Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Whiteface Mountain: 02/20/2012

Whiteface rises like a white sentinel above the snowless landscape outside Jay, NY, Feb 20, 2012.

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

Whiteface and Gore skiers love to debate which is the “better” mountain: Gore has its glades and the most skiable acres in New York, Whiteface has its Olympic heritage and the biggest vertical drop in the East. The debate will never be settled, and that’s fine with me since a season pass at either mountain gives full access to the other. That interchangeability has been a real bonus for us this season, with Monday being our fourth ski day at The Face.

Bright sun made it a fine day to ride the chairlifts

After dropping Sylvie at the Kids Kampus daycare, Beth, Daniel and I embarked on a morning tour of the Whiteface "standards:" runs like Excelsior, Approach and the Mackenzies on Little Whiteface, and the Wilmington Trail on Lookout Mountain. Loose granular trail surfaces were generally soft and edgeable from both grooming and the strong February sun.

L to R: Parron's Run, Cloudspin and Skyward, viewed from Little Whiteface

Frosted trees lined the upper stretches of the Wilmington Trail

Since Lookout Mountain wasn't open yet when we last visited Whiteface over the MLK Weekend, we made skiing the Wilmington Trail a priority. Despite what seemed to be a pretty big holiday weekend crowd at the base, Lookout Mountain was nearly deserted, and it seemed like we had the Wilmington to ourselves. Skiers often talk about the panoramic views, length (over 2 miles) and vertical drop (2800') of the Wilmington, but on the day we visited the highlight had to be the beautiful snow-covered spruce trees that lined the upper Wilmington. At nearly 4000' in elevation it's a stunning sub-alpine setting to which photos simply don't do justice.

Nice carveable snow on Upper Mackenzie

From the summit of Little Whiteface, skiing Approach to the Mackenzies has long been one of my favorite lines on the mountain for the views from Approach and for the interesting twists and drops on Upper Mackenzie. Snowmaking crews sealed the deal on Monday by leaving Upper Mack covered in big bumps and whales of carveable chalky snow, some of the nicest on the mountain.

Crowded gondola line, mid-morning

Except for a line that formed at the gondola around 11am (it looked like maybe the Face Lift had briefly shut down?), lifts were walk-on all day. Apparently the holiday ski vacationers confined themselves mainly to the gondola and Face Lift. As has become our SOP at Whiteface, we had lunch at the mid-mountain lodge. In fact, I haven't even been inside the Whiteface base lodge since Media Day in early December.

Skyward from the Summit Chairlift

Lone skier on Skyward

I felt that I had unfinished business from our last Whiteface visit: though we had skied Parron's Run and Follies off the summit, I hadn't gotten to ski Skyward, Whiteface's signature summit black diamond trail. So after lunch we split up: Daniel and I headed up the summit chair while Beth skied a lower mountain trail.

For my money, Skyward has to be one of the most spectacular ski runs in the East: it's a sustained steep, wide, straight-down-the-mountain trail that confirms Whiteface's big mountain reputation. Snow conditions were absolutely great: dry, chalky packed powder top to bottom, best on the mountain. Those couple of runs on Skyward, with Daniel skiing just ahead or just behind me, were certainly the best of the day and among the best of the entire season. After our first run, Daniel and I decided that Beth had to ski Skyward too, so the three of us enjoyed a run together.

Daniel on Skyward

Summit chairlift

We ended our day with a run down Parron's, a bit anti-climatic after the great runs on Skyward. In hindsight, we should have logged another lap on Skyward, but it'll be there for another visit. We're hoping to get in at least one more trip to The Face this season.

Gore may be my home mountain, but I'm awfully glad I've got its "little" sibling (fewer skiable acres!) up north.

Snow showers screen this view of the High Peaks. You don't get views of peaks like this in Vermont.


  1. What a wonderful report!

  2. Nice report and pics Jeff.

    I'm much like you....based out of Gore with occasional trips to Whiteface. Here are some of my Pros/Cons:

    Gore (Pros) - closer to Saratoga, better glades, generally better surface conditions, generally less extreme cold/wind.
    Gore (Cons) - a 1,000 less vertical, no sustained steep trails like Skyward, Mtn Run, etc., nothing to rival the Slides, way too much poling/skating (Cedars, the Straightbrook area, Lower Cloud, etc). North Creek is OK but it is a far cry from what Lake Placid has to offer. NYSEF/racing negatively impacts key trails.

    Whiteface (Pros) - Racers are isolated much better, and families have their own lodge and parking area completely separated from main base yet still easily accessible. Mid station lodge much better than Gore's Saddle. Sustained, long steep runs. Can ski summit to base without hitting a single flat area. Lake Placid has endless offerings - good restaurants, world class bobsled, ski jumping, x-c skiing, dog sled rides, ice skating....the list is endless.
    Whiteface (Cons) - a bit of a haul from Saratoga; makes for a long day trip. I usually get a hotel. It can be brutal if it is cold and the wind blows. Many more lift holds than Gore. Doesn't deserve the "IceFace" nickname, but it is steep and it can be slick.

    That being said, I love that ORDA let's me pick which one I want to ski at. They complement each other pretty well.

    1. Hey Craig, that's a pretty acurate comparison, very well stated. Someone asked me (I think it's a comment in an earlier WF post) could I make WF my "home" mountain instead of Gore. If it wasn't for the difference in drive time, you betcha. Like you said, it's pretty great to have access to both mountains.