DCSki Sponsor: Canaan Valley Resort
Firsthand Report: Whitetail’s Opening Day 2
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor
It was a beautiful bluebird day on Whitetail’s opening day. Photo by M. Scott Smith.

It’s Friday morning, December 9. I slumber out of bed. I stagger over to the window and peer out between the mini blinds. My eyes take a few moments to adjust to the light, but as the picture comes into focus, I see white snow covering everything, like white gift paper wrapped around the landscape. The first major winter storm to hit the Baltimore region is well on its way north, but it has left behind snow -; beautiful snow -; along with work and school closings. This presents a delicious dilemma: do I go back to bed? Or do I head to the slopes?

It’s opening day at Whitetail Resort, and a check of Whitetail’s web cams helps make the decision. Whitetail had received 8-10 inches of fresh snow overnight, and had been blowing snow around the clock for the past week. In the mid-Atlantic region, resort openings usually consist of a thin layer of manmade snow on a small handful of beginner trails. Not this year; Whitetail was opening with 8 trails, packed powder, and snow depths that hid away bare ground deep beneath the surface. Ideal mid-winter conditions in the mid-Atlantic on December 9 -; that’s not your average year. I’ll take it.

A few phone calls to friends rounded up one other person willing to make a last-minute trip to Whitetail. After a frantic search for gloves, helmet, poles and -; oh yeah! -; skis, by noon we were on the road. With cleared roads and dry pavement, we wondered why we had off work. But we weren’t complaining.

All of the roads to Whitetail were in good shape. Exiting I-70, there was some drifting snow on the road leading to Whitetail, but careful driving was all that was necessary to cross that hurdle. By early afternoon, bright sunshine was smiling down on Whitetail, with some wisps of fast-moving clouds blowing past the mountaintop, appearing to reach out and touch the tips of the mountain as they passed by. The wind was strong, but it was beautiful -; piles of snow everywhere, happy people, and a deep blue sky. On December 9. Does life get better than this?

On Whitetail’s opening day, a healthy selection of trails was open: all of the beginner terrain, along with Angel Drop off the top of the Whitetail Express quad. Conditions were packed powder throughout the day, with some stashes of untracked surviving a brief time. My friend was on his fourth ski trip after trying out the sport last year, so we began on the bunny slopes, eventually migrating over to Snow Park, which had the best snow. The Easy Rider quad was stop-and-go throughout the day, with frequent wipeouts at the top causing the lift to grind to a halt. Why so many wipeouts? Undoubtedly, nearly everyone on the slopes was skiing or boarding for their first day of the season. Hopefully, a number of skiers and boarders were visiting the slopes for their first time, expanding interest in the sport. Alert lift attendants kept an eye on the loading and unloading, with their hand on the “stop” button.

There were hundreds of guests at Whitetail on its opening day, including many teenagers, who had the day off from school. The four operating lifts swallowed the crowds with no lift lines. Limelight, the intermediate trail directly under the high-speed quad, was the recipient of a massive amount of snowmaking. Tower-mounted blowers and nozzles on the ground pumped out an enormous amount of fine, white snow, which drifted through the air. This made a ride on the Whitetail Express rather surreal, as the chairs drifted through clouds of manmade snow and the sound of compressed air passed by. Aggressive snowmaking was also underway on the expert terrain, including Drop In, Ridge Runner, Expedition and Bold Decision.

The only crowding problem was on Angel Drop. With only one run available from the top of the high-speed quad on Friday, a large number of people crowded onto Angel Drop -; including a ton of snowboarders who would fly down the mountain in batches, often coming within inches of me and clearly not giving any preference to style or control over speed.

This did not present the best learning conditions for my friend, so we quickly navigated back over to Snow Park, which was empty by comparison. On Saturday, Whitetail opened two additional trails off of the high-speed quad, which should go a long way towards reducing the people funnel that was Angel Drop.

The Jib Junction Terrain Park, located on the lower part of Angel Drop, was beginning to grow some small features. The most substantial was a jump at the bottom.

As the sun set and the lights began to glow, the temperature began to dip -; from the low-30’s to the mid-20’s -; and the cold, blowing wind became much more noticeable. I was a bit underdressed, so the lift rides became chilly. With the periodic gusts of strong wind and heavy use throughout the day, some bare spots appeared here and there, but they were rare and easy to navigate or avoid.

For its first day of the season, Whitetail was operating smoothly. The resort had a new toy to show off -; a newly-expanded rental building, double the size of the old one. The 12,500 square feet of additional space has been put to good use, creating a new workflow that will quickly swallow and move along large packs of ski- or snowboard-renting visitors. Skis and snowboards are now housed in the same location; in past years, snowboards were rented in the lower level of the main lodge. Inside, the rental building has cheerful colors and tall ceilings with skylights. Lockers (requiring four quarters) have been moved inside of the rental building, but they’re not quite as convenient to get to as when they were located outside. The Ski School desk is now inside the rental building, along with additional restrooms -; but the restrooms are located in the far back of the building, some distance from the slopes. If you’re out on the slopes, the quickest trip to the restroom is still to check your gear at the free ski check and use the restrooms in the main lodge.

The lift buildings at the base of the Easy Rider and Whitetail Express quads have been replaced, and a new LED-board displays messages at the base of the Whitetail Express. It appears that the lift towers have also received a fresh coat of green paint. Starbucks has switched sides in the base lodge. Whitetail now provides a plastic loop to connect lift tickets instead of the traditional metal sprocket; this makes applying lift tickets a bit easier. The lift ticket also includes a tear-off receipt which can presumably be used to replace the ticket, should it be lost.

As of Sunday, December 11, Whitetail has 10 slopes open, with a base depth of 14-24 inches and packed powder conditions. Tubing has not yet opened for the season, but Whitetail has begun grooming the lanes. Temperatures throughout the week should be favorable for snowmaking, especially at night, when they could dip down into the teens. This could allow Whitetail to open its expert terrain by next weekend. It is very possible that Whitetail will be 100% open before Christmas -; a goal that normally isn’t reached until January. Unquestionably, the mid-Atlantic ski season is off to a roaring start.

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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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Reader Comments

December 11, 2005

What camera are you using?
December 11, 2005
Hi John,

Those pics were actually with a Canon PowerShot SD100 -- a tiny, older digital camera. Normally I take photos with a Nikon D100 (digital SLR) and assortment of lenses, but the Canon is infinitely easier to carry around and can take a decent shot in a pinch. The battery did freeze pretty quickly, though.

Ski and Tell

Snowcat got your tongue?

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