by Paul Maraschiello

For over eight years, I lived in Vermont, in a little town called Pittsfield, halfway between Killington and Pico Peak to the south and Sugarbush and Mad River to the north on the Rt. 100. It was going to take a LOT for a local Pennsylvania ski area to impress ME!

When I first moved to the Washington. D.C. area, I was heartbroken . . . the skiing really SUCKED around the nation's capitol. I had to drive over three hours north into Pennsylvania to find a hill worth skiing and five hours into West Virginia to get to a really GOOD mountain. Then one day, I heard an announcement for a new ski area just a little more than an hour from Washington. This radio ad immediately caught my attention, I decided to check it out BUT I was prepared to be disappointed. I was a real "hard core" skier who had logged over 150 day on the snow in one season at some of the biggest and best ski areas in Vermont. I decided to go up that week-end and see if it was even worth skiing.

It was really easy to get to Whitetail from the D.C. area. It was all super highway. You take the beltway (495) north to Rt. 270 and go west on Rt. 70 and get off just passed Hagerstown at Clear Spring. It's only six minutes from the interstate, just over the line from Maryland in Pennsylvania. The county road is well marked with snow flake signs and I got a twinge of nostalgia as I neared the ski area. The road looked a little like it could have been a back road in Vermont. As it cut through a deep narrow valley made by a stream, it reminded me of a little stretch of road near Granville Gulch on Rt. 100, the "Ski Highway of the East."

When I got to Whitetail, I looked up the hill and liked what I saw. It was not the biggest ski area I had ever seen, the mountain wasn't the tallest BUT it was 50% taller (900 vertical ft.) that anything else in the area. After skiing all morning, I was hooked. I bought a season's pass and started skiing there on a regular basis. A few weeks later, I had a BIG surprise, there was an "expert" area that had just opened. It wasn't Outer Limits but it had three runs right down the fall-line with a nice steep pitch. They would only qualify as intermediate runs at Killington or Mad River but the pitch was consistent. When they got bumped-up they were a challenge.

Now any new venture will experience growing pains and a ski area is no exception. The first year, they ran out of rental equipment on more than one day. There were bottle-necks at the high-speed quad and on Martin Luther King Jr. week-end with 45 minute lift lines. That didn't bother me, I was used to waiting in long lift lines on holidays in Vermont, it was all part of being a skier. The Washington, D.C. skiers were VERY unhappy about it and when ever I talked to people about skiing at Whitetail, all I ever heard was complaints about the long lines, ice, etc. I skied Whitetail on a regular basis and saw them slowly work out many of the problems. They started taking reservations for lift tickets over the phone and limiting the number of tickets they sold. One day, I even saw the president of the company (and major stockholder) standing at the gate apologizing to the people he had to turn away because they had reached capacity.

Over the years, as I wrote more and more about skiing and spent more time visiting major ski areas all over the country, I spent less and less time at Whitetail. Last year, with all the warm weather we had thanks to El Niño, I only skied Whitetail one day.

I had been very busy this year, making all the preparations to launch The Ski Bum News and found that it was January and I hadn't spent one day on the snow! It had gotten cold and I knew that Whitetail was opened, so I decided to go up for a day. It was the week-end and the lodge was buzzing with skiers putting on their boots and other gear. I skied up to the chair and there was no lift line at all. There was snow on the ground in D.C., it was cold but there was no line at the lift. Needless to say, I had a GREAT time. I ran into a few old friends and told them about starting The Ski Bum News and we made plans to meet the next week-end. I had forgotten that it would be Martin Luther King Jr. week-end, traditionally the busiest week-end of the entire ski season.

The next week-end, on the ride up, I was preparing myself for long lines, tons of yahoo's zooming down the slopes out of control and all the other unpleasantness that accompanies large crowds on holiday week-ends. When I got there, the long lift lines I had anticipated never materialized. The high-speed quad chair lift that whisked people up the mountain to the intermediate slope had almost no line at all. The slopes were not crowded and the snow was perfect . . . hard and groomed flat as a pancake, in spite of the ice storm that had paralyzed this part of the country. It was just the way I like it! Those skilled skiers and snowboarders who like me, ventured up the Expert's Choice Quad enjoyed run after run on firm snow that was too hard to offer any surprises and the lift line was non existent most of the day.

In D.C., skiers often gage the snow depth at local ski areas by the snow depth on their front lawn. Mobbing ski areas after a big snowfall and failing to take advantage of excellent conditions when the snow has melted in front of their homes. I had expected a lot more people that were on the slope, It had been cold, there had been an ice storm followed by a dusting of snow and this was the busiest week-end of the entire ski season.

Whitetail had purchased state-of-the art snowmaking equipment from Killington, the largest ski area in New England and a leader in the art of snowmaking. With 100 million gallons of water stored in a reservoir and pumped to the mountain via cooling tanks, and a computerized snowmaking system to tell the snowmakers just what settings to use, Whitetail can make snow when other ski areas can only pray. They used this ability and the grooming skills they have developed over the eight years since they opened, to turn sleet and freezing rain into the best surface an old Vermont skier bum could want . . . hard and fast. The difficult lessons Whitetail had learned were evident this weekend. Happy skiers zipped up the mountain and skied down on well groomed slopes, making as many runs as their skill would allow. Plenty of snow, no ice and very short lift lines greeted those who came on MLK week-end.

Whitetail had developed a reputation of being "always crowded" and somewhat unorganized. There was no evidence of that at all on my two visits this year. Some of the other amenities that have been instituted make skiing Whitetail a pleasure. They include free ski checking, shuttle service to the parking lots, and a very friendly staff.

So, if you are a skier or snowboarder and are in the DC or Baltimore area, head up to Whitetail even if there is no snow on your door step. There is excellent skiing day and night at this friendly little mountain only an hour from Washington, D.C. and this winter promises to be a great year for skiing at Whitetail. The crowds area gone, the staff really knows what their doing and the snow is primo.

Please don't tell anyone (except your good friends) that Whitetail has finally gotten their act together. This is why, I have awarded Whitetail the Most Improved New Ski Area award, they deserve it!

If you visit Whitetail, keep your eye open for me. I'll be the older dude skiing right under the expert chair linking short-swing turn after turn, running right down the fall line. I'm that guy you love to hate, that skier who makes it look SOOOO easy. But please remember, it took me over 20 years to learn to do something this hard look so easy. Hit the slopes every chance you can, take lessons and clinics and some day you can be that older ski bum that really looks good coming down the mountain and remember "tune them to turn them."


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