With a season pass that's good at both Gore and Whiteface, you'd think I'd get up to Whiteface more often, but the truth is that the last time I skied at Whiteface was three years ago, before the new Lookout Mountain terrain came online. But when 14 inches of new snow coincided with a kid-less overnight visit to Lake Placid, the lifts at Whiteface trumped our nordic skiing options for Saturday.
Whiteface makes a big deal about the fact that it towers over other Eastern ski resorts, and for good reason: Whiteface feels like and skis like a big mountain. The trails are wide, tall and steep, and if you ski Whiteface top to bottom in one shot, you'd better have strong legs.
With 14 inches of new snow the previous day and evening, you'd think we'd be able to find at least some untracked lines on the mountain, but it seemed just about every trail was pretty well skied up by 9:30am. That was fine, and we enjoyed skiing the cut-up powder as we toured each of the major terrain pods on the mountain. But skied-up powder takes a lot more physical effort than groomed packed powder, and the snow conditions conspired with the big terrain to leave us pretty whipped by the end of the day.
Gore and Whiteface are about as different from each other as two major ski resorts in the Adirondacks could possibly be. One of those differences is the relatively few number of glades at Whiteface. On a day with new snow like today, I found myself wishing for glades and trees, nooks, crannies and out-of-the-way places where the snow would be softer and less trafficked. I'm sure Whiteface has some of those places for those who know the mountain well, but I went for the obvious and found nice snow in the High Country Glades.
My pick of the day would have to be Cloudspin, one of Whiteface's signature black diamond runs off the summit. In some places piles of soft snow were interspersed with scraped hardpack, but much of Cloudspin was soft, steep, bumped up powder that went on and on for fifteen hundred vertical feet. I skied that run solo, and when Beth and I met back up at the base of the summit quad I know I was wearing a wide smile.
Counter-intuitively, we found that as the day went on the conditions seemed to improve as trails got skied in. Blue-square trails like Excelsior seemed a bit rough and chunky early in the day, but got smoother and silkier with skier traffic as the day wore on. Another difference between Gore and Whiteface is a relative lack of intermediate cruising trails at Whiteface. Some may argue the point, but in my opinion Whiteface is best suited to upper intermediate and advanced skiers who can ski the many black diamond trails comfortably. The handful of intermediate trails that we skied, like Excelsior and Wilmington, seemed at times to be almost overwhelmed with beginner and low-intermediate skiers.
The last difference that I'll highlight between Whiteface and Gore is the interconnectedness at Whiteface. It's easy to ski from one major terrain pod to another at Whiteface, and we were easily able to ski all over the mountain in a one-day visit. A skier is never more than a single run or chairlift ride away from accessing any other part of Whiteface's terrain. On a big mountain like Whiteface, that's a big plus.
It's easy to see why Whiteface was voted the #1 ski resort in the Eastern U.S. One of our goals on Saturday was to scope out the mountain for a family visit later this season or next. For me, a return visit to ski the slides is a priorty. Either way, I'm not going to let another 3 years go by.