Firsthand Report: Wisp
Author thumbnail By James Chen, DCSki Columnist

A bit later in the season than usual, but a group of Liberty Patrollers and their families headed out for our annual trip to Wisp Resort in far western Maryland to sample the offerings of another DC-area ski resort. Gathering a group of eleven people in the middle of rush-hour on a Friday evening is no easy matter, but somehow, by 8 p.m., we were well on the road to the Deep Creek Lake area via I-70 and I-68. The only slick spots of concern were after the turn off onto Maryland route 495 to get to the cabin where we would be spending the weekend, courtesy of Tom and Denice Fitts. Even those icy patches were easily handled, however, when the speed of our caravan was appropriately reduced. A must since two of our party were traveling in their full sized RV!

Finding out how deep snow can get in Garrett County (or AWD does not always equal forward momentum!) Photo provided by Suzy Nicol.

On Saturday, we quickly made our way to the resort on the other side of the lake where we were staying. After a brief delay from misplaced confidence in the capabilities of all wheel drive and all season radial tires, we were soon dropping off Carter, our five-year old son, into the very capable hands of the Willy Wisp Children’s Center. From there, we headed up to the high mountain parking lot. For those not familiar with Wisp, the resort has opened up a parking lot at the top of the area. It really is the way to go as the lot does not fill up nearly as quickly as the base area at the bottom of the resort. A building adjacent to the lot houses a ticket office as well as a place to purchase beverages and sandwiches. On the other side of the lot are the drop off points for all of the main lifts, including those servicing the front side, Main Street/Odin’s Chute side, as well as the new North Camp side.

With tickets on, we headed down our first run. Just past the loading area for Chair 6 on the North Camp side, however, as we were cruising down Big Dipper, we came across a ten-year old snowboarder and his concerned mom. The young lad had taken a hard fall and was not feeling well at all. Being patrollers, several of us started to assess the injured boarder while others directed traffic around us and another went to summon the Wisp Ski Patrol. Imagine our surprise when the first patroller on scene from Wisp was Barry Panik, friend and former shift-mate to our crew when he was with the Liberty Patrol! We helped Barry and the other patrollers package up the injured boarder and get him to more advanced care. After a bit of catching up and some obligatory paperwork, we all headed back out to continue our skiing and riding. It is always good to talk to fellow patrollers, and the Wisp folks were friendly and hospitable as always. And, after seeing them in action, there can be no question about their skill and professionalism in helping injured guests at their resort!

The view from the top of Main Street with Lisa Byington. Photo provided by Jim Chen.

Saturday turned out to be an absolutely gorgeous day with bright sun and wonderful terrain. We skied some of the bumps over on Main Street located under the lift and after those were scraped down, we spent some time on the front playing on the Face and Squirrel Cage - which was decidedly “squirrelly” what with the races on half the trail and some slick conditions on the other half! We also skied Devil’s Drop, but it was mighty thin on cover. We quickly ended the day where we started over in the North Camp area, but by then word had gotten out and we were joined by absolutely huge crowds both on the slopes and in the lift lines.

My wife and I broke off from the group by 2:30 p.m. to pick up our son. When we got back to the top, the others were ready to call it a day, even at the relatively early hour of 3 p.m. The crowds were simply too thick to warrant standing in line. Besides, there were several bottles of Chardonnay and various reds waiting for us back at the cabin! In addition, two of the group, Joerg Meyer and Karin Sadowski who had joined us a few years ago as transfers from the European division of the National Ski Patrol, were making homemade pasta and sauce. Joerg outdid himself with his hand cranked buckwheat spaghetti - a German truly skilled in the art of Italian pasta making! We also checked in with some Liberty Mountain friends and found out about the power outage that had hit the area on Saturday night. We definitely picked a good weekend for our mini-escape.

The “gang” at Wisp, from left to right: Rob Huehmer, Karin Sadowski, Lisa Smith, Irene Chen, Jim Chen, Joerg Meyer, Lisa Byington, Tom Fitts, and Suzy Nicol. Photo provided by Suzy Nicol.

The one cloud over the day was the weather forecast. Although Saturday was sunny and absolutely gorgeous (resulting in several tanned/burned noses), the weather was scheduled for a marked turn. Sure enough, Sunday morning when we awoke, it was raining to beat the band. Not only that, but with the cold temperatures in Garrett County, the rain was mixed with sleet and froze to road surfaces. Despite the fact that our number included some truly hardcore skiers and boarders, the consensus was quickly reached that hitting the roads early was a better call than skiing anymore. So with great regret, we called a semi-early end to our weekend. This turned about to be the right call, however, as I-68 on the way home was littered with spun out cars, pickup trucks and SUV’s and really, really messy conditions. Thankfully, all of us made it home safely and none the worse for wear. All in all it was a wonderful ski weekend spent with good food and great friends. And a big thank you to Mark, Larry, and the rest of the Wisp Patrol for their hospitality!

Lisa Smith and Karin Sadowski toasting the end to a nearly perfect day (note the Weather Channel on TV!) Photo provided by Suzy Nicol.
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About James Chen

James "Jim" Chen" is a member of the National Ski Patrol and Assistant Patrol Director at Liberty Mountain ski area in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania. Jim has been a member of the Liberty Patrol since the 1995-1996 season. Off the slopes, Jim is an attorney in Washington, D.C. where he counsels clients on transportation, innovation, safety and environmental areas.

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