I made my first ski trip of the season to Pennsylvania’s Whitetail Resort on Wednesday, January 26, 2005. I couldn’t find the time to ski - or the heart - earlier in the season, when warm temperatures melted away most of the snow at local resorts in early January. With over a week of near-round-the-clock snowmaking and a few inches of fresh snow over the weekend, I knew it was time to ditch work and head to the slopes.
Seven friends accompanied me of varying skill levels: from a never-ever, first-time skier to advanced skiers. Most of the day I spent teaching a friend who had never been downhill skiing before. He picked it up very quickly, and was linking turns on his fourth run down the bunny slopes. He advanced to Snow Park, and even made a cautious trip down Angel Drop - a pretty amazing progression during one day for someone who has never been on downhill skis before. I’d like to think it’s because of my excellent teaching skills, but I suspect that had little to do with it.
Another friend - who has skied only once before - decided to try snowboarding for the first time today. I didn’t get a chance to watch him too much, but he seemed to pick up some skills and wasn’t even limping by the end of the day. He found out that if you rent a snowboard and decide you later want to switch to rental skis, you can do so for a $10 charge.
After providing some lessons, I migrated towards some of the advanced terrain at Whitetail, hitting Far Side, Bold Decision, Angel Drop and Limelight. Moguls have been growing on Exhibition, which has been left ungroomed for the past few days.
Whitetail is in prime form right now. In fact, short of having two feet of fresh, natural powder on the slopes, I would be hard pressed to ask for better conditions. Every single trail at Whitetail was open - with the exception of the in-ground halfpipe (which will probably open by the weekend). All of the trails had good side-to-side coverage, except Exhibition, which didn’t have much snow directly under the chairlift. There were a couple spots here and there that had thin cover, but I could count them on one hand, and they were easily avoidable (and will probably disappear overnight with additional snowmaking and grooming). One of my friends tried out the terrain park but said it was fairly crowded, making it a bit dangerous to make jumps.
The only downside was that there were a fair number of kids on the slopes. There’s nothing wrong with that - but we went on a weekday hoping to have the resort to ourselves. (Call us greedy.) Apparently some school districts were closed for teacher conferences, and I can’t blame parents for taking their children to the slopes to enjoy the good conditions. Even with the unusually high midweek traffic, lift lines were never more than a minute or two. They were longest at U-Me Double and Easy Rider Quad. When there were lines, Whitetail staffers did a good job filling chairs quickly.
The temperature felt warm - in the mid- to upper-30’s most of the day, with the sky alternating between overcast and sunny. I had a bit too many layers on, but I’d rather be too warm than too cold. The warm temperatures during the day softened up the snow a bit, making it a little sticky, and a bit more work to power through, especially for ski legs that have been dormant for a year. Nice clumps of soft snow could be found everywhere - I don’t remember hitting any patches of ice, even on steep trails such as Bold Decision or well-traveled trails such as Angel Drop or Limelight. This made the snow very forgiving - especially for the beginner I was teaching to ski.
The staff at Whitetail continued to demonstrate a high level of professionalism. Walking up the main steps of Whitetail, we were greeted by a friendly staffer who gave an enthusiastic “hi” and helped answer questions. When the lines at the ticket windows got long, a Whitetail employee came outside and pointed out that we could also buy tickets inside the Guest Services office (directly to the right of the ticket windows, inside the glass doors). There was no line there, so that’s a good place to check if the normal lines are long. When a friend accidentally spilled his french fries on the floor in the cafeteria, a Whitetail employee quickly stopped by and said she would clean it up, and told him to grab a new cup of fries. Even the Ski Patrol was paying careful attention - a patroller (separate from the lift attendant) sat at the top of the Easy Rider chair most of the day and made sure skiers and boarders disembarking quickly got out of the way. I also saw a staffer riding the chairlift down and politely telling folks on the way up to lower their safety bar if it was up.
I think the beautiful weather, great snow conditions, and 100% trail opening brought out the best in Whitetail’s employees and made them all cheerful today. They might not have been in as good of spirits a couple weeks ago, when 70-degree temperatures were melting away the slopes.
Temperatures began to dip sharply Wednesday night, and by 10:30 p.m., Whitetail had once again fired up the snowguns. Whitetail appears to be building a strong base at every opportunity, and it should last well into March if Mother Nature cooperates.
If you can’t sneak away midweek, this weekend is shaping up to be a beautiful one at Whitetail and other mid-Atlantic resorts - possibly one of the best of the season. The ski season might have been delayed a bit, but it’s here, and you can’t complain about the conditions right now.
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.