The 2005-2006 mid-Atlantic ski season is off to a strong start. I was glad to finally get in on the action when I led a group of friends and family to the Wisp ski area in western Maryland on Sunday, December 11, 2005. We enjoyed a snowy, 30-degree day of discount skiing at Wisp’s 50th Birthday weekend celebration. Early in the afternoon I also had the opportunity to join a half dozen members of the DCSki online community for a mountain tour, highlighted by a visit to North Camp, the major new expansion of ski terrain at Wisp this season.
Retro 1955 pricing for Wisp’s early December birthday has become a very popular tradition over the years. It’s a great way to get the public excited about the start of another new ski season. When complemented by the type of stellar man-made and natural snow conditions evident on Sunday, the two-day $7 lift ticket represents one of the best bargains on the mid-Atlantic ski calendar. About two or three inches of light snow fell during the day adding to the festive winter atmosphere, which also included a DJ, games, birthday cake, and a raucous crowd.
The 50th birthday party event drew one of the largest turnouts I’ve seen at Wisp, but fortuitously it coincided with the grand opening of Wisp’s new North Camp expansion, which dispersed the crowds nicely. North Camp features ten new trails, two new quad chairlifts, extensive lighting, tons of snowmaking infrastructure, and some serious earth moving. This is one of the biggest ski developments in our region since the opening of Whitetail some 15 years ago.
At 12:30 p.m. my friend Dave and I met up with a DCSki posse comprised of Tommo (a Wisp regular), JohnL, Jimmy, Jimmy’s daughter Jessica, and friend Jay. The power of DCSki was in play bringing together this diverse group hailing from Morgantown, WV; Damascus, MD; and various points in northern VA.
Tommo served as tour guide while leading us over to North Camp. Let me tell you, this is no half-hearted expansion. From Wisp’s 3,115-foot summit we took a nearly two mile long beginner run (Little and Big Dipper) to get to the 2,415-foot base elevation of North Camp’s chair 7. On Sunday the Dipper connector was a windy, featureless, but vital boulevard to better things.
Once you make the trek to North Camp it pays to stay a while. Chair 7 offers some fine intermediate groomers over about 600 feet of vertical. Our group skied all three blue runs in this sector: Whip Saw, Ace’s Run, and Over the Edge (actually designated an easy black).
Several of us agreed that Ace’s Run, to the skier’s far left, may be the best of the new bunch with a nice, continuous blue pitch about .75 miles in length and similar to Liberty’s Sidewinder-to-Lower Strata, or Canaan’s Valley Vista. I particularly enjoyed one uninterrupted cruise down Ace’s and I know Jimmy the Mountaineer did too. He was closing fast on me when we came to a hockey stop at the base of the slope.
After the North Camp exploration Tommo took us to Wisp’s most challenging terrain, located on the front side of the mountain in plain view of the main lodge. Like everywhere else on Sunday, we found a great mix of man-made and natural packed powder on The Face and Devil’s Drop. JohnL also liked what he saw after dipping into the steep, but nicely spaced trees between these two runs. It was one of those rare days when conditions improved as the day wore on despite a large number of folks on the mountain. By 3 p.m. the newly fallen natural was fluffing up on lesser skied areas making for superb mid-winter conditions on December 11!
Tommo and I got a chuckle on one of our rides up chair 2 when JohnL declared the smoothly rounded, truck size whales on The Face to be considerably more user friendly than their counterparts at a certain West Virginia ski area (much discussed on DCSki) which shall remain nameless. For the record, 22 of Wisp’s 32 trails were open on Sunday and the monster snowmaking capability of this resort appeared to have the last unopened area, Main Street/chair 5, ready to go soon.
Eventually, I bid adieu to the DCSki posse and rejoined my son and his friends for the last 90 minutes of our ski day. We had a mission to find a missing mitten somewhere underneath North Camp’s chair 7. All day long we had seen people poaching this sweet looking line as we rode the lift. In includes a notable boulder already christened by crowd-pleasing hucksters. Several of us used the glove search excuse to check out this unofficial and all-natural trail. It was still sprinkled with loose rocks, but had enough nice powder to put a smile on your face. The Wisp Ski Patrol will have an interesting job managing this terrain. Oh by the way, we found the mitten.
All in all - a great ski day with friends and family. The crowds on Sunday speak to the drawing power of a good deal, but also to the growing stature of this ski area by the lake. Wisp is now glowing brightly on the radar screen of many a mid-Atlantic snowrider and the 50th birthday is an awesome milestone for a venerable resort still striving to offer a better quality ski product each new year.
PS: Missed this deal? Get an extended day lift ticket every Wednesday at Wisp in 2006 for just $21. For more details see their website at www.skiwisp.com.
Husband, father and retired civilian employee of the Department of Navy, Jim Kenney is a D.C. area native and has been skiing recreationally since 1967. Jim's ski reporting garnered the 2009 West Virginia Division of Tourism's Stars of the Industry Award for Best Web/Internet/E-Magazine Article.