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Why you shouldn’t miss skiing Whiteface.

Okay, let’s get this over with:

Iceface.

Feel better now? Because often, when I mention Whiteface to someone, they’ll roll their eyes and say Iceface in kind of a know-it-all way — even if they’ve never been there before. My advice: Get over it. Because if you don’t, you’re missing out on one of the best skiing experiences in the East.

IMHO, Iceface is a vestigial term, left from a time when there was little to no snowmaking or grooming and yeah, it was icy. Whiteface is a high mountain that gets a lot of wind and weather. So I have no doubt that this was correct.

But times change, and today, I don’t think Whiteface has any more or less ice than anyplace else in the East. Everyone gets their fair share. And there are ways to deal with it now that didn’t exist in the past.

Instead, I’d like to start talking about just how awesome Whiteface is.  Consider this: the Olympics were held there in 1980, and in nearby Lake Placid in 1932. A place has to be pretty special to have that happen. And Whiteface is.

A couple weeks ago, Whiteface invited me and a bunch of other ski journalists for a ski media day. If you read my blog post about Okemo’s media day, then you know that this is a time that the resort people set aside to familiarize the press with all the stuff they have going on. You go on mountain tours, sit through presentations, eat at the various restaurants, and so on. It’s fun and you learn a lot.

Suffice it to say that the one at Whiteface reminded me about why it’s a must-do in the East.

Here’s what I love about it:

Whiteface gondola.

Whiteface gondola.

Long, long trails: The highest lift at Whiteface unloads at 4,386 feet, a vertical drop of 3,166 feet to the base area, which sits at 1,220 feet. Its hike-to terrain, The Slides, is 264 feet  higher (4,650 feet), giving Whiteface the greatest continuous vertical drop in the eastern US (3,430 feet). This makes for some very long, very fun runs. The Wilmington trail, for example, at 2-1/2 miles long, and is the East’s longest intermediate trail. Zoooooom.

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Snowmaking: Whiteface has come a long way in this department. The day of my visit, the guns were blasting everywhere. But what impressed me the most was the quality of the snowmaking system itself. In addition to a hefty arsenal of snow guns that blanket 99% of the mountain with white goodness, Whiteface has 15 TecnoAlpin fan snow guns that are absolutely incredible. These energy-efficient guns produce snow that feels amazingly natural, without blasting your ears when you stop to talk or turning your goggles into a frosty nightmare when you ski past. They have an onboard weather center that tells them how much water to use based on wet-bulb temperature. And their basic operation (start, stop, snow quality and position) can be controlled from any computer or smart phone.

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Kids’ Program: Whiteface has an entire section of the mountain set aside just for kids/beginners — with its own lodge, dedicated trails, and lift. Which means you don’t get higher level skiers blasting through and creating problems for learners. Truly, it’s  one of the nicest beginner areas I’ve ever seen.

Whiteface Kids Kampus

Whiteface Kids Kampus

The View: The summit of Whiteface offers a 360-degree view of the Adirondacks. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Mount Mansfield in Vermont (home of Stowe) and even into Canada. It’s pretty incredible. Here’s a view down the back side of the mountain:

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View from the summit

Lake Placid: There are ski towns and then there are Ski Towns. Lake Placid is the latter. It’s amazing. The spirit of the Olympics permeates the place. There are Olympic venues and training facilities everywhere. It’s like it took place last week.  And there’s so much to do! In addition to skiing, there’s ice-skating, tobogganing, the Olympic bobsled ride (DO IT!), cross country skiing at the Olympic venue Mount Van Hovenberg. Plus there are lots of great shops, restaurants, and places to stay. Which leads me to the following…..

Andrew Weibrecht stands by his medals

Andrew Weibrecht stands by his Olympic medals at the front desk of the Mirror Lake Inn.

The Mirror Lake Inn: I can’t let this review go by without mentioning the Mirror Lake Inn, one of my very favorite places to stay, anywhere. I actually nominated it for USAToday’s Ten Best Ski Hotels, and it came in fourth. With good reason. Owned and operated by Ed Weibrecht, father of two-time Olympic medalist Andrew Weibrecht, the Mirror Lake Inn is a gorgeous, rambling building on the edge of the lake. Decorated in a style I’d term elegant-Adirondack, the main building features a series of cozy sitting rooms with large, comfy chairs and sofas punctuated by huge, blazing fireplaces, a terrific restaurant, and bar. Downstairs, there’s a first-class spa, a hot tub, an indoor swimming pool, and a fitness center. No, this is not your Econo-Lodge. It’s pricey, but go ahead — treat yourself. It’s worth it.

Mirror Lake Inn

Mirror Lake Inn

So should you go to Whiteface? By all means. And next time someone says Iceface and rolls their eyes, feel free to roll your eyes right back.

 

 



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My Own Private Whiteface

Have you ever wished you had your own private ski resort?

Who hasn’t?

For one glorious morning recently, I had my wish. And it wasn’t just any resort: it was Whiteface, site of not one, but TWO Olympic games, and the ski resort with the highest vertical in the eastern US (3,400 feet).

Whiteface

Let me explain: Last week I was at Whiteface for a New England Ski Media Day. The New York Olympic Regional Development Authority, of which Whiteface is a part, invited members of the ski press (that’s me! :)) to see what’s new at the mountain this year.

For those of you who are unfamilair with Whiteface, let me tell you a bit about it. I went there last year and absolutely fell in love. It’s located in Wilmington, NY, just 8 miles from beautiful (and I do mean beautiful) Lake Placid. Rather than going into the whole thing again, you can read my post here.

The trouble started with the weather. The day of the event was windy. Not just a little bit windy, but great, big howling gusts that knocked the power out throughout the greater Lake Placid area. This meant — you guessed it — none of the the lifts were running.

A snowcat. Not the one we went on, but a good example.

Did this stop the Whiteface crew? No. They transported us up to the summit via snow cat. Mind you, the mountain is completely closed. So there we were: A total of seven people at the top of Whiteface, all by our lonesomes.

I know cat skiing is common enough out west, but trust me, this does not happen at Whiteface. And to ski the mountain with no one else on it at all — truly  a unique experience. I felt exhilarated. Privileged. And incredibly lucky.

Fortunately, the wind had died down a bit, so the trip down was fine. No, it was better than fine. It was A+. After all, this was my own private ski resort. I just might let them have the World Cup there some time 😉

Okay, so aside from a fantastic ski experience involving a snow cat, what did I learn while I was there? A couple things well worth noting:

They gave us a tour of their Kids Kampus, a section of the mountain that’s a dedicated beginners’ area. I don’t have little kids, so my experience with this is pretty limited. But trust me, if I did have small children, this would be a great place for them to learn. The whole area is set apart from the rest of the mountain, so you don’t get high speed skiers and boarders racing through on their way down the mountain.  The lodge is lovely, featuring day care, a special kid-friendly dining area, ski school check in, rentals for all ages, and accessible parking. The beginning ski area features several gently sloping trails that meander around large stands of trees, for added interest. If you drop off your kids — for either lessons or daycare — they give you a beeper so they can get in touch with you quickly if needed. Which I think is a great idea.

Kids Kampus Lodge

 

The second thing of note is that they’ve completely upgraded their rental fleet  to Rossignol Experience rockered skis. Remember how shaped skis completely transformed the market a while ago? I think we’re heading the same way with rocker. The raised tip reduces the area that the ski engages with the snow, so you’re able to get on edge and turn a lot faster. It also keeps the ski from diving in powder, so float is improved, too. The end result is improved stability, a better ride, and a whole lot of fun for a great learning experience.

So do yourself a favor. Visit Whiteface. I know it’s my private mountain, but on the day you show up, I just might open it to the public. You’ll have to go and find out.

 

 

 

 

 



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Time To Make The Snow: A Woman’s Perspective

Snowmaking is a tough job. It’s a delicate balance between air, water, temperature, pressure, and weather. And if the results aren’t perfect, you could end up costing the resort customers. What’s more, there are hoses to lug, all sorts of mechanical devices to deal with, and hey, it’s cold out there!

All this is something Shannon at Whiteface Mountain, NY, knows only too well. For the past four years, she’s been the only female member of the resort’s snowmaking team. And she loves it.

We asked Shannon some questions about her job:

Q: Can you explain a bit about how snowmaking works?
A: Snow is made by water and air under really high pressure. It gets pushed up the mountain and out the snow guns. On average, from start to finish, you can get okay coverage in about five days, provided the conditions are right. A week is nice. It all depends on the wind, humidity, temperature, and weather. It has to be really cold, so sometimes we’ll get freezing in the guns and hoses, even in the line. We try to keep everything cleared out and as clean as possible so it keeps circulating. Once it’s going, it’s usually pretty good.

Q: How is it being the only woman on the snowmaking team?
A: It’s good, although it’s really easy to be singled out or for people to keep tabs on you.  The guys can be mistaken for one another. Not me. Initially, I think it was harder, now maybe a bit easier — but I have a little seniority, too.  When I first started, most of the guys were not too happy, but it got better each year. The people that mattered, like my boss, noticed I’m a good worker, came in on time, and prepared for whatever job needed to be done that day.  My role has changed over the years and I feel like it’s been good.  I have a great boss and work with some interesting people.

Q: How was the job in the beginning?  How has it changed for you?
A: I’ve  learned a lot — like how to drive a snow cat, the different types of snow guns, how to make snow (how many people even thought of that), the inner workings of a ski mountain.  I work alone more now, but I like it.

Q: You must have a different perspective than the men on the team. Have you come up with any new ideas on how things can be done?
A: My first year there, they were pulling small buckets of slush by hand out of the pit in  pump house #1, using rope tied to the handles. The ropes were all wet and would freeze to the door when you were walking out to dump the slush. It sucked, but that’s how they’d done it for years. I noticed a beam directly above the pit and asked why don’t they just put a pulley there. Everyone was amazed that no one had thought of it sooner. Within the day the pulley was up and a carabineer attached to the end of the rope. It’s a lot smoother now. One person pulls the bucket up, detaches it, attaches an empty bucket, and lowers it. The person carrying the bucket doesn’t have a 7 foot rope getting them all wet. You can also use two buckets instead of  one per person. So that was my best contribution, in my opinion.

Q: What’s a typical day for you?
A: I go all over, so it depends where I am. Some of the typical things I do are operate a pump house, move snow guns and hoses, ride a snowmobile, and dig out air and water hydrants to replace them.

Q:  It seems like a very physically demanding job. Is it dangerous?
A: Yeah, it’s a little dangerous sometimes. The most common snowmaking injury is a broken leg. We’re on the trails before there’s any snow and a lot of times it’s just rock and ice and you have to where crampons. It’s almost like mountaineering. You have to carry all the gear and set it all up, so it’s pretty labor intensive.

Q: Would you recommend snow making for other women?
A: Depends, if you like being outside in the winter and have a cool boss. Plus I get a free liftpass and good overtime.

Q: What’s your favorite part about making snow?
A: Riding the shovel. We have to walk to each gun, so sometimes we sit on our shovels and slide down to where we want to go.

Q: Do you ski or do other snow sports?
A: I ride (snowboard) mostly, then occasionally get out to X-C ski, snow shoe and ice climb.

Q: Anything else you would like to say to the folks a home?
A: Have a good time riding it!

 



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You MUST Go to Lake Placid.

Sometimes it really pays to be the Ski Diva.

Take recently. The Olympic Regional Authority (ORDA) of New York State invited me to take a press tour of Lake Placid and Whiteface Mountain. I’d never been there, so I figured why not.

A better question is, why hadn’t I been there before? If I knew what I’d been missing, I wouldn’t have waited so long.

Some of you are already familiar with the area. You’re either local or have already paid a visit. Well, you’re smarter than I am.

I was positively smitten with the whole Lake Placid experience. The legacy of the Olympics permeates the place. You feel like you’re in the presence of giants. Olympic champions, and those who are associated with the Olympics, are as common as dirt. For example, Ed Weibrecht, owner of the Mirror Lake Inn, where I stayed, is the father of Andrew Weibrecht, winner of the bronze in the Men’s Super-G in Vancouver. They even have his medal on display:

And the woman whose family owns the Crowne Plaza Resort tells us her dad either coached (or coached the coaches) for such champion skaters Paul Wiley and Sasha Cohen. Hannah Kearny comes and stays at her house. She even dog sits for her. As I said, mind boggling. (The Crowne Plaza is also very nice, by the way.)

Olympic facilities are everywhere. You can ski the Olympic Downhill, take the Olympic bobsled ride (which I did, without throwing up OR screaming. Go here), see the HUGE Olympic ski jumps (holy height anxiety), cross country ski where the Olympians do. It’s incredible and humbling –- all at the same time — that mere mortals can play where Olympians play.

Here’s a picture of the ski jump, by the way, which does not do it justice. I skied with a young woman who was an ex-ski jumper. She seemed to think it was nothing out of the ordinary. Can you imagine??

My trip started with check in at the Mirror Lake Inn. Let me say at the outset, this is not your Econo Lodge. And though they do offer some incredible specials from time to time, it’s not for the budget minded. It’s first class, all the way. The Inn is located on the shore of Mirror Lake, and it’s absolutely beautiful:

Here are some pix of the inside, though you’ll find much better ones at the Inn’s website:

If you’re looking for a special place in a gorgeous setting, this is it. Conde Nast named it one of the best places to ski and stay in North America (it was #12), and I’m not surprised. The service is stellar. The staff is attentive, friendly, and willing to do anything to make your stay as pleasant as possible. There are home-made chocolate chip cookies at the front desk, all day long. A four diamond restaurant with terrific food. A great bar and a pub across the street. Ice skating. A fantastic spa, where I had the most amazing facial and chilled out (or heated up) in a eucalyptus steam bath. Amazing rooms, with a few extra-spectacular ones in a couple free-standing buildings across the street, directly on the lake shore (yes, we were given a tour). I could see this as being a great destination, whatever the season. Seriously, this is one of the best places I’ve ever stayed. I know I sound like I’m gushing, but really, it’s that good.  HIGHLY recommend. I will be back, next time with my husband in tow.

So, now for the activities.

1) Skiing. At Whiteface. For years I’ve heard Whiteface dissed as Iceface. Which is one of the reasons I never wanted to go there. To that I now respond: they had the Olympics here for a reason. Twice. So don’t sell it short.

As for “Iceface:” if that referred to conditions, well, this is the East. Like it or not, you’re going to get ice…..er, I mean hardpack. But there have been tremendous advances in snowmaking and grooming, so let’s give it up already. If “Iceface” refers to cold, well, yes, you’ll find that, too. Again, this is the Northeast. You either get used to skiing in the cold, or you stay home and wait for summer. That’s just how it is. That’s why God invented things like down and boot heaters. And there is a Gondola, which definitely helps.

To be honest, I think I probably hit the three best days of the year, weatherwise. The first day it was sunny and clear, not cold, and no wind. No one could believe how fantastic it was. From the summit, you could see all the way to Mount Mansfield in Vermont (that’s where Stowe is), a distance of I’d guess about 80 miles. The second day it snowed like crazy all day: 20 inches of fresh powder. And the third, well, we reaped the benefits of Day #2.

Here are some of the views from the top:

The skiing was positively awesome. Yes, I skied the Olympic Downhill, singing the Olympic theme song while imagining a cheering crowd and a gold medal waiting at the bottom. But I skied lots of other trails, too. There’s enough variety to keep you interested, and tons of fun.

The only downside I can think of is that some of the lifts are kind of slow. But there is the gondola that I mentioned, which gets you to the top in a hurry. And the runs are nice and long, so that sort of makes up to it.

The bottom line: this is one big mother of an Eastern mountain. Whiteface boasts the East’s greatest vertical drop (3,430′). There’s a tremendous amount of great skiing here. You will have a blast.

2) The Olympic Bobsled.

To be honest, I was a little nervous about this. I’m not a roller coaster person. But the bobsled action is more side to side than up and down, and before I got on I kept telling myself not to be scared. So I wasn’t.

I’m glad I didn’t chicken out. It was an absolute blast.

You don a helmet and squish in with two of your all of a sudden best friends, along with a guy in the front, who steers, and a brakeman who pushes you off and then hops on. People said it’d be over in a flash, and though it wasn’t quite like that, it was pretty quick, though you do have time to experience some amazing G-forces. Plus at the end they give you a T-shirt, a pin, and a picture of yourself, looking positively exuberant after your ride. How can you beat that?

3) SPA!!!!! I’ve already talked about the Spa at the Mirror Lake Inn. To be honest, at first I wasn’t too keen on taking time away from skiing to do this. My husband had some advice, “Pretend you’re someone else. Someone less obsessed with skiing.” I think he meant enjoy what you’re doing, when you’re doing it, even if it’s not skiing.

He was right.

Consider me a convert. It was wonderful. So relaxing and great for your skin. You could feel the toxins and anxiety slipping away. After five minutes I was sure I must look five years younger. Why haven’t I been doing this all along? I could definitely get used to having facials on a regular basis. Why not. And the spa there is lovely. If you go, you have to give it a try.

4) Cross Country Skiing. Again, something I didn’t think I’d like. I mean, you’re on skis and you’re not going downhill? Give me a break. Consider me wrong about this, too (hey, at least I admit it!). There are miles and miles of cross country ski trails in Lake Placid. You could ski yourself silly. We had a wonderful guide at Mount Van Hoevenberg, which is part of the Olympic Sports Complex, who gave us excellent instruction and took us through miles and miles of winding, wooded trails. The snow was falling, the woods were beautiful. Ahhhhhhh. Another thing I could get used to.

So there you have it. A trip that was absolutely stellar. If the intent of the Olympic Regional Development Authority was to get me excited about Lake Placid and all its wonderful activities, consider it done. There is so much to do that I missed: dog sled rides on the ice, toboggan rides, ice skating (at the Olympic oval!). I think I’ll have to go back.

Be sure to visit TheSkiDiva.com, an internet forum especially for women skiers, where women skiers can connect with one another to talk about everything and anything ski-related.



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