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:
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.
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.
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.