Thanks to frigid temps, my wife, Karen, and I have been able to get out skiing two weekends in a row and avoid crowded slopes. On the last weekend in January, we went up to Wisp. It’s been snowing to beat the band due to lake effect snow. With nightly snowmaking they had 30 or 32 trails open. After a late start on Saturday, checking into the hotel and grabbing a quick lunch, it was almost 2 p.m. when we stepped into our skis. The main ‘side by side’ triple chairlifts (#1 and #2) outside the hotel were packed, making for an over a ten minute wait to board the chair.
We hadn’t been to Wisp in two years. So we immediately skied the connecting trail from the top of the mountain over to new North Camp area that had been established last season. There is a quad lift and four slopes (two blues, a black and a green made up of two parts). Here the wait was only a minute or two. The trail Ace’s Run is a nice long blue cruiser -; we enjoyed a few trips down it before trying the other blue and then the short expert run. Conditioners were great -; a good layer of powder and not chopped up or scraped off even late in the day. Each time down, the lift line became shorter. The top of the chairlift offered a good view of where other skiers were heading. Thus we could pick the most open slope before getting off the lift. After several more runs, we considered returning to the main face. But by 4 p.m. there was no line at all. We stayed there until almost 6 and relished the empty slopes, often having a trail all to ourselves. When we returned back to the main face to go have dinner, the primary lifts 1 and 2 were still jam packed. Another skier mentioned, however, that the Main Street area lift #5 had also cleared out at 4 p.m. So when at Wisp, head to the North Camp on a busy Saturday and then to the Main Street area.
On Sunday morning we were on the snow when the lifts opened at 9 a.m. Sunday is generally less crowded than Saturdays everywhere. And the first 90 minutes of the day are always less busy. People arrive late or sleep in or have to rent skies, etc. Karen and I followed the signs to the Main Street area down a blue trail to a long green trail that goes thorough a tunnel. If you don’t keep your speed up you’ll end up poling through the tunnel. The two black runs there are not as steep as the ones by the lodge, such as the vertical looking “The Face.” However, they are longer and wide open with a great view. Clear skies would become gray and then blue again. And snow squalls would move in unexpectedly and cause almost white out conditions. Seconds later the sun would be shining. It made for exciting skiing. By 11 a.m., other skiers were filling up the area. Thus, we returned to the North Camp. It was like a ghost town. No line at all! We would have stayed there all day if they had a restaurant over there. But we got hungry and swooshed back to the main lodge for lunch at DC’s Tavern.
Afterwards, the lift line wait at chairs 1 and 2 was about 5 minutes. Not bad. Over at Main Street, the wait was about a minute or two. But why wait? We finished the day over at the North Camp skiing directly onto the chair following every run.
We began February with a Super Trip to Whitetail on Superbowl Sunday. It’s one of the few weekend days during the season when the slopes aren’t packed. I think Whitetail clears out earlier for the Superbowl than Liberty for two reasons. It’s a half hour further from DC and Baltimore. And it’s in a dry county.
We arrived at 12:30 and hooked up with friends Ellis, David, Jan and Ben. Ellis hadn’t snowboarded in a couple of years due to knee surgery. David hadn’t been skiing in a couple of years. So they both hit the beginner trail on the Easy Rider Quad Lift. Karen, Jan, Ben and I aimed for the high speed quad for the intermediate runs. The line was busy but moving fast. We were on the chair in about 3-4 minutes. One of the odd things at Whitetail is that nearly everyone turns right at the top of the lift and skis down Angel Drop. It must be some sort of heard mentality. Consequently, Angel Drop becomes all choppy and scraped off while the run under the lift, Limelight, remains in good shape. And the two slopes on the left, Fanciful and Snow Dancer, seem freshly groomed most of the day. We swooshed down Fanciful under bright blue skies and a crisp temp of 25 degrees. It was OUTSTANDING! Both Snow Dancer and Limelight were also fantastic, with Snow Dancer being the best and having the most powder. Pretty much all of the snow was manmade. It was, however, as good as any natural snow I’ve skied.
By 2 p.m., as I predicted, it started to empty out with the wait at the lift being less than 30 seconds. We were racking up the runs and staying surprisingly warm in the bright sunshine. Ben figured out that he needed to make a total of 27 runs for it cost less than two bucks a run for the eight-hour $53 ticket. We made a few more speedy runs then met up with Ellis and David at the top of the Express Quad. We feared that Ellis would be suffering from her knee problems. We could see her smile beaming, however, as we crested the hill. She and David were on the right as we approached and began pushing toward Angel Drop. I yelled out “NO! Don’t go that way. That trail sucks.” All of the other skiers and boarders stopped and looked at me. Ben, sitting next to me, quickly added, “NO. NO. It’s the other way that sucks.” The skiers continued towards Angel Drop while Ellis and David stood there confused. Ben’s fast thinking kept the mass mentality from infiltrating the good slopes.
Ellis and David followed us down Snow Dancer. Ellis was taking her time and babying her knee. As we waited and waited, I began to become impatient. I could tell Ben was thinking about not making the 27 run goal. When Ellis arrived she told us that we didn’t need to wait for her. “No. No. No. Let’s stay together.” We all chimed. She insisted that we go ahead without her and we agreed to meet again at 4 p.m. That was a close one!
Thus, the five of us, sans Ellis, steered toward the black slopes via Angel Drop. It was not as much of a mess as usual. Still, it was bad enough with numerous icy spots. One of my favorite parts about Whitetail is the Drop In Expert slope. It’s the only way to get to the other expert trails and the associated lift. Drop In is sheer, icy and treacherous. It’s hairy enough that it scares most of the non-expert skiers away from attempting the other black slopes. They then retreat to the main face via the relatively flat intermediate trail Fallmount. The lift is therefore rarely crowded. We arrived at the Expert’s Choice Quad to find it vacant. Exhibition, directly beneath the lift, was completely covered in moguls. Ben and I thought about giving it a go. But it would’ve taken so much time that we might miss the 27 run goal. So we all went down the nicely groomed Far Side Trail. It’s only a little steeper than the blues on the main face. Karen, Jan and David returned to Far Side while Ben and I tried Bold AKA “BAD” Decision. It’s the only double black diamond at Whitetail. It gets this rating due to steepness. It’s really only a double black when moguled-up. The top half was great. However, just where it becomes super steep is where it goes from sunshine to shadow. I couldn’t see anything and was skiing blind at a million miles an hour down hardpack. Hmmm. I better not fall, I thought. I arrived at the bottom followed a couple of minutes later by Ben. “Yep. Bad Decision,” he said. We all followed Fallmount to the lodge to meet up with Ellis.
After some coffee and nachos (Mmmmm! Good eatin’!), the six of us decided to stick together for a few runs and stay on the intermediate slopes. This, of course, fell apart right away. Ellis was moving slow and appeared to be stopped halfway up Limelight. Jan, Ben and I went back up the lift to try to catch her on the downside and make sure she was okay while David and Karen waited at the bottom. Ellis finished the run as we rode up. Then I lost Karen and David. While looking for them I lost Jan and Ben. By then we were all scattered and yelling back and forth to each other from the lift and the slope, yet we somehow all managed to get back together at the top after several more runs. The ski patrol was starting to rope off Fanciful. I asked if I could make one last run. The bigger ski patrol guy said no -; because it was the only trail on the mountain without lights. I keenly pointed out the sunset wasn’t for another 20 minutes and the lights weren’t turned on on any of the other slopes. His response was that they couldn’t turn on the lights until they closed Fanciful. I politely mentioned that his reasoning made no sense… and we had a little stare down. He grunted “No. Slope’s closed” and turned away from me.
So it was back down Snow Dancer. The cold began to set in as the sun dropped low on the horizon. Ellis and David were tired and called it a night. Karen followed after another run, and then Jan, Ben and I agreed to meet up with everyone in 20 minutes at lockers. Then I had a genius idea. We should do Bold Decision because it would be lighted and more visible. We could see alright this time. The steepest part was a sheet of black ice. Yee Haw! We finished the slope laughing at our own stupidity. Really Bad Decision. We still need seven more runs to make the magic 27. Then I had another genius thought. The two times down Drop In each technically counted as runs. And Fallmount also counted as a run. We only need four more. And technically, the trip back counted as three runs from the top of the lift -; Ridge Runner to Angel Drop to Home Run. We did these and took the Express Quad back up for a final trip down Snow Dancer to, technically, make 27 runs. Woo Hoo!
Of course we were 20 minutes late getting back to the lockers. But the others didn’t seem to care. They all had their fill of skiing on uncrowded slopes. I’d love to hear some other “secrets” on avoiding the crowds on weekends.
Matthew Graham is a skier as well as a hang glider and paraglider pilot, SCUBA diver, cavern diver, equestrian, polo player, sailor, hiker, biker, rock climber, paddler, and skater. He's also yoga teacher and certified personal trainer and has dabbled in just about every other sport, even stunt car driving and bull riding! He has written for the Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, USA Weekend Magazine, Hooked on the Outdoors, Richmond Magazine, Chesapeake Life Magazine, Metro Sports, American Fitness, Blue Ridge Outdoors, Recreation News and numerous other outdoor and travel publications.