It’s a tough job, I know.
To fulfill this demanding task, I took a break from my normal “desk” job and headed up to Whitetail on Wednesday. Whitetail was reporting excellent conditions, and with the terrifically cold temperatures so far this winter, I could hear the snow guns beckoning. (It turns out it was my gas furnace firing, but no matter.)
The initial plan was to head up early Wednesday morning, to catch the first lift ride of the day.
Ha ha ha.
I ended up leaving around 11:30 a.m., after performing the obligatory ritual of sleeping in. (If you’re taking a day off from work, you might as well make it count in every way.)
The mid-day drive up I-70 was pleasant; there wasn’t too much traffic. After a brief stop at Wendy’s for some fuel (a grilled chicken combo with a Sprite), I arrived at Whitetail just before 2 p.m.
Pulling up to Whitetail, I was pleased to see two things. First, all of the slopes were covered with perfectly white snow - not grass, or patchy, brown snow (nor, heaven forbid, yellow snow) as has often been the case in the recent El Niño years. Second, I could see that the lifts were actually running. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but on occasion I’ve had the misfortune of arriving at a resort to find that a critical lift was in fact not running, due to mechanical difficulties. So, snow-covered slopes (with small dots moving down them) plus lifts that are moving is a good sign.
After buying an 8-hour flex ticket, I popped the skis on and headed for the Whitetail Express high-speed quad. I decided to spend the next two hours at Whitetail’s expert terrain (all open!), which is not lit for night skiing and closes down at 4 p.m. A quick ride up the Whitetail Express and a quick jaunt down Angel Drop to Drop In took me to the bottom of the Expert’s Choice quad.
The day was beautiful - wispy clouds in the sky accompanied by plenty of sunshine. And, being midweek, there were no crowds to speak of. The lines at the lifts were rarely more than one deep (with no lines whatsoever most of the time), and the slopes were decidedly uncrowded. There were undoubtedly a few hundred skiers and boarders, but they were spread out nicely across Whitetail’s terrain. Most of the visitors seemed to be older (perhaps a number of retired folks), along with some college kids on winter break. On the whole, a nice group of people, all enjoying their day.
As I skied over to the expert trails, I immediately noticed that the snow conditions were, in fact, excellent. In fact, after a few turns, my face began to break into a smile: this was not typical east coast skiing. Trails were covered edge-to-edge with snow, and nice snow at that - the type that’s easy to carve on and shoot down, building up more and more confidence with each turn. There were only a few hard patches, which were usually surrounded by fluffy powder and easy to avoid or ski through. I couldn’t find any hardpack on some of the trails, such as Exhibition and Limelight.
I tried out Bold Decision and Far Side for good measure, but spent most of the time between 2-4 p.m. skiing Exhibition, which really had nice conditions and no crowds. With the exception of Bold Decision, none of the trails had moguls to speak of, although both Exhibition and Upper Angel Drop were beginning to bump out ever so slightly - enough to catch a little air here and there. Even the moguls on Bold Decision were pretty tame.
All of the trails at Whitetail were open with the exception of Fanciful, which was closed for the day for snowmaking. However, no snowmaking was underway when I arrived, although the snowguns did start to fire on some slopes around 6 p.m.
I caught one last run on Exhibition just before the Expert’s Choice lift closed, and then headed over to the intermediate terrain for the rest of the evening.
One of my favorite trails, Limelight, was open - for the first time in several years. Limelight is often one of the last trails to open, and never quite made it in recent winters. It’s the trail that goes along the Whitetail Express lift.
Not too many people were skiing or boarding on Limelight, which was fine with me - the conditions on it were perfect, making it a great intermediate cruiser. I suppose a lot of skiers avoid the built-in audience (or critics) on trails that straddle lifts.
Soon, the sun began to set, bursting into a beautiful sunset. Whitetail has a great view at the top of the mountain, and I (along with many others) found it difficult not to pause for a few moments at the top of the mountain to enjoy the view, with colors changing as the sun dipped further and further below the horizon.
Soon the lights came on, and the temperatures began to dip. I had left out one layer of clothing, assuming the sun would keep me warm, which it had. Once the sun had made its departure, the lift ride began getting colder and colder.
With stars poking out of the sky, I decided to call it a night around 6:30 p.m. I had put in at least a couple dozen runs - each one enjoyable - but realized I had work the next day.
Shortly after my feet began to warm up, I realized that in my continuing struggle against uncomfortable boots, the boots had won another battle, evidently pinching my toes and leaving them in sharp pain. I hadn’t noticed this while skiing, but when I got home I noticed several of my toes were bruised. Ouch! So I’m limping a little (my first ski injury, I suppose), while cursing at my boots under my breath and vowing to get a new pair once and for all. A word to the wise: make sure your boots are comfortable. DCSki Columnist Otto Matheke provided an article with some great tips a couple seasons ago.
I have skied at Whitetail dozens of times, but I think Wednesday’s trip rates right up there as one of my best days at Whitetail, tender toes notwithstanding. Were the conditions great? Yes - perhaps as good as they ever get on the east coast. I expect conditions are equally great at resorts across the region, and I strongly encourage you to get out there now to enjoy them - you never know when a mid-winter warm spell or rain storm will take them away. On the plus side, base depths are so healthy now that they could easily survive a week or more of crummy weather. With luck, there’s another 2-3 months of great skiing and boarding left.
Not a bad season so far.
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.