Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whiteface: 12/10/2014

Whiteface Mountain, Wednesday 12/10/214

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

My trip up to Whiteface on Wednesday almost didn't happen. The same storm that brought 1 to 2 feet of snow to the Adirondacks knocked out our power at home Tuesday night, cancelled school for the kids on Wednesday and turned area roads into a white knuckle adventure. Nonetheless, with luck on my side I pulled into Whiteface's parking lot at 9am with 9 inches of new snow on the ground and more on the way.

The drive up was not for the faint of heart

Media Day is an opportunity for Whiteface to acquaint local media and ski journalists (apparently I somehow pass as a journalist) with the mountain and bring everyone up to date on recent upgrades and improvements to the ski area. But of course everyone's first priority is to make a bunch of runs, and I immediately headed out the door for a couple warm-up laps on groomed runs off the Face Lift while crews readied the gondola for operation.

I almost felt bad cutting the line of waiting skiers. Almost.

First cabin up

By 10am the gondi was ready to go. A line of eager skiers had formed, but our group was escorted up front to load the first cabins after Ski Patrol. Up top Aaron Kellett, Whiteface's general manager, gathered a group to head down Excelsior, a groomed intermediate run. Excelsior's a fine trail, but I didn't want to waste a chance for first tracks on a groomer, and headed for Mountain Run instead.

Mountain Run

True first tracks belong to the skiers who skin up the mountain in pre-dawn hours, but there couldn't have been more than a handful of tracks ahead of mine. Tuesday night's storm brought relatively dense powder to the mountain, so even though I wasn't scoring Utah fluff the snow was still plenty fun to ski.

Ron Konowitz, one of Whiteface's mountain hosts

I got in 3 quick laps on the gondi before a power outage shut down the lifts just before noon. Since skiing was at least temporarily on hold, our group headed in for lunch and a short presentation by Aaron and his staff. Aaron and his crews had a busy offseason with major upgrades to the ski center's snowmaking system, including 100 new high efficiency guns. The new guns use just 25% of the energy of the guns they replace, so they represent a significant energy savings and reduction in the ski area's carbon footprint. Approximately half of the guns' cost was funded through a grant from NYSEG, the ski center's electric utility. There's also new grooming equipment, re-grading and widening of the Wilmington and Upper Valley trails, a renovation and re-branding of the Kids Kampus learning area, and a new sunroom on the lower deck of the main lodge.

Riding the Face Lift

The power outage would continue for the rest of the afternoon, but the Face Lift was fired up under auxiliary diesel power while we ate lunch and was now spinning. I had connected with Ron Konowitz, one of Whiteface's mountain hosts and president of the Adirondack Powder Skiers Association, on my last gondi lap and we spent the rest of the afternoon chasing down the best snow on the mountain. Snow had started falling again right after lunch, and continued to pick up in intensity all afternoon, with at least another couple inches accumulating by 4pm. The gondi had been great while it lasted, but we still found plenty of nice snow and fun skiing off the Face Lift all afternoon.

Chasing down the powder somewhere on the lower mountain

Whiteface is off to a great start. There's more terrain open at this point in the season than past years, and that's before this week's storm. The new snow will form an excellent base on the trails and in the woods, setting the stage for what will hopefully be a great Christmas holiday period and rest of the season. Thanks to Aaron Kellett, Jon Lundin and the rest of the Whiteface staff for hosting a great day of skiing!

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