With more than a little trepidation I led a group of five certifiably hardcore skiers from Northern Virginia on a soggy three hour trek to Wisp ski area in Garrett County, Maryland on Sunday, December 9, 2007. We got in about five hours of “first turns of the season” on a wet, but abundant manmade snow surface at Wisp, including a sampling of nice trails on all three faces of the mountain.
Cruising up I-70 on the way to Wisp we passed through a driving rain around 7:30 a.m. near Hancock, Maryland. The downpour spurred us to ease back on the accelerator and swing into the Park-N-Dine Restaurant for a hearty, morale-boosting trucker’s breakfast. We decided we were past the point of no return and continued on to Wisp after the break. Fortunately, by the time we hit the slopes of Wisp around 10 a.m. the heavy rain had stopped, although with the mix of snow cover, above-freezing temperatures, and dense fog the place had taken on the look of a dark fairy tale range of misty mountains.
There were decent periods of negligible precipitation, but for much of the day we skied in a foggy, 45-degree mist until our departure around 4 p.m. We avoided one period of hard rain by ducking into the Wisp lodge for lunch around 1:30 p.m. Sunday’s foul weather notwithstanding, it was clear that the snowmaking wizards at Wisp had cranked out an amazing amount of snow in the previous few days of colder weather.
Over 20 of Wisp’s 32 trails were open and our group sampled them all. There were quite a few additional partially covered, but unopened trails as well. Most impressive for December 9th was the fact that all of Wisp’s best advanced trails were skiable across every aspect of the mountain including The Face, Squirrel Cage, Ace’s Run, Over the Edge, and Main Street.
The 20-foot high whales on Squirrel Cage presented some amazing jumping opportunities for high flyers. The Face featured big manmade hits too, and there was a terrain park with various rails and tables open at the bottom of Boulder Run. It was a shame the rain had dampened such great product offered for Wisp’s early December “Birthday Weekend” event.
Despite the moisture I was pleased with the snow surface, especially early in the day when the long glide over to the base of North Camp was firm and speedy. I particularly enjoyed making repeat runs down the nice selection of intermediate-advanced cruisers in North Camp: Ace’s, Whip Saw, and Over the Edge. By the afternoon when we made it to the black diamond Main Street trail facing Deep Creek Lake, it had degraded to pretty heavy mashed potatoes, but some in our group had never experienced that area and it was great to be able to ski it at all given the less then optimal weather developments.
Several times during the day we spotted folks winging down Wisp’s new Mountain Coaster. It passes directly over the Boulder ski trail on the front face of the mountain. The “bobsled-on-wheels” type of ride is a pretty elaborate design and drops about 400-500 vertical feet. The ascent process reminded me of the old Skimobile at Cranmore Mountain, New Hampshire. The descent track looked like an amusement park ride from Busch Gardens. Apparently, it will be open for business year-round at about $9.50 a ride.
Although there was a huge base on many slopes, we could see a visible decline in snow quality and quantity as the dreary weather took its toll by late Sunday afternoon. Secondary and connector trails were especially hard hit. Local mid-Atlantic skiing may slip into a mild weather limbo for a few days, but with the awesome snowmaking prowess of Wisp and a committed management team I am confident they will recover and offer a superior ski product again real soon.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.
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