On President’s Day, we packed our stuff up early and headed out to Whiteface Mountain for a day of alpine skiing. Predictions were for sun early then rain heading in by 3 pm. As an aside, sometimes these weather apps are pretty amazing to me: at exactly 2:55 pm, the drops started falling. But never mind that: Until 2 pm, the sky was open and blue, the mountain (or mountains, really, since there are three on the Whiteface “campus”) white with snow and just about zero lift lines.
We started out with my one mistake of the day. Seriously, even I can make a mistake. I saw people parking on the entrance road to Whiteface and I said “hey, we should do the same, they must know what they are doing!” They did know what they were doing: they were the double-black-diamond skiers heading up to the big trails. We, on the other hand, with 2 brand-new skiers, 2 low intermediate skiers and 2 high, were supposed to be over to the right (ummm, north, I think) where the beginner mountain is. No worries, there is a free and fast shuttle; we figured it out. One major bonus of Whiteface is that no matter where you park, you are walkable to the mountain even in your giant Star Wars boots. Love.
So before I make fun of my own and others’ MAJOR ski skills, let’s take a moment to get to know Whiteface Mountain. It’s owned by the great state of New York, and has been since the early 1950s and a project to build the Veteran’s Memorial Highway up to the high summit. I am so doing that in summer and then zooming down on a mountain bike and probably right into a hospital. Ah, and apparently you can pick your favorite legend on how Whiteface got its name but one is just too sad about a white stag getting killed by magic arrows or something, or one is too boring about white rock so here is the one I like and is posted on the Whiteface page: the Algonquin name for the mountain was Wa-ho-par-te-nie from Waapenot, “it goes upward.” Credit: Whiteface Mountain and possibly some NY state employees who just made it up. Not true: the historical society is on this one.
And upwards it does go! From wikipedia now and directly quoted: “Whiteface’s highest lift unloads at 4,386 feet (1,337 m), a vertical drop of 3,166 ft (965 m) to the base area at 1,220 ft (372 m). Its hike-to terrain, The Slides, is 264 ft (80 m) higher at 4,650 ft (1,417 m), providing Whiteface with the greatest continuous vertical drop in eastern North America at 3,430 feet (1,045 m). This is more vertical than Aspen in Colorado; Snowbird in Utah; Killington, Stowe, Jay Peak, Mad River Glen and Stratton in Vermont; Sugarloaf in Maine Lake Louise in Alberta; and Mont Tremblant in Quebec. Its neighbor, Little Whiteface, tops in elevation at 3,676 ft (1,120 m). Whiteface has a total of 22 miles (35 km) of ski terrain, spread out over 88 trails. 314 acres (127 ha) of skiing area includes 35 in-bounds, off-piste double-black diamond wilderness terrain skiing on “The Slides” (conditions permitting), 85.5 acres (34.6 ha) of tree skiing, 35 acres (14 ha) of expert extreme adventure terrain. The Slides is an unmaintained wilderness area that is rarely open due to safety hazards. They can only be accessed by hiking from the top of the Summit Quad. Whiteface has a separate area for beginners known as Bear Den Mountain (formerly Kids Kampus).”
Okay, just a few comments on that wikipedia stuff. 1. I read further that the Slides is only open at the end of the season (if at all any given year) because of avalanche dangers. What the what? No thanks. And, 2., let me translate “expert extreme adventure terrain” for you. It means “painful death”. And finally, thank you for the change of Bear Den Mountain from “Kids Kampus” as I would be insulted by the stupid use of K in Kampus, and the fact that not all beginners are Kids.
So, yes, there we were on Bear Den mountain. We had no line for lift tickets though thirty people or so arrived after us and lined up, no line for rental equipment then thirty people arrived after us…and strangely at lunchtime we had no line and then thirty people lined up after us. So either we were being stalked by the same thirty people, or we are totally leading edge. I would say the employees were on the New York side of friendly (you can translate) and Loon Mountain safely stays in my books as the best ski resort personnel ever. Well, okay, I did have a chat with two helpful employees as I caught the shuttle at the end of the day. They told me that the day before, the Sunday of President’s Day weekend, was their biggest day EVER, with 6,600 people on the mountain and long lift lines. They ran out of some equipment for rental. We did not have this experience (thank you, deity).
One of my kids had been a snowboarder last year but I finally got him back to the good side of the Force and had skied at Loon. But then Red Gerard happened to skislope at the Olympics and now Lalo was back in snowboard camp. And beginner trails. And lying on his butt. I have to say that for very beginner skiers, Bear Den is a great mountain within the Whiteface complex. One slow triple chair, short flat runs with great snow and one terrain park which I would put more as a toddler park. We had fun.
Later on we moved over to Little Whiteface and some nice trails named for placid beasts such as Moose, Fox and I can’t remember, Duck? On every lift ride up the mountain, you can watch the nuttos over on Whiteface on the black diamonds. I had heard that Whiteface is primarily a high intermediate-expert mountain and I would have to say that is true. It looked like great good fun if you cared little about your bones staying whole. I cared more. I do wish to start a ski mountain trail-naming revolt though: if it has to be Moose, why not Rabid Moose? Or Sly Fox? Or Dashing Duck? Sad really.
In other news, I found out that Whiteface hosted a set of my favorite twins: the Mahres. They did not do so well at the 1980 Olympics–if you count silver as bad for Phil, and DNF for Steve. They went on to gold and silver in the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics in the slalom. They are the first skiers I remember watching in the alpine events and if you’re old enough, you’ll remember their faces:
Sorry for that moment of mush about stepping where famous people stepped. I loved the Mahres. Moving on.
Whiteface is not cheap. Wait, does anyone know of cheap alpine skiing? No. I am assuming they have to cover all the lawsuits for the people trying to do the 1980 Olympics giant slalom course and failing. It’s $90/adult which is quite salty after you’ve driven 5 hours from Boston. On the other hand, as part of our weeklong 2018 Olympics Winter Tour of Lake Placid, it was unforgettable and fantastic. Speaking of saltiness, watch out in the Bear Den lodge which is run by folks from Latin America. That’s the spiciest chili and buffalo chicken wrap on record and I was WITH folks from Latin America who said “wow, that’s spicy.” Also macaroni and cheese only available at 12 pm which, for a former Kids Kampus and now Bear Den, makes a lot of little cubbies crabby when we arrive for lunch at 11:30. Just sayin’, Whiteface.