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Firsthand Report: Whitetail Resort 3
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

On Thursday, January 3, 2012, I found myself making my first turns of two seasons at Whitetail Resort.

That’s right. For me, last year was a bust. I managed to rack up exactly zero ski days last winter. With a relentless string of mild days, last season was largely a bust for the Mid-Atlantic ski industry in general.

A visit to Whitetail demonstrated two things: (a) I still remember how to ski (phew!); and (b) the Mid-Atlantic ski season is back, baby.

Snowmaking underway at the top of the mountain. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

Things were looking dicey in December. Resorts blessed with the right latitudes, longitudes, and altitudes were able to capture their opening dates, but the majority of Mid-Atlantic resorts had to stay on the sidelines, waiting for that magical wet bulb temperature that allows snowguns to blast out snow.

Temperatures finally dipped and stayed below freezing around Christmas, and Mother Nature kicked in with a shot or two of natural snow. And thus began an incredible transformation: throughout the Mid-Atlantic, bare slopes became covered with healthy amounts of skiable, boardable, delicious snow.

The ground is still covered with snow from recent snowstorms. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

This transformation was on display Thursday at Whitetail. Over the past couple weeks, Whitetail has expanded its open trail count on an almost daily basis. At first a couple beginner trails opened, quickly followed by intermediates, and culminating in some experts by Friday, January 4. (Alas, the day after my visit.) Whitetail now has 17 trails open and is operating all 8 lifts. Snow tubing is also open.

Knowing that slopes were bare just a couple weeks ago, I kept my expectations in check as I arrived at Whitetail around 10:15 a.m. Rounding the corner on Blairs Valley Road, I was happy to be greeted by snow-covered slopes. As the slopes grew larger, I was happy to see they were barren of crowds - the benefit of sneaking away to Whitetail mid-week.

It was a crisp and sunny day, with temperatures hovering around the upper 20s. A friend and I began our first runs on beginners Northern Lights and Velvet, and then quickly advanced to Sidewinder. Over half a mile long, Sidewinder was added during the summer of 2008. The trail begins at the top terminal of the EZ Rider Quad, and gently curves its way through a valley before meeting up with the base of intermediate Fanciful.

Really nice conditions: plenty of snow and sun, scarcity of crowds. The recipe for a great midweek day of skiing at Whitetail. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

The left side of Sidewinder banks smoothly up the mountain, providing many opportunities to take a brief detour up the side of the trail and back down. This adds further variety to an already fun and interesting trail. In 2010, Whitetail added the Ledgewood trail, which continues Sidewinder’s tradition of throwing skiers for a curve instead of Whitetail’s traditional “straight down the mountain” approach to trails. Ledgewood branches off from the right side of beginner Snow Park, and makes a sharp left turn before meeting up with Stalker. The last part of Ledgewood is a bit flat, which seemed to make it unpopular with snowboarders on Thursday; two could be found hiking out the flat part. After you clear the left curve, it’s best to keep your speed up.

After giving Sidewinder and Ledgewood a try, my friend was ready to tackle some of Whitetail’s intermediates - a worthy accomplishment for only his third day ever of skiing. So we hopped on the Whitetail Express, and my friend marveled at the sudden acceleration high-speed lifts experience as you zoom out of the terminal.

Packed powder at the top of Angel Drop. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

We began our intermediate exploration on Angel Drop. Although Whitetail was not very crowded, as is often the case, Angel Drop attracted the highest concentration of skiers and riders, leading to some consternation from my friend as he nervously tried to avoid being hit by skiers and boarders speeding by (no doubt in a rush to get to the terrain park on lower Angel). We took the Homerun junction.

The next several hours resulted in an alternation between intermediates Snow Dancer, Fanciful, and Sidewinder (the latter when we wanted to give our legs a rest on the slower EZ Rider Quad.)

So, what was the snow verdict?

The snow was in some mighty fine shape. Absolutely no complaints. There were a couple areas that didn’t quite have full coverage (such as Stalker), but most trails had edge-to-edge coverage with genuinely packed powder conditions. The right-around-freezing temperature and bright sun kept the surface conditions in prime shape throughout the day. In fact, the only ice we experienced was in some spots in the lift lines.

A setting sun shines through the top terminal of the Whitetail Express. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

In addition to blasting expert Exhibition in preparation for its next-day opening, Whitetail kept some guns running on a variety of slopes such as Fanciful and Snow Dancer.

Whitetail now has four primary types of snowmaking systems: traditional nozzles (which combine loud compressed air with chilled water), and three types of efficient fan guns. The blue fan guns are now Whitetail’s oldest fan guns, followed by newer red Areco guns, and the newest yellow TechnoAlpin guns.

Let’s spend a moment thanking the inventors of those TechnoAlpins. These guns are the Rolls Royce of snowmaking equipment, with a list of state-of-the-art features that would rival the latest high-tech gadget. The automated wonders produce a solid stream of snow with minimal energy requirements. (Although, this is relative; you still wouldn’t want Whitetail’s electricity bill showing up in your mailbox.) The TechnoAlpin T40s installed alongside Snow Dancer, for instance, each contain their own weather system that continuously monitors temperature and humidity to produce an optimal mix of snow. The guns even rotate slowly, removing the need for Whitetail’s snowmakers to continuously manually adjust the guns to provide even trail coverage.

The video below shows one of these guns in action on Snow Dancer.

A TechnoAlpin T40 snowgun operating at Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Ski Resort from M. Scott Smith on Vimeo.

The snowguns aren’t cheap - TechnoAlpin puts the price of each one at the same level as a “middle-of-the-range station wagon” - but resorts such as Whitetail have recently been making the large investments to increase the quality and quantity of snowmaking while reducing operating and maintenance costs. In Whitetail’s early years, Limelight was often the first intermediate to open, and Snow Dancer was often the last. Snow Dancer’s early opening this season can be credited directly to the modern snowguns. (Limelight still has older guns, and still isn’t open.) It’s exciting to see the quiet revolution in snowmaking technology over the past few years; for many decades, the science of snowmaking changed little.

OK, so maybe it’s the geek in me that led me to marvel at these newest snowguns as I skied down the slopes. But the great snow conditions under my feet were made directly possible by them and the significant investment Whitetail has made in upgrading its snowmaking system.

Alpenglow in the valley as the sun sets. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.

As the sun began to set, our legs began to give out after many miles of never-waiting-in-a-liftline runs. Just as the slopeside lights began to glow and the sun dipped down below the mountain, bathing the valley in warm hues, we decided to call it a day.

DCSki’s Editor, right, enjoys the mountaintop view. Photo provided by Bradley Tinney.

The forecast shows continued ideal conditions for snowmaking, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Whitetail reach 100% open terrain within the next week.

If snow conditions stay as good as they are right now, this winter season could go a long way towards making last year’s mild winter a distant memory.

Whitetail’s lights turn on as dusk fades to dark. Photo provided by M. Scott Smith.
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About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

Charles Sneiderman
January 5, 2013
You really captured the spirit and beauty of Whitetail. Awesome photos!
January 5, 2013
Thanks Charles!
January 11, 2013
I was there on Thursday 1/10 and ski conditions were good most of the day with some marked brown spots on intermediate trails.

They can probably repair these for Friday and Saturday opening, but I am guessing late Saturday and Sunday conditions will have declined.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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