After several nights of cold temperatures and successful snowmaking, I decided it was time to give local skiing another chance. I tossed the skis on top of the car and drove out to Whitetail, arriving just after lunchtime. The temperature at the base of the mountain was around 35 degrees, with calm winds. Skies were overcast; the sun took turns coming out from behind the clouds and lighting up the slopes. I dressed expecting it to be quite chilly, but it didn’t feel that cold. (Temperatures will be lowering in the coming days, though, so dress warm if you go.)
Once again, my fear of crowds was unfounded. Although Whitetail’s parking lot looked pretty full, the waiting time at the high-speed quad ranged from zero to three minutes. The line looked longer at the Easy Rider Quad, but not by much. In past years, Whitetail could be packed on the weekend, with full maze lines and 15-minute waits. I have yet to see similar crowds this year, although I can’t say what crowds were like on Saturday. Although conditions are a lot better than last year, area resorts have still suffered from a mild winter, and visit rates have been down across the board for most resorts.
So, what were conditions like at Whitetail? I wasn’t sure what to expect. Midweek temperatures had been mild, turning snow into loose granular slush. Thursday night, temperatures dropped and Whitetail resumed snowmaking. (Presumably, things got pretty icy on Thursday night.) Temperatures have barely climbed above freezing since then, and Whitetail has had successful snowmaking every night. I was glad to see the snowguns off when I arrived Sunday afternoon - I hate skiing when they’re on. But I’m glad they have been on recently, because Whitetail has drastically improved conditions. The 14 trails open had solid coverage with machine-made, packed powder conditions. There were few ice spots and they were generally easily avoidable.
I found the best conditions on Snow Dancer, the intermediate to the left of the high-speed quad. Snow Dancer tended to have smaller crowds, and with few exceptions, plenty of powder allowed for easy carving. Snow Dancer narrows about 3/4 of the way down, and combined with a slightly steeper pitch, this section can crowd up as some skiers and boarders clog the trail or stop in the middle. (The old funnel effect.) But other than that, Snow Dancer made for some very enjoyable skiing, and I made run after run.
The intermediates to the right of the high-speed quad were also in decent shape, although they seemed to attract the most skier traffic, resulting in some slick spots where the powder had been scraped away. I’m told that conditions were excellent in the morning, and wish I had arrived earlier to enjoy the groomed slopes. As the afternoon wore on and the clouds became thicker, the slopes began to slick up, but were still in good shape for the east coast.
I did not have a chance to ski Exhibition (which has been left ungroomed, resulting in lots of moguls) or Bold Decision, two of the toughest trails at Whitetail. Fellow lift riders told me that they were in great shape in the morning, but deteriorated as the day progressed. Bold Decision, in particular, spends most of its time in shade.
Temperatures over the next week will remain ideal for snowmaking. They’ll drop even more than they already have at night, to teens and even single-digits. This will allow Whitetail to make some serious snow, and I expect conditions any day this week are going to be exceptional. If you haven’t made it skiing yet this season, now is the time to go. Who knows what kind of temperatures the following week will bring.
Whitetail is currently focusing snowmaking on open slopes. Intermediate Limelight, which runs underneath the Whitetail Express quad, has not opened this season and it’s beginning to look like it won’t. Fanciful, the intermediate to the far left of the high-speed quad, was open in January but has lost virtually all of its snow. At least so far, the resort hasn’t resumed snowmaking on Fanciful. Similarly, Far Side, the rightmost expert trail, opened very briefly earlier in the season but is currently without snow. All other trails are open with good coverage.
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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