The threat of heavy rains over the weekend nearly caused the cancellation of an annual trip to Wisp. However, with most of the crew needing a mid-February break from the pressures of life (and work) in Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, my family and a group of friends from the Liberty patrol headed to Wisp this past weekend. We were not disappointed.
Wisp ski resort is located in the “panhandle” of Maryland in Garrett County. As a result of location, this ski area typically benefits from exceptional ski weather (annual snowfalls of 100 inches or more). The current season has been no exception with record snowfalls throughout the region (50 inches from the last snowfall alone that occurred over President’s Day weekend). So despite the predictions of torrential downpours for Saturday, we headed out to Wisp Friday evening. The first stop for my family was the obligatory dinner kick-off in Hagerstown, MD where the rest of the group converged. Although the dinner went well, Suzy (whose sister owns the house on Deep Creek Lake where we stayed) had informed us that she had no luck finding someone to plow out the driveway to our accommodations. We were looking at some major shoveling before we could get into the house. Luckily, the weekend group included six hale and hearty souls willing to dig for their skiing!
We arrived late in the evening and true enough, we had to shovel several feet of snow in order to park the cars and trudge down the long driveway to the house. Since our last visit to Wisp, Wal-Mart opened a Super center in nearby Oakland, Maryland (ten miles from Wisp). Thanks to Wal-Mart’s hours (24/7), we were able to get supplies after shoveling and stock up with provisions for the next day (very important if you’re traveling with a cranky 15-month old!)
On Saturday morning, we awoke to fog and some cool temperatures. Despite the forecasts, the rain appeared to have held off. Crossing our fingers that our luck would hold, we headed to the slopes. Wal-Mart was not the only change in the area. Since last year, the resort has greatly expanded its base lodge area. By a rough, eyeball estimate, it appears that the resort expanded its base lodge by about 30%. The newness of the expansion was obvious not only by the smell of new lumber and materials, but the fact that the building is not quite complete. The outside of the lodge is still covered by unfinished plywood and the inside still had exposed heating ducts and piping uncovered. Not a big deal since we showed up to ski, not admire architecture. Stopping in to say “hello” to fellow patrollers, we were again struck by the friendliness of the Wisp Ski Patrol. It would be a challenge to find a nicer, more professional group in the industry. A big thanks for their hospitality.
Under overcast skies we hopped on the lifts (Wisp Chair) to the far left of the resort (facing the trails) and headed up. We had decided to hit the East Ridge first as Main Street always provides first rate skiing at Wisp with low crowds (i.e., no lines). Although we did not encounter the rain directly, it had clearly rained recently as evidenced by the snow conditions. Eyeopener, the trail to the East Ridge, had soft, heavy snow. The conditions on Main Street were similar with the heavy snow that makes carving very enjoyable. As is typical for Main Street, the body of the trail had been groomed flat. By afternoon, the area under the chair and to skier’s right was some very nice bumps. We spent quite a bit of the early afternoon going through the “ego-bumps” over and over (so-named because of their ability to boost one’s ego regarding their skiing ability). We also skied Odin’s Chute and Down Under. Both trails were not nearly as enjoyable since there is some skating involved at the bottom of Down Under to get back to the Main Street chair if you did not carry enough speed coming off the trail and going through the tunnel. As the day wore on, we headed back towards the front area skiing the front to ski Muskrat, Squirrel Cage and the Face. Devil’s Drop was closed due to thin snow cover caused by the previous day’s rain. By late afternoon, we called it a day having skied most of the area.
On Sunday morning, we returned to get in a half day of skiing before heading home. Overnight, the temperatures had dropped from the lower 40’s to well below freezing. Conditions had gone from foggy and cool to snowy, windy and cold. The groomers at Wisp had done their work early. As a result, the groomed trails were corduroy ice. Thank goodness for sharp skis! Because of high winds, Wisp shut down the East Ridge area late in the morning. As a result, we stayed towards the right side of the resort enjoying some shelter from the wind and falling snow among trails such as Bear Paw and Long View. We also tried Fox way, Road Runner and Deer Run - some of which had restricted access due to a skier-cross race being conducted that day. The snow never softened up during our morning skiing, but the skiing was very enjoyable nonetheless. The snow fell all morning in beautiful individual flakes. We understood from a Wisp Patroller that more snow was forecast for the week. Unfortunately, we had to head back to the real world and with that, we bid farewell to Wisp. As is typical, the snow coverage diminished as we headed east and by the time we hit Cumberland, the falling snow had stopped. The drive back was uneventful with I-68 and I-70 being stress-free right until we approached the I-270 interchange. After being cut-off by a silver VW Beetle with D.C. plates and a driver paying more attention to his cell phone conversation than the road, I knew we were back. Thanks once again to the Wisp Ski Patrol for their incredible hospitality.
James "Jim" Chen" is a member of the National Ski Patrol and Assistant Patrol Director at Liberty Mountain ski area in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania. Jim has been a member of the Liberty Patrol since the 1995-1996 season. Off the slopes, Jim is an attorney in Washington, D.C. where he counsels clients on transportation, innovation, safety and environmental areas.