For the past several days, I’ve dabbled with the idea of swinging by Whitetail early this week for some night skiing. But it just didn’t seem practical: I had to work during the day, I was tired, and I had the holidays to prepare for. With some remorse, I decided Tuesday morning to forget about skiing until sometime after the holidays.
Then, Tuesday afternoon, I abruptly changed my mind.
The weather outside was beautiful: sunny and balmy, in the 50’s. Was it too warm to ski? It might be a bit slushy during the day, but the snow should firm up once the sun goes down, I wagered. And anyway, simply getting outside would do me some good -; conditions didn’t have to be perfect. It would be my first ski trip of the season, and a chance to reawaken some of those leg muscles that only seem to get used skiing -; always leading to soreness the next day.
So, after frantically searching my house for all of my ski gear, I packed up the car and hit the road just as the sun was beginning to set. By the time I arrived at Whitetail, some 90 minutes later, the sky was pitch dark -; but the slopes were well lit, with plenty of snow on them. I’m always pleased to round the corner and see (a) lights on, (b) white snow on the slopes, (c) lifts running, and (d) skiers going down the slopes.
The parking lot had more cars than I expected for a weekday night, but it was no trouble finding a close-up spot. I hauled my gear to the lockers by the ski rental building, discovering that inflation had hit the lockers (up to four quarters from 75 cents). In due time, I was popping my boots into the skis and heading for the lift.
My hunch paid off: the snow was soft, but not slushy, and it got better as the night wore on. The temperatures dipped into the low 40’s, firming the snow up but keeping ice at bay. In fact, there wasn’t a single icy spot on any of the slopes Tuesday night. There was enough loose granular to make carving easy, but not too much to make it wear on the legs.
For my first run, I rode the slow U-Me Double to test out the snow conditions on one of Whitetail’s bunny slopes -; and to convince myself that I remembered how to ski after a long summer of -; well, not skiing.
After a few quick turns, I was at the bottom of the bunny slope (and determined not to waste time on it again), and began working my way to the right of the mountain. I was pleased to grab a chair on the Whitetail Express -; zipping up to the top of the mountain and to the heart of Whitetail’s intermediate terrain.
Ahh, Limelight. One of my favorite slopes at Whitetail had great conditions, and no one was skiing it. Run after run, I usually had the slope all to myself. The view from the top is beautiful -; seeing terrestrial lights dotting the landscape in the distance, and stars blinking in the heavens above.
Limelight had good coverage; I didn’t see any bare spots, except at the edges of the trail.
Next, I moved over to Angel Drop and made my way to Drop In. As is often the case, Angel Drop had grown some nice mini-moguls throughout the day. I had fun swerving around them or occasionally catching some air as I jumped off of them. (Sometimes, even intentionally.) Angel Drop attracted the most people, but even so, there usually were no more than a dozen skiers and boarders on the entire trail. There was never a lift line on the Whitetail Express Tuesday night.
I never got a chance last season to try out Whitetail’s expert terrain at night, so I was anxious to see what it’s like. Last season, the resort installed lighting on Drop In, Exhibition, and Bold Decision. This season, tower-mounted fan guns were added to Exhibition, allowing the trail to open earlier in the season. I spent some time skiing down Exhibition, almost always having the slope all to myself. I shared a lift ride on the Expert’s Choice quad with a friendly snowboarder; she and I swapped stories about skiing out west. (Conclusion: Whitetail isn’t as nice as western resorts, but it’s a couple thousand miles closer.)
Black diamond Exhibition truly isn’t much steeper than Whitetail’s intermediates, such as Limelight and Angel Drop, but it is often less crowded. Bold Decision had grown some nice moguls throughout the day. It was great being able to ski Whitetail’s expert terrain at night; nighttime is often the only time I’m able to ski, and in past years I’ve always looked with sadness at the roped-off Drop In, disappearing into blackness. Now, quite a bit more terrain is available to visitors at night.
On all of the trails, there was good snow cover. One or two bare spots began to grow on Homerun, but for the most part, any bare spots were relegated to the sides of the trail. I didn’t encounter any rocks or other unpleasantries on the snow.
The terrain park had a couple of rails and plenty of hits and jumps, which I studiously avoided. A collection of skiers and boarders were having fun in the park.
It was too dark to tell for sure, but it appeared that some snowmaking had occurred on intermediate Snow Dancer, but none on Fanciful or Far Side. (Similarly, no snowmaking has occurred in Whitetail’s in-ground halfpipe.) Every other trail, except the run out Fallmount, was open -; 14 trails in total. That’s a healthy number of trails for Whitetail to have open before Christmas. I think the tower-mounted fan guns that Whitetail has been installing in recent years have really helped the resort open more terrain, faster. The recent natural snow and cold nighttime temperatures have also helped.
On the drive home, it began to rain, but Whitetail’s base seems robust enough to shrug off a few rainstorms. Temperatures will drop down below freezing on Christmas night, so that should allow Whitetail to fire the guns up again. Conditions through the rest of the holiday week should be good. As the New Year arrives, AccuWeather’s long-term forecast shows some arctic temperature settling over the region. That will allow Whitetail and other Mid-Atlantic resorts to fire up the snowguns in force; I expect most resorts will have 100% of their terrain open by early January.
In the meantime, there’s some great snow and plenty of terrain open at resorts. I always consider skiing in December to be a bonus, and I’m glad I decided to swing by Whitetail Tuesday night -; even if it means I’m typing this report at 3 a.m. instead of sleeping!
Photos by 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.