January 2016 - Alpine Skiing
By Jeff Farbaniec
Whiteface and Gore
An Insider’s Guide
Whiteface – Whoa. Yikes. Gulp. Those are the most frequently heard reactions to visitors’ first-time glimpses of Whiteface Mountain’s ski trails. Perhaps more than any other mountain in the east, Whiteface intimidates beginners, intermediates and expert skiers alike, and for good reason. Whiteface’s 3,430-foot vertical drop is the biggest in the East and bigger than many western ski areas. The Slides are highly visible, home to the East’s most extreme lift-accessed terrain. And as host to two Olympic Winter Games, Whiteface’s expert terrain is legendary, but don’t let it intimidate you. With 11 lifts and 87 trails and glades offering 22 miles and 288 skiable acres, there’s plenty of variety for every type of skier on Whiteface’s terrain (20% beginner, 42% intermediate, 38% expert). Here are some tips for getting the most from your visit.
Most first-time visitors to Whiteface hop right on the Cloudsplitter Gondola, which rises 2,400 vertical feet to the top of Little Whiteface Mountain. Don’t. Instead, start with a warm-up run on the Face Lift, the high speed quad serving the heart of the mountain. From the top of the Face Lift, you’ll have a wide choice of beginner and intermediate cruisers back to the main base area. A ride up the Face Lift also gives you a quick feel for the layout of the mountain, with Whiteface’s three main trail pods spread out before you: the intermediate and expert terrain of Little Whiteface to your left, Lookout Mountain to your right, and the summit straight ahead.
If you’re a beginning skier, you’ll want to stick with the terrain served by the Face Lift. There’s also the Bear’s Den novice area, a learning center separated from the main mountain with its own lift, trails and base lodge. But if you’re an intermediate or advanced skier, keep exploring.
Terrain on Little Whiteface can be accessed from the gondola or from a pair of chairlifts that rise above the mid-mountain lodge. Here, advanced skiers will find a variety of challenging black diamonds, including favorites like Mountain Run, Upper and Lower Mackenzie, and Empire – a steep, narrow expert trail that opens only when natural snow conditions allow. For intermediate skiers, Excelsior offers 2,400 vertical feet of cruising, with multiple blue square terrain options available as you descend.
The summit area contains Whiteface’s signature black diamond trails: Skyward and Cloudspin. Served by the Summit Quad, these trails offer 1,800 vertical feet of big mountain skiing. The top of the Summit Quad also provides access to The Slides, which are open only when there’s enough natural snow cover. The Slides offer true double black diamond in-bounds, off-piste skiing on 35 acres of steep, narrow backcountry chutes. There’s ‘blue square’ skiing available off the Summit Quad too: Paron’s Run and The Follies offer intermediate skiers the opportunity to ski down from the top of the highest lift-served terrain in the East.
Lookout Mountain, the third major trail pod, is also Whiteface’s newest. Intermediate and advanced skiers will love the Wilmington Trail, a two-mile long cruiser leading back to the main base area. For black diamond skiers, Hoyt’s High features 1,400 vertical feet of uninterrupted expert skiing, and the legendary moguls on Lookout Below are said to swallow skiers and spit them out at the bottom. Depending on where you are on the mountain, you’ll have spectacular views of the Adirondack wilderness, Lake Champlain valley, Green Mountains and into Quebec.
Finally, don’t forget about everything that has made Whiteface and Lake Placid the top-rated area for off-mountain activities, including ice skating on Mirror Lake or the Olympic speed skating oval, cross-country skiing at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, luge and bobsledding (also at Mt. Van Hoevenberg), an elevator ride to the top of the Olympic ski jumps, and much more!
Gore – With two decades of one game-changing improvement after another, few ski areas in the East have seen more on-mountain investment in recent years than Gore. The growth curve began in the 1990s, with the creation of Gore’s signature black diamond trails Rumor and Lies in 1995, and completion of the Hudson River pipeline in 1996 to supply water to the snowmaking system. Those improvements were followed up with the installation of Gore’s eight-passenger high-speed Northwoods Gondola, and an entirely new summit – Bear Mountain, and trail pod in 1999. The addition of the Topridge triple chairlift and more trails in 2002, and the construction of Ruby Run in 2006 – providing access to 1,700 vertical feet of beginner terrain from the top of the gondola.
Just as the Bear Mountain expansion was quieting down, the Burnt Ridge expansion was announced. An entirely new terrain pod, Burnt Ridge is serviced by a high speed quad chairlift that came on line in 2008 and provides access to more than 1,400 vertical feet of trails and glades for intermediate and advanced skiers. And finally, in January 2011, the historic North Creek Ski Bowl was reopened for skiing with a new triple chairlift serving 800 vertical feet of both new and historic ski trails that are interconnected with Burnt Ridge and the rest of Gore Mountain. Separated from the rest of Gore by the Pipeline and Cedars traverses, both the Ski Bowl and Burnt Ridge feel like ski areas within a ski area.
So if you haven’t skied at Gore recently, you can be forgiven for not knowing your way around. Here’s some more of what you need to know.
With a 2,537-foot vertical drop, Gore is now spread out on nine sides of four mountains, offering the most terrain in New York State with 15 lifts, 109 trails (10% beginner, 50% intermediate, 40% expert), 27 glades and seven freestyle areas – totaling 42 miles and 439 skiable. Each pod of ski trails has its own character, offering different views, terrain, elevation and exposure. But no matter where you are on the mountain, whether it’s the southern exposure of the Topridge pod or the northern views from the High Peaks area, you will be looking out across the unspoiled wilderness of the Adirondack Forest Preserve.
Moving efficiently around the mountain may require a little forethought, but you will be rewarded for your efforts. Even strong skiers may find it difficult to sample all that Gore offers in a weekend, let alone a single ski day. Because the mountain is spread out, you’ll want to spend time exploring each section of the mountain, sampling its glades and trails, before moving on to another pod. This is particularly important when skiing Burnt Ridge and the Ski Bowl, which are separated from the other terrain pods by longer traverses.
Just about every skier will want to spend some time on the trails in the Northwoods trail pod, the core of Gore’s terrain. Served by the Northwoods Gondola and the new Adirondack Express II high speed quad, these trails are primarily blue cruisers of up to two miles in length, and 1,700 vertical feet. Nearby, the North Side trail pod offers beginner and low-intermediate terrain on trails that often feature natural snow surfaces owing to the North Side’s northern exposure and protection from wind. At the bottom of the North Side, the Pipeline traverse leads to Burnt Ridge and the Ski Bowl.
Gore’s 3,600-foot summit rises above Bear Mountain and is the home to the majority of Gore’s expert terrain. The Straight Brook terrain pod, on the east side of the summit, features a half dozen black and double-black runs of 900 vertical feet, including Rumor, Lies, Hawkeye and Chatiemac. On the north side of the summit is the High Peaks pod with steep, narrow trails like Hulabaloo and Lower Steilhang. Expert level glades, perhaps some of Gore’s best, can be found throughout both terrain pods.
Be sure to check out the Gore and Whiteface ski and stay packages for multiple-day visits. The North Creek area is an action packed Adirondack winter destination, so consider snow tubing at the Ski Bowl; cross country skiing (and dining/lodging) at Garnet Hill Lodge in nearby North River; and restaurants, stores and lodging on North Creek’s quaint Main Street.
A few final tips include consider picking up your Gore lift tickets at the Ski Bowl lodge the day before you ski. If you’re planning a single day visit and have the flexibility to ski mid-week, lift tickets are $48 every non-holiday Wednesday when you bring any Coca-Cola product to the ticket window at Gore and Whiteface – a great deal. And last, if you’re figuring out how to get around Gore or just want to know where the best snow is, don’t be afraid to ask – Gore Mountain is home to some of the friendliest skiers in the East!
Jeff Farbaniec is an avid telemark skier and Adirondack 46er who writes The Saratoga Skier & Hiker (saratogaskier.blogspot.com), a blog of his primarily Adirondack outdoor adventures.