. They said each skier pushes one ton of snow down the mountain in an 8 hour session. I have never taken snow making for granted, but now I know what banks of computers, equipment, and dedicated men are there in the cold and dark, making it happen.
When the season begins, Whitetail has some great events planned. Matt See, the Marketing Coordinator, is especially excited about their Senior Snow Day, on January the 10th. Participants from Senior Centers and anyplace else can snow tube if they want, enjoy a buffet lunch, and be entertained. Last year, a woman in her 90’s loved the snow tubing. I told Matt I intend to top that record one day! Liberty and Roundtop also have senior events, as well as many others. It reminds me of a wonderful group I once met in New Zealand, called “The One Ski in the Grave Skiers.” They will ski forever, if they can!
Other big events include the New Years Eve Party, the Pennsylvania Learn to Ski Day, the Para Race, Heroes on the Hill, Pride in the USA, the Cardboard Derby, Springfest, and more. Each Wednesday features college days and nights at Whitetail and Liberty. Whitetail plans more events for disabled and adaptive skiers, and has special programs headed by ski school director Mac Jackson and by Bill Dietriech. They are making an aggressive outreach to wounded warriors rehabilitating at Walter Reed Hospital.
Whether fun or serious, the best events of all are the wonderful, exciting times that come with skiing and snowboarding. With luck and a lot of hard work, they will be here soon!
When she wasn't skiing, Connie Lawn covered the White House as a reporter since 1968.
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