When the various planets of a ski aficionado’s universe align in a favorable position, he who hesitates is lost. This past weekend, the Wisp ski area in western Maryland celebrated its 47th birthday with all trails open (22), excellent snow conditions, and a $7.00 lift ticket good for skiing on both Saturday and Sunday, December 14 and 15, 2002. That combination of great conditions and 1955 values doesn’t come along everyday.
We in the DC area had seen only a heavy, discouraging rain leading up to the weekend. Nonetheless, I groggily packed up my ski gear and a couple of my kids and headed to Wisp early on Sunday morning, not sure of exactly what sort of snow, weather, and crowd conditions we’d face. About two hours into the three hour drive from my home in northern Virginia, we received a great thrill. As we passed over a ridge on Interstate 68 near Frostburg, Maryland the world suddenly turned white and the sun illuminated a brilliant layer of ice and snow covering the trees and fields in every direction. The pioneers got that town’s name right.
Western Maryland had received a wintry mix of precip on Friday and Saturday, ending with a good dose of fresh snow. My young daughter said the world looked like a shimmering winter scene out of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis. I knew then that a lack of good snow cover was not going to be an issue; natural depths from that point west to Wisp deepened from five to about ten inches at the resort.
When we arrived a little before 10 a.m. there was a healthy crowd. It continued to grow, but never got out of control. Our longest wait in a lift line all day proved to be about five minutes, and was often less, especially on the back side of the mountain facing scenic Deep Creek Lake. Fortunately for us, many folks stayed home, not believing the skiing and boarding could be this good, this cheap, this early in the Mid-Atlantic ski season.
Sunday was a real fine ski day. The wind was light and the temperatures rose to the low 30’s by early afternoon. Although it was mostly cloudy, the sun peeked out at frequent intervals. While the chairlifts and trees were covered with a thick coating of ice and snow, the trail conditions were primarily packed powder with no signs of the ice storm that had preceded the new snow. My compliments go out to the Wisp snow grooming crew.
Wisp skis much bigger than your typical 600’ vertical mountain, and for a day or weekend visitor, provides a very pleasing variety of 22 runs spreading over two faces. My kids and I enjoyed packed powder conditions on front side cruisers like Possum, Wisp, Deer Run, Beaver, and Boulder. We also found great packed snow conditions on scenic back side trails like Down Under and Main Street.
Around noon I rode the Peak Chair from Wisp’s main base area with a twenty-something snowboarder named Theo from Germantown, Maryland. Theo sported some nice head gear and lots of gray matter to go under it. I mentioned www.dcski.com and Theo was quite familiar with it. We began to discuss John Sherwood’s outstanding piece featured on December 3, 2002 about Mid-Atlantic snowmaking. When this young snowboarder brought up the effect of dry bulb and wet bulb temperatures and humidity in the snowmaking process, I had to chuckle to myself about just how well read and “sticky” the DCSki website really is.
Later, I ventured solo down the black diamond descents of Squirrel Cage and The Face. The Face, Wisp’s steepest slope, had some nice loose powder on its upper reaches with just a bit of hard pack between bumps. The terrain park at the base of The Face was in full swing on Sunday with lots of folks waiting their turn for a shot at some air time off the many possible hits.
Wisp had a DJ spinning tunes all day for their 47th birthday celebration and I found their sales and service desk personnel a pleasure to deal with. Their super low birthday prices extended to rental equipment, lessons, and food, including free cake and 47-cent hotdogs and sodas. At lunch time I gave my two kids $4 and told them to stuff themselves; they did, and returned $1 in change.
Wisp at Deep Creek Mountain Resort is about 170 miles west of the Baltimore/DC area and has excellent road access, including Interstate highways for 95% of the trip. More info can be found on Wisp at the resort profile section of DCSki.
Photos by Jim Kenney.
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.