Firsthand Report: Wisp 4
Author thumbnail By James Chen, DCSki Columnist

With one of the most dismal ski seasons on record, the wife and I got together with a group of friends (mostly Liberty Mountain patrollers with similar schedules and hence, time off), and their families and headed over to Wisp in Western Maryland.

Leaving Friday night amidst some pretty warm temperatures wasn’t too encouraging. Nor for that matter was the fact that none of us could hook up for dinner Friday before caravaning west. Instead, we all agreed to meet at the house where we would be staying (compliments of one of the patrollers’ sister - thanks Suzy and sister!!). As it was dark when we drove through Accident, MD and past Wisp, we didn’t see much - but the lights on the slopes showed some encouraging white stuff.

Saturday morning dawned pretty bright and sunny with temperatures starting out decidedly cool. Rob C. (never one to wait for anything when skiing is on the agenda) took off before all of us were awake! After a quick breakfast, however, we went to the area where we met some of the area’s patrollers there to say hello - what a friendly bunch!!

Although the surrounding countryside was pretty brown, there was a ton of the white stuff on the trails themselves. All the trails had been groomed and they looked to have plenty of coverage.

I pulled first duty inside with the baby as my wife went out to try her new shaped skis purchased at substantial discount thanks to the beauty of internet shopping. She reported that the runs were well covered edge to edge with lots and lots of beautifully groomed trails - corduroy heaven! In particular, she reported that Down Under (blue), Squirrel Cage (black), and Road Runner (blue) were particularly nice with firm bases (not icy - just packed pretty solid). I was surprised to hear about the Squirrel Cage as my wife is not an adventurous skier, sticking mainly to blue runs. But the conditions were right and her new shaped skis were cutting through the snow well.

After lunch, we traded off and I got to ski with some of the others in the group. By afternoon, the gorgeous sunshine had softened up the snow quite a bit. Down Under was still fun, but went from a powdery texture up top to a frozen granular surface to down right mushy at the base of the Main Street lift. Main Street itself, however, was another story - it was absolutely perfect! With the morning crowd breaking up the surface a bit, remaining skiers had some nice large moguls generously spaced apart.

The first day, we spent most of the afternoon there just enjoying the large swells, moguls and doing some jumping from bump to bump. It only got better when the crew moved over to the Face (black). So named because of its incredibly steep pitch and double fall line, we had the trail almost to ourselves! Thoughts of the dismal season and the spring-like temperatures around DC were quickly forgotten as we took run after run through the steeps with and without bumps! By the time evening rolled around, we were all spent. Rob R. (husband of one of the patrollers in the group) and I finished on Squirrel Cage. Good timing as by now, the sun was setting and the runs were definitely going from snow to ice.

After Kerriann’s incredible dinner of lasagna and sausage with plenty of red wine and several after dinner drinks, we turned in before the next day’s skiing. Overnight, a storm developed and by morning, it had snowed several inches with no signs of letting up - woo HOO!! At the area itself, several of the trails were still ankle deep in powder and we all hurried into our gear.

Unlike the day before, the temperatures never climbed above freezing. In fact, the snow continued all day with occasional bursts of snow so heavy, it was hard to see - even with goggles! The conditions were excellent - and for once, the surrounding area was just as white as the trails!!

Rob C. and Kerriann spent the day skiing the trees and reported that the glades were well covered and completely devoid of crowds. Jim reported the greens and blues were in great shape and Mary Jo, Rob R., and Suzy had fun tearing up the other side of the area. No bare spots, plenty of snow on the runs and beautiful scenery to boot (when you could see it through the falling snow).

The only complaint of the trip was the crowds on the lift lines. Because of the holiday weekend, the lift lines were very crowded. The day before, the Main Street lift had very short lines - but Sunday, the crowds created a 20 minute wait. The Squirrel Cage lift (next to the Peak lift) is usually good for a short line as it services expert only terrain, but for whatever reason, the folks at Wisp didn’t set up corrals on the left side entrance of the lift so the line snaked all the way back towards the main lodge. Wait time extended well past 20 minutes.

By late afternoon, with the snow still falling, we called it quits. The lines got a little too tedious and with Monday off for only some of the group, we all headed back to the Washington/Baltimore area.

One last note, the difference in climate between Wisp and points east was amazing. Just after getting past Cumberland, MD, the snow all but disappeared and by the time we hit I-70 heading east, the temperature went from the mid-20’s back to the upper 30’s. So much for snow and cold closer to home. No question the gang will head back to Wisp again before the short 2001/2002 season comes to a close. Thanks again to the Wisp Patrol for the great hospitality.

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About James Chen

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.

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Reader Comments

February 20, 2002
Jim C., how would you compare the Face to the steep slopes on the backside of Liberty? The weather differential you talk about is amazing. I understand Snowshoe got something like 10" over the weekend? I think Whitetail got some too. Byrce got no natural from what I saw there on Monday. We had only a cold wind on Sunday night in DC area.
Jim C.
February 20, 2002
Hey JimK. I'd say the Face is likely steeper than Upper Ultra at Liberty. While hitting that run for the first time, I was putting myself so far over the front of my skis from the pitch that I almost launched OVER the tips of my skis - that has NEVER happened at Liberty. The Face was also about twice as long as Upper Ultra and with a double fall line to boot so I'd definitely call it challenging Mid-Atlantic terrain. Funny how Wisp refers to it as a single black diamond - no doubles there. There is an "Experts Only" sign at the top.
February 20, 2002
Wisp has great skiing and surprising conditions given this lack of winter we are having. I'd have to say (as do my knees) that The Face is definitely steeper and better skiing than anything at Liberty.
John Sherwood
February 21, 2002
I'm going to order a pitch measurement device from Ortovox to measure steepness of various Mid-Atlantic trails. It isn't the most accurate device in the world, but it should spark some interesting debates on DCSki. :-)

Thanks Jim C for the article. Your drive to Wisp was rewarded!!!

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