Thursday, December 15, 2011

Whiteface Mountain Media Day: 12/14/2011

Skiing the Essex trail at Whiteface Mountain. Media day, December 14, 2011.

The Saratoga Skier and Hiker, first-hand accounts of adventures in the Adirondacks and beyond, and Gore Mountain ski blog.

On the second run of the day at Whiteface yesterday, my right ski became suddenly and strangely no longer attached to my ski. Unlike traditional alpine skis, the telemark gear I use doesn’t actually release from your boots if you fall. If it does release, it generally means you've got a major problem. So when my ski released for no reason near the top of Victoria (aka Lower Cloudspin), I wasn’t surprised to discover that the binding cable had snapped. But instead of being a day-ender, that equipment failure proved to be the catalyst for a great ski day. More on that in a minute.

Jon Lundin (green parka) and Bruce McCulley (behind Jon) getting ready to lead our Media Day group down Excelsior.
A bit foggy at the start of our group's first run

Beth and I were at Whiteface for their Media Day. After meeting up in the base lodge, around 20 of us were given a short presentation by Ted Blazer (ORDA’s CEO), Bruce McCulley (Whiteface General Manager) and Jon Lundin (ORDA’s PR Coordinator) highlighting some of the changes and improvements at the mountain for the 2011-12 ski season. I’ve already covered the details of most of those improvements in my Ski Season Preview and Whiteface Outtake posts (hey, I like to stay ahead of the curve), but here are the major highlights:
  • Major renovation work in the base lodge, including the J. Lohr café, the retail shop and the rental area.
  • New rental skis from Rossignol featuring rocker technology.
  • New state-of-the-art winchcat groomer.
  • Major overhaul /refurbishment of the Little Whiteface chairlift. The chairlift was load-tested last week, and will likely go back into service by this weekend.

Looking down Victoria, not far from where I blew out my binding. The base is way down below the cloud deck.

By a few minutes after 9am, we were heading out to the slopes. Frankly, conditions didn’t look all that promising. We had driven up from Saratoga under mostly cloudy skies with temperatures a few degrees either side of freezing, and the mountain itself looked to be mostly fogged in.

Ron Konowitz on Victoria

Stepping out of the gondola at the top of Little Whiteface it was still foggy, but at least snow conditions looked good. Smiles soon broke out on everyone’s faces as we followed Bruce, Jon and Bridgette down Excelsior, with excellent packed powder conditions.

It’s no secret that it’s been a difficult start to the ski season with a lack of natural snow and inconsistent temperatures for snowmaking. But the timing of our visit, at the tail end of a 5- or 6-day stretch of good snowmaking conditions, meant that we were enjoying some of the best conditions of the season. Kudos to the snowmaking crew! By our second run, the fog was lifting, visibility improved drastically, and there were even some breaks of blue sky overhead. And then my binding broke.

Whiteface's gondola provides 2,450 vertical feet of skiing per run. Yup, I felt it by the time we got to the bottom.

By keeping my foot firmly planted on the ski and cinching the ski tight to my boot with the safety strap, I was able to hobble down the remaining two thousand vertical feet to the base. Lucky for me, Ron Konowitz was part of our group as a Mountain Host. If you’ve been around the Adirondack skiing scene for any time at all, Ron needs no introduction. He’s the only person known to have skied all 46 of the High Peaks, and he somehow manages to log something like 170+ days of skiing each year.

Ron, who was the only other telemark skier in our group, offered that he might have a replacement cable that I could use. It turned out that the way my binding had broken, it couldn’t be repaired, so instead Ron pulled a couple pairs of his own skis out from his truck: Atomic TM-EXs (a classic that still skis well) and a pair of sweet, brand-new-just-out-of-the-wrapper Voile Vectors. I’ve skied that Atomic model before and knew it was well-suited to my skiing style, so minutes later we were back at the gondola, having missed just one lap with the rest of the group.

Trying to keep up with Ron Kon

The Atomics felt great underfoot. Considered an ultra-wide model 10 years ago, they skied quite similarly to my current K2 Work Stinx. Our group found great conditions on all open terrain, which included Essex, Excelsior, Victoria, Lower Northway and Upper Valley, all funneling down into Lower Valley. Essex and Victoria had nice, carveable moguls. Snow conditions transitioned from dry packed powder on the upper half of the mountain to damp packed powder from around the mid-mountain lodge down. Jon Lundin nailed it when he said “If I had sent out a press release to all you guys saying the conditions were this good, you would have said I was just cranking up a PR propaganda machine!”

Ron Kon and Beth looking down Essex

After a lunch break in the J.Lohr café (thumbs up on the new J.Lohr!) and a short presentation from ORDA staff, Ron insisted that I try his new Voile Vectors. I was a bit hesitant (hell, I just busted my own skis) but Ron just wasn’t going to take no for an answer. The Vectors are a wide but lightweight, rockered ski designed with backcountry / mountaineering in mind, perfect for Ron’s intended use. In all honesty I preferred the ride of the Atomics – the Vectors seemed to ski a bit short and grabby to me – but I think my experience may have suffered from my own learning curve with rocker, because the Vectors have received widespread excellent reviews.

Final run for the day

Ron, Beth and I skied together for the remainder of the afternoon. Ron has extensive knowledge about Whiteface, the Adirondacks, and skiing in general, and it was great to swap stories riding the gondola and while skiing. Since Beth and I are mainly Gore skiers, it's always a treat to get up to Whiteface, but Ron, Bruce and Jon - with major support from the snowmaking crew - really made the day memorable. With any luck, Whiteface and Gore will dodge Thursday’s weather bullet and be on track for good skiing this weekend and into the holiday period ahead.

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