Skiing Whiteface When the Crowds Are Thin
By guest blogger Caitlin Kelly; above image by Jake Sporn
I wave at the lift attendant as I grab my skis from the gondola at the top of Little Whiteface. He smiles and nods back, sitting behind a row of rubber ducks. I don’t know if he actually recognizes me with my braids and purple skis and Carhartt vest, but I’d like to think so. It’s my fifth season at Whiteface and I've been skiing all morning—it’s probably my sixth ride up the gondola with the same group of friends, too. And it’s midweek; hardly anyone is up on the mountain, regardless of the bluebird sky and packed powder conditions. These are the days I dream about.
Despite being in the wilds of the Adirondacks, on the weekends and holidays Whiteface Mountain is typically packed with people. It makes sense. With 3,430 feet of vertical, rowdy terrain, a top-notch ski school, and some of the best grooming and snowmaking on the East Coast, it’s not hard to believe that thousands flock from nearby metropolitan areas. Crowds of weekenders sliding down snow and taking in the breathtaking views from the High Peaks can congest the mountain. If you’re able to swing it, Whiteface midweek is when the mountain truly shines.
We click into our skis and I glance up toward the summit. The Follies trail curves into a white ribbon as it disappears down the mountain; Lake Champlain glimmers in the distance and I see Wilmington nestled into the cozy valley below. Dropping into one of our favorite trails, we laugh and ski fast with it all to ourselves, getting air as we hit each rollover. We don’t have to avoid the gondola line because no one is in it. The lift attendants know and recognize us and we fist-bump mittens from time to time. The sun’s out and it’s a glorious day.
The best of the best
Sometimes it snows. And snows hard. March is the ideal time to visit; by then the mountains have a sufficient snow base and it’s historically when the big storms come. The past few Marches have left the mountain with several feet of snow overnight. And people are excited and happy and grateful and kind—all at the same time. Since there are more midweek days than weekend days, it's more likely for a storm to happen midweek, so plan accordingly.
Not everyone has the luxury of skiing midweek. Most have their 9-to-5s and can’t always take a break from work. There are certainly ways to work around this—taking vacation days here and there throughout the ski season, or just taking a whole week off to explore what’s going on up here in the mountains.
Like many ski areas, Whiteface is steeped in community. If you end up on the gondola or chairlift with a stranger, there’s a good chance they’re a local, and surely have some good stories and a willingness to share. The Whiteface community is inspiring. They’re in it for the skiing, and when it snows (and snows a lot) it’s one the happiest group of skiers I’ve ever been a part of. I’ve had the pleasure of being on the chairlift with forest rangers, photographers and journalists, ski/snowboard instructors, trail builders, beekeepers, farmers, restaurant owners, teachers, and students.
The final run
The sun slowly disappears behind the ridge. The Slides loom above us as we ascend the summit chair once more before the lifts shut down for the day. We stop at the top of Skyward and take in a view that never grows old. We are lucky and happy and acknowledge that to each other. One after the other, we drop off the headwall and cruise down, finding powder stashes on the sides of the trails. We end up at the base lodge and click out of our skis. We go inside to ditch our ski boots and head up to the Cloudspin Bar for a cold one and a pile of nachos to share and reminisce about our stellar day on the mountain.
There are no ski in/ski out chalets or condominiums clogging up the forests on Whiteface (which, in my opinion, is what makes this mountain so great — skiing for the sake of skiing). There is plenty of lodging close to the mountain in Wilmington, and 15 minutes southwest in Lake Placid. There are also hostels in Keene Valley and Lake Placid, if that’s more your speed. Keep an eye on the weather if you’re thinking of traveling, or even if you live in town. Bluebird midweek is hard to beat, and if you’re lucky and the forecast predicts a big storm, travel the night before and get ready for a great day of skiing.
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