Warming Up to Whiteface

Whiteface elicits a lot of passion from skiers from both sides; some thrive on the unique and challenging terrain, while others make up the group responsible for the notorious nickname “Iceface.”

Rational or not, until recently I fell into the second group. After my collision with a tree at Stratton in December, I’ve developed a newfound skittishness on firm surfaces.

I’m relatively new to skiing, I started in 2015. I love skiing fast, but slick surfaces force me to make skidded turns on skis that never seem sharp enough. When I encounter sporty conditions, I tend to end my day early, once the corduroy is gone and the loose granular gets pushed down the slopes.

Little Whiteface summit from Parons

My regular ski partner Icecoastchef has a schadenfreudian glee about the challenges that Whiteface can pose for newbies. “I love eating lunch at the mid-mountain lodge for the entertainment. You can look out the downhill window and watch a parade of Jerries on Lower Valley, where much of the traffic gets funneled through,” he explained as my eyes widened with fear. Let he who does not follow Jerry of the Day on their social media feeds cast judgement on such sentiments.

All of that aside, Whiteface has a lot going for it. It’s a big mountain, with the most vertical drop in the east. It’s got some seriously steep and challenging terrain, including The Slides, a hike-to area on looker’s right of the main peak, where avalanches and mudslides have cleared out five separate slide paths that have almost no comparison in the east.

Upper Skyward

Whiteface is a short drive from Lake Placid, one of the most charming Adirondack lakeside towns and arguably the best ski town in the Northeast, with a walkable, town center, some great lodging and dining options, and a wide array of still-popular Olympic training venues. Lake Placid is steeped in history, having hosted both the 1932 and 1980 Olympics.

But for me it took time to warm up to Whiteface. The mountain reveals its true charms when it gets enough snow, and I’ve learned it requires repeat visits to properly appreciate. That was our plan last weekend, when I agreed to meet up with IcecoastChef and two other friends, Kyle and Julia, to give Whiteface another shot.

Icecoastchef digs it

Our hope was that the recent bounty of March snowfall would bring out the best of Whiteface, and that we’d have a chance to explore more of the mountain in ideal conditions.

We started with a gondola ride up to the peak of Little Whiteface, then down toward the Summit Quad. Adam and Kyle were eager to ski Upper Skyward, first thing while conditions were prime. I took one look down the headwall at the top and opted for the relatively mellow – yet still whip-fast – terrain of Paron’s Run, a blue cruiser that wraps around the top portion before dropping down toward the middle of the mountain.

Then it was back toward the Summit Chair, where we learned that patrol had recently dropped the ropes on the Slides, which had been opened for the first time this season just the previous weekend for a few days. IcecoastChef did his best to cajole me into accompanying him and Kyle on the hike up, but again I declined due to my new fear of ice this season.

The assortment of ice cliffs and exposed rocks visible from the lift put the fear of Ullr into me. But whereas I remain confident that I made the right decision by skipping Skyward, I came to regret not taking my chances on the Slides when they came back down and showed me photos of the soft snow that was still gathered near the top. Yes, they said, there were ice cliffs and boulders, but they were easily avoided, and I missed out on the best snow of the day.

Lake Placid

Lesson learned. There was still plenty of fun terrain to rip for the rest of the day. I spent an hour demo’ing a pair of Meier skis, which are handmade in Colorado from locally-sourced wood. I rode a pair of 98mm-wide Wild Bills, which were surprisingly firm and grippy in those quintessential Northeast conditions.

As the day wore on, the upper mountain became tougher for us to manage, we called it a day, an hour before closing.

Of course, that’s just what I expected, but thanks to the semi-spring conditions and the wider variety of open terrain (I skied The Wilmington trail for the first time, a blue groomer that wraps around the back of Lookout Mountain), I also found myself growing to like this mountain that I had previously been relatively cold on.

While some might prefer more trail variety or snowmaking capacity, I’ve decided to focus instead on what makes Whiteface great. I opened my heart to this New York icon, and now I can’t wait until the next time I can Ski the Face… when the conditions are right.

11 comments on “Warming Up to Whiteface

  1. While the 1932 games didn’t include alpine skiing they were a driver of interest in the sport alpine in the Adirondacks and across the northeast. The excitement created by the games is considered to be a motivator for NY’s first rope tow at the North Creek Ski Bowl, NY’s first chairlift at Belleayre and development at Marble Mountain/Whiteface.

    It’s funny, while many alpine skiers consider telemark gear to be a huge disadvantage in uber-challenging terrain, for me it has lead me to a “one-turn-at-a-time” approach that helps me in The Slides. On the days I’ve been in the Slides I was more comfortable there, than I was on Skyward.

  2. You are supposed to be ski blogger but you passed on upper skyward cause it was to steep…. i was there the same day and had no problem. Coverage was great.

  3. Glad you’re getting more comfortable since your collision, but have you considered taking a lesson to sharpen your skills?

    Nothing makes you feel better than knowing you can point it down anything and maintain control. I can remember looking at closed trails in my youth that featured hundreds of vert of challenge and just thinking, if i can do this, i’ll be a stronger skier… and I’d probably advise the lessons route!

    Besides, they have some great teachers up there and feeling like you missed out on signature terrain is something to avoid at all costs.

  4. You made the right decision if Skyward frightens you the Slides would make you need a change of underwear. Falling at Stratton is low consequence. Fall on Sky at speed and you will slide a bit. Fall in the wrong spot in the Slides and you will seriously mess yourself up.

    Btw WF locals don’t like when non locals calling it iceface. I never call it that myself and it ticks me off when others do. IMO Gore is way icier than WF the Cats even more so.

    I have no idea what Harv was thinking about letting you write this post.

  5. Having skied both, The Slides are way harder than Skyward and if you aren’t comfortable skiing Skyward in a large variety of conditions you shouldn’t even think about skiing The Slides. Skyward is just a steep wide groomer. The Slides are even steeper, but are natural, technical terrain that requires you to not only know how to ski ungroomed snow very well, but plan your route way ahead of where you are so you don’t get cliffed out.

    That part of the post needs to be taken down as it encourages people to ski The Slides that have no business being in there. If too many people get hurt, or complain about silver status, management is just going to decide that they’re not worth the risk/trouble anymore and close them for good. After all, Whiteface doesn’t want to be an expert mountain anymore anyways.

  6. I disagree with the premise that one has to be an expert to write about skiing. It’s also irrelevant here as JG has skied Sky many times without a second thought. This time was different, based on the context.

    I also don’t buy the idea that falling at Stratton, or any mountain, is low consequence. John’s experience there is direct evidence to the contrary.

    To me the most interesting stories are about human experience. This is a story about working to conquer fear. If you aren’t gripped by something, you aren’t human.

    Stereotypes are, by definition, flawed. There are stereotypes built into the story, and there are stereotypes built into the comments too. None of them serve the mountain or our audience. As editor I take my share of the responsibility for this.

    Whiteface is a great mountain, loved and appreciated by a wide variety of skiers. There is nothing like it in the East.

  7. I never said anything about needing to be an expert skier to write about skiing, and just because you’ve been on Skyward doesn’t mean you’re an expert skier. There’s a difference between surviving Skyward, and skiing Skyward. My issue is with the paragraphs about The Slides. They are not to be skied by someone who won’t ski Skyward in just about any condition it’s open in, and it’s also a huge no-no to pressure one’s lower ability level friend to go in there. The fact that it’s included in this post makes it seem “okay” to do that. NY Ski Blog as a whole should be condemning that, not condoning it as is being done here. Many people read this blog and might get a false sense of how challenging The Slides really are and decide to go in when they have no business being in there.

  8. As you’ve seen on our posts, I’ve skied quite a few days with JG. We’ve skied Tuckerman, Mad River, crazy double black terrain out west, etc. Unfortunately John had a pretty nasty fall in December and was honestly lucky not to lose his life in retrospect (as linked in the article here about Whiteface).

    The Slides are well within his ability (and as Harvey mentioned he has skied Skyward before the accident and flown by me carving some sweet turns in below average conditions), so these presumptions you have made are ignorant and disappointingly unsupportive from a fellow brethren of the NY ski community. I guess every bridge has its trolls.

  9. Eighteen months ago I had a hard fall on a downhill turn in a roller ski race. Left a dollar bill sized road rash on one hip and a PTSD level fear of even a 1% grade. It took me pretty much a year to become completely aggressive on snow downhills.

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