Have you ever walked out of a movie, once it became clear that it was terrible and not worth spending any more time watching?
Well, I did the skiing equivalent of that tonight at Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort.
But, let’s rewind for a moment, and review the bad hand Mother Nature has dealt Mid-Atlantic ski resorts this winter season.
In early November, 2019, things were looking promising: a blast of arctic air brought record-breaking cold temperatures, and resorts such as Seven Springs and Snowshoe took advantage of the cold to make early-season snow. Numerous ski resorts snagged opening dates by Thanksgiving.
But as December rolled around, temperatures rose, and snowmaking became a hit-or-miss affair. Whitetail was able to make enough snow to capture a December 20 opening date, but warm temperatures in early January made it difficult to open 100% of terrain or to build up healthy bases.
Temperatures then climbed into short sleeves-territory, and Whitetail closed for a few days midweek — something it has rarely had to do during January in its multi-decade history.
Since then, natural snow has been almost non-existent, and snowmaking temperatures have been fleeting, limited to a handful of nights. Whitetail’s state-of-the-art snowmaking system can do a lot of damage with one cold night, though, which has allowed the resort to keep all but a few slopes open during this mild winter season.
I skied at Whitetail on the evening of February 2. It was… OK. Temperatures climbed into the 50s and the snow was definitely springlike, but it firmed up a little as the night went on and I enjoyed making some turns. It wasn’t much to write home about, though, which is why I didn’t publish a Firsthand Report at the time.
Fast forward to tonight: sub-freezing temperatures the past few nights allowed Whitetail to resume snowmaking, patching up its open terrain as it headed into the weekend. Temperatures today once again flirted with 50 degrees, and I thought I’d experience some springlike snow again this evening at Whitetail.
I arrived just as the sun set, and headed to the base area. As soon as I put my skis on and tried to plant my poles into the snow to work my way towards the Whitetail Express, I knew there was a problem — the end of the poles hit the top of the snow with a “thud” and didn’t go into the snow, almost throwing me off balance. The surface was somewhere between hard pack and drop-in-a-cocktail ice.
I hoped conditions on the mountain would be better.
I rode the Whitetail Express and made my way to the top of Fanciful. The entire top of the mountain was a glaze of ice — any granular snow had long ago been scraped off. I skied down Fanciful, searching for pockets of granular ice/snow that I could initiate turns in. More often than not I had to carve into the ice to make a cautious turn, with the skis making a fingers-against-a-chalkboard sound.
It wasn’t fun. It especially wasn’t fun, as a little over a week ago, I was skiing over 3 feet of fresh powder at Vail Resort in Colorado. But I wasn’t approaching Whitetail with high expectations.
I made it down Fanciful and ice-skated through the lift maze back to the Whitetail Express.
“This isn’t fun,” I said out loud. But I was hoping I could find more pockets of loose granular on other slopes.
Next, I headed to Angel Drop, Whitetail’s most popular — and most crowded — intermediate slope.
This seemed to be where most skiers and snowboarders were spending their evening. But it, too, was equal parts ice and frozen granular. There were relatively few areas you could safely initiate a turn — without simply sliding across a sheet of ice. The increased volume of skiers on this slope — many of whom were skiing well above their ability level, given the conditions — increased the “treacherous” factor to uncomfortable levels.
Worse, Whitetail hasn’t made any effort to open Homerun this year. Angel Drop splits into Homerun and Jib Junction, the latter being a terrain park. In normal years, Homerun serves as a release valve for Angel Drop, allowing skiers to divert who don’t want to navigate through the terrain park. With Homerun closed, all of the traffic from Angel Drop had to go through Jib Junction — which now had narrow coverage, was dotted with terrain obstacles, was icy, and was busier than the D.C. beltway at rush hour.
You can see this combination of factors in the video below; as I stood by the side of the slope, I could hear many skiers and snowboarders complaining about the icy conditions.
After making it to the bottom of Jib Junction, I was two runs into the evening and done. It wasn’t fun, and I didn’t feel safe, so I popped off my skis and walked back to my car.
Conditions might have been better earlier in the day, before the new snow was scraped off. But I suspect what happened is that Whitetail’s existing snow base — which had been quite soft during mild days — froze solid during the recent cold spell. Whitetail made snow on top of this, but it didn’t help matters tremendously and was quickly skied off as the day went on. Whatever grooming was performed didn’t seem to help much.
These conditions aren’t Whitetail’s fault; they’re doing the best they can. But I am annoyed by their snow condition report for tonight, updated at 5:04 p.m., which states:
I didn’t see any corduroy.
No skier would refer to the conditions tonight as “packed powder.”
The conditions could accurately be described as a primary frozen granular surface with pockets of loose granular.
Ski resorts aren’t known for under promising and over delivering, but they shouldn’t over promise and under deliver.
There are still a few weeks left in the season, but it looks like this season will go out with a whimper. Snowmaking will be out of the question until next weekend, when nighttime temperatures might dip back down into the 20s. But then we’ll be facing the March warm-up, which is when skiers start hanging up their skis even if conditions remain excellent at local resorts. Hopefully, there will be some nice spring skiing days between now and then. Every Mid-Atlantic skier and snowboarder owes a debt of gratitude to snowmaking and the snowmakers at area resorts: they managed to keep slopes open against all odds in this warmer-than-average winter season.
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.
Whitetail has been my "go to" local place since I moved down here but since they now started selling alcohol I can imagine things will get crazier on the slopes with a bunch of drunken wahoos to avoid
makes sense the conditions sucked on a cold night after being so warm during the days, they must be desperate for skiers so they lied in thei snow report, thank you for the interesting reading! Ski on
Your ski reports are always specific about conditions and context. This lousy experience at Whitetail may have been a challenge to present honestly, but I think you did a great job describing the situation you found.
Conditions reports are certainly better (i.e., more honest and detailed) than they were when I started skiing in the mid-1960s. 'Seems like those old reports were so often "Open Open Open Excellent Exellent Excellent," when the truth usually fell short. For the most part, we became conditioned to ignoring them. Webcams today provide a better look at coverage and open/closed terrain, but we still have to rely on the resorts - and skiers' first-hand reports posted here on DCSki - to get a good idea of the all-impoirtant surface conditions.
Whitetail blew it for the night of February 22. No question, particularly because they had provided a 5pm update. Liberty and WT are my home areas; usually they do considerably better, but any ski area needs to be called out when it falls short.
Well done, Scott. Sorry that your experience wasn't better.
I skied Whitetail for the first time early Feb 2020 on a Saturday. Got there around noon. Did a popular blue run, was rails/tracked out/ice blocks of crud the entire way down. Moved to the other blacks and blues, same conditions. Not fun at all. Couldn't carve even with full sidewall Volkl Mantras, just had to hockey slide the whole way down. I don't mind some moguls/bumps but this was too inconsistent to ski. People were wrecking everywhere. Went again two weeks later on a Friday. Not all that better, still very icy even when they were blowing snow. I couldn't get much grip in most places.
I had a similar experience at Liberty years ago. The daytime temp got to well bove 32.The snow had apparntly tuned into mashed potatoes consistency. I got there for some night skiing and the temp had fallen to well below 32. Everything had frozen up. The deep ruts had completely turned to hard ruts of ice. After about three runs skiing hard (non carvable) frozen ruts of ice, I gave up and headed home.
It is the only time I can recall in my decades of skiing that I simply gave up.