An Evening at Whitetail 4
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

The high-speed Whitetail Express waits patiently to whisk skiers  up to the top of uncrowded slopes Wednesday evening.
The Whitetail Express. The high-speed Whitetail Express waits patiently to whisk skiers up to the top of uncrowded slopes Wednesday evening. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
One of the nice things about living in the D.C. region is that it’s entirely possible to swing by a ski resort on the way home from work. There’s nothing quite like capping off a day at the office with a few runs down the slopes.

Ok, it does lengthen the commute home. By a few hours, at least. And maybe the local ski resorts aren’t exactly on the way home. Work with me here.

I decided to “swing by” Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort on Wednesday evening, even though I was uncertain about the current conditions. Conditions at Whitetail had been perfect a week ago, thanks to consistent cold temperatures and some natural snow. (Many DCSki readers reported that the conditions were among the best they’ve seen.) But, last Friday, a steady rain fell on local resorts, and a warm spell has limited snowmaking since then. Whitetail was able to make a little bit of snow early Wednesday morning, but only briefly. For the past few nights, temperatures fell down into the mid-30’s, but still too high for effective snowmaking.

So, I really didn’t know what to expect. The resort’s official report promised “groomed loose granular,” which sounded far less appealing than “packed powder.” But I decided to make the trek out to Whitetail nonetheless, motivated by the following:

  • I’m the Editor of DCSki, and I haven’t yet been skiing this season. And that’s just not right. How can I perform my job effectively without skiing? It makes no sense. Clearly I had to get to the slopes, and soon - otherwise I’d be letting down my faithful readers.
  • Also, I enjoy skiing.
  • A lot.
  • I had just purchased a brand new car, and I was anxious to drive it long distances. (I know, that phase wears off pretty quickly.)

    So onward I went, arriving at Whitetail an hour after dusk, after spending time locating all of my ski gear that had been unceremoniously scattered about the house at the end of the last ski season.

    As I expected, Whitetail was not crowded, with perhaps a couple hundred people spread across the slopes, base area, and lodge. Like most midweek days or evenings, lift lines were nonexistent and there was plenty of parking up close. As I’ve said many times before, the absolute best time to ski is midweek - it’s cheaper and less crowded, with the slopes usually in better shape, too.

    After convincing my feet that they really could fit into my vise-like boots, I skied my way towards the Whitetail Express lift and hitched a ride up the mountain.

    For the night session, four trails served by the Whitetail Express were open: Limelight, Upper and Lower Angel Drop, and Homerun. All of the beginner trails were open, with the U-Me Double, Easy Rider Quad, and Lift Off Quads running, in addition to the Whitetail Express lift. Earlier in the day, all trails at Whitetail had been open, with the exception of intermediate Snow Dancer - the only casualty from the warmer temperatures.

    With a warm glow, Whitetail's Deer Valley-inspired base lodge beckons skiers with a free ski check and the smell of hamburgers  grilling.
    Whitetail’s base lodge. With a warm glow, Whitetail’s Deer Valley-inspired base lodge beckons skiers with a free ski check and the smell of hamburgers grilling. Photo by M. Scott Smith.
    My first run was down Upper Angel Drop. Within a few turns, I quickly realized that the loose granular was going to make skiing less than effortless: I had to power my way through turns to carve through fairly generous piles of the granular snow. By the end of the run, my legs were already sore, but partly due to this being my first trip of the season. Thankfully, after a few more runs, my leg muscles began to warm up.

    The clumps of granular snow salvaged what could have otherwise been icy slopes. In the few sections where there wasn’t granular snow, there was hard pack that was not conducive to turning. However, these sections were relatively few, and limited to the steeper intermediate slopes. They were easy enough to avoid and were probably completely absent earlier in the day.

    I tried out each of the beginner slopes, and they really were in perfect form and ideal for those learning to make their first turns.

    Limelight - one of my favorite slopes at Whitetail - had the best conditions right at the top.

    Lower Angel Drop is now home to Whitetail’s terrain park, and there were several features available. For those who would rather forgo aerial opportunities, a runout to Home Run has been created, serving as an “oops, I didn’t mean to go here” escape route.

    Coverage was good. Although the slopes generally weren’t covered edge to edge, they did have a wide and consistent swath of snow with no noticeable bare spots and no unwelcome rocks poking through. The groomers had been doing their job.

    Whitetail had hoped to fire up the snowguns Wednesday night, but the temperature dropped down to a tantalizing 33 degrees - and no further. Selfishly, I was glad - I didn’t have to struggle against snowguns firing in my face during my visit. Whitetail will try to make snow again Thursday night, and the long-term forecast shows a better chance of nighttime snowmaking over the next few days; there’s even a chance of some natural snow on Saturday.

    Although not perfect, I did not hear anyone complain about the ski conditions. Indeed, everyone was having a great time during a quiet and peaceful night at Whitetail. I have always found Whitetail to be beautiful and serene at night.

    I would, however, like to see Whitetail enhance its lighting. Whitetail has already done this once before, adding additional lights along the slopes several years after the resort’s opening. But there are still a lot of dark spots that can be tricky to ski through - especially when surface conditions are uneven, or when the slopes are crowded. Whitetail’s slopes are much wider than most of the slopes in the Mid-Atlantic, which makes them more difficult to light - but I am sure I am not alone in wishing that Whitetail would invest some money to add a few extra lights in some of the darker places.

    I would also love to see Whitetail resume “intersession” grooming. In Whitetail’s early years, snow cats were sent out between the day and evening session to reset the slopes to that velvetty corduroy state we all love. Whitetail stopped this practice, no doubt due in part to the fact that grooming always eats away some of the base, and Mid-Atlantic resorts need to keep as much of the hard-earned snow as they can. But I suspect if Whitetail resumed this practice, the night session would increase in popularity.

    Whitetail has beefed up snowmaking this year and the results are pretty obvious: Whitetail can now make snow better and faster than ever before. Tower-mounted fans line many of the slopes and can generate a blizzard when the temperatures allow. During warmer seasons, Limelight - an intermediate that runs along the Whitetail Express lift route - never opened. Whitetail was able to open Limelight fairly quickly this year thanks to the new snowmaking muscle.

    I expect conditions will be good at Whitetail for the holiday weekend. The resort has a good chance of making snow in advance of the holiday, and quality grooming helps reset the slopes to a pristine state each morning. Whitetail and other resorts in the region weathered the recent “January thaw” without much damage, and now’s a good time to make your first trip of the season if you haven’t already.

    I have visited Whitetail many times in the past, and look forward to many more visits this season.

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    About 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.

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    DCSki Sponsor: Canaan Valley Resort

    Reader Comments

    January 20, 2002
    Scott, would you be up for a skier/boarder gathering of dcski readers and fans this winter, maybe on a saturday or sunday afternoon at Liberty or some other closeby area? or do you have a better idea?
    i wonder if other folks would be interested?
    John Sherwood
    January 22, 2002

    I enjoyed the article. Thank you. Also, thanks for giving Scott Smith a break from his busy schedule and letting him go skiing! :-)

    John Sherwood

    PS The photos are great!!!!
    January 23, 2002
    JimK, I like your idea of having a DCSki gathering at one of the local resorts. I'm not sure what we would all do together, but it sounds like an interesting idea! Any suggestions? Scott could sell DCSki T-shirts and hats! ;-)
    January 28, 2002
    I agree 100% with you about Whitetail's lighting problem and uneven conditions. I live within an hour of Whitetail, but I only ski it during the day. For good night skiing, I go to Ski Liberty or Roundtop. I"ve had a couple nasty "spills" at Whitetail at night due to the lack of lighting and unpredictable terrain. Not to mention they close the back side at 4:30 p.m. Whitetail has great slopes, you just have to catch them at the right time.

    Ski and Tell

    Snowcat got your tongue?

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