Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Skiing Whiteface Mountain

I don't downhill ski very often anymore. Lift tickets prices have climbed to well over $100 a day at most decent mountains. I usually don't ski unless I can find a deal on a lift ticket. This year however, Puma gave me a day of skiing at Whiteface for Christmas to use when conditions were looking good.

The gondola 

After a lackluster winter for snow sports much of the season, winter returned in late February with colder temperatures and a couple of good storms. Whiteface reported 33" of new snow over a ten day period. All but a few trails were open. I finally got my ticket for March 2nd.

I had never skied Whiteface but wanted to check it out while I was still living in the Adirondacks. With a claimed vertical of 3,340' and the highest lift topping out at 4,386', the mountain offers the highest elevation and vertical of any ski area in the Northeast. Whiteface also holds the distinction of being the venue for the 1980 Olympics ski events. 

Riding the Lookout Quad

Whiteface often ranks highly among ski resorts in the eastern US or Canada. It's known for it steep, challenging terrain. While the mountain receives praise for its steep terrain, it also has a reputation for rough conditions when the weather doesn't cooperate. The snow often gets skied off the steep terrain, leaving icy trails, leading to the moniker "Ice-Face." After the snowy week leading up to my day at the mountain, I was hoping I wouldn't have to contend with icy conditions.

To start the day, I hit a blue cruiser called Excelsior that allowed for a long run back to the base. I was pleased that I didn't seem to have missed a beat since my last time skiing, nearly 4 years earlier. After a couple more cruisers, I made my way onto some easier black runs. 
I always try to get the maximum value out of my paid skiing days. I arrived at the mountain early and was in line for the gondola so I could start my day right at 830AM when the lifts start spinning. I did not downhill ski since I left Colorado in 2019. My plan was to hit a few blue trails to get my ski legs back in case there was some rust after a few years off the slopes. From the top of the gondola, there is more than 2,400 feet of vertical back to the base and several intermediate slopes to practice some turns.

The snow was pretty good after the past snowy week. The only real challenge in the first couple hours came from the weather. The morning was misty. This didn't affect the snow, however, the mist left my goggles covered in droplets, making it difficult to see. After a few runs on the gondola, I headed to the Summit Quad. At the higher elevation on the top of the lift, the visibility was nearly zero. I could barely see the next chair ahead of me on the top of the lift. The visibility through my goggles made skiing more difficult. By mid morning, the upper half of the mountain transitioned to snow, helping with the messy goggles.

Later in the day when the clouds broke a little

Before lunch I was confident enough to hit the more challenging looking black diamonds and even made a few trips into the glades. Some of the natural runs and glades didn't have great coverage, but were still skiable. My runs in the glades were a little slow as I had to pick my way through sections of thin cover. I mixed my morning with steeper runs with cruisers so I didn't wear out my legs on the steeper terrain.

Entering some glades

After lunch, I went to ski the black diamond trails that I didn't in the morning. Most of these trails were reached right off the gondola. The last part of the mountain I was reluctant to try was the black diamonds off of the Summit Quad. These trails had terrible visibility and the terrain difficult to read before dropping into the headwalls. Skyward in particular had a steep headwall that looked like it fell into an abyss in the fog. Despite an icy drop into the headwall, the skiing wasn't too bad and I had most of the runs off the Summit Quad to myself. 

Skiing Essex

By late afternoon the trails thinned out pretty well as people left for the day and I generally had most of the runs to myself after 230PM. I even had the gondola to myself on several occasions. The gondola and upper mountain lifts stop carrying skiers for the day at 330PM. I caught my last ride up at 325PM. I took my time on my last run to take a few pictures. Although a few lower lifts still run until 4, I called it a day around 345PM.

The clouds breaking late in the day

I managed to catch Whiteface on a good snow day. I was thoroughly impressed with the skiing. I enjoy steep terrain and Whiteface certainly delivered some steep trails. Of the twenty or so places I have skied in the East, I would put Whiteface in the top five for challenging terrain. With the steep terrain, I could see the skiing turning quite ugly in bad conditions. My only real complaint was the terrible visibility that made it difficult to read the steeper terrain on the upper part of the mountain at times and the mist that obscured my goggles, but you can't control mother nature.

Morning view from the gondola. This is also what
the view from my goggles looked like after
a run in the morning.

Several runs stand out that I enjoyed. Upper Mackenzie and Upper Wilderness were nice black diamonds. I particularly liked the ungroomed snow on Upper Mackenzie. On the same part of the mountain, Essex was a steep narrow run that I enjoyed even with the scratchy snow cover. Despite the rough visibility at the drop in, Upper Skyward was a fun run off the Summit Quad with a steep fall line. Excelsior and Northway allowed for some cruising when I needed a break from the steeper terrain. Although I only skied it once, the Wilmington Trail was a long cruiser off of Lookout Mountain that winded its way all the way back to the base with little traffic or wear. Although the snow cover wasn't the best, Cloudsplitter, and the 10th Mountain Division Glades looked like they would be fun in deeper snow. High Country Glades skied nicely with better coverage.

Skiing the Cloudsplitter Glade

With the current price of a weekday, walk-up ticket at $119 (relatively cheap compared to ski areas in the West), I probably won't be back to Whiteface anytime soon unless I find a deal. I pre purchased my ticket a week ahead of time and it was still quite pricey. Either way I  had a great day on the slopes. Thank you Puma for the Christmas gift.

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  1. Great pictures Troy! The only East Coast skiing I have done was at Snowshoe in West Virginia.

    1. Thanks for reading. Interestingly enough, I’m moving to West Virginia next year and will be just over an hour from Snowshoe.