On January 19th, the nice folks at Tierra Patagonia drove me, Alice, Kaleb, and two other guests to the Punta Arenas airport where we boarded — with some trepidation given the 120+kph winds outside — a flight to Santiago. We landed about 3.5 largely uneventful hours later, had a quick dinner, and then Walter whisked us through security to our connecting flights to Miami, and then on to Washington, DC. I arrived at my house 29 hours after beginning my journey home. I looked at the weather forecast and noticed that there was nearly a 100% chance of snow on Tuesday, January 21 and immediately started plotting my first ski day of the season. With work cancelled, Allison and I climbed into the 4Runner at 6AM and headed for Whitetail, which offers the best skiing close to Washington, DC. It didn’t start snowing until the last third of our drive along I-70.
We hit the parking lot before the lifts opened, bought lift tickets, rented gear, and hit the slopes for the best snow conditions I have ever experienced at Whitetail or anywhere in the mid-Atlantic.If you zoom in on this one, you can see my big stupid grin amidst the snowflakes.
We never had to wait in a lift line because it was a weekday, very cold, and difficult to access the mountain without 4WD. It snowed pretty much the entire time we were on the mountain, creating scenes that looked more Colorado or Utah than Pennsylvania.
After wearing our legs out skiing everything on offer at Whitetail, we headed for the covered Magic Carpet lift because we had never tried one before. It was awesome.
We swapped our skis for snowboards and headed up the hill for one final run, arrived at the bottom unscathed, and headed home in the last few hours of daylight before the drive became even more treacherous.
The roads themselves were no problem at all for the 4Runner — the other drivers provided the frights. We saw numerous tracks on the shoulders of the I-70 where vehicles had clearly gone off, and it was tragi-comedy hour on the Beltway with one driver doing a complete 180 in the middle of the highway. Everyone politely stopped for him to right himself, only to watch him gun it and careen around for another 180. Conditions were outpacing the snowplows.
We were happy when we made it home with plenty of time to sit by the fire, dip in the hot tub, and otherwise enjoy the remains of a perfect snow day — and a great welcome back to the Northern Hemisphere!
Whitetail is an easy 90 minute drive from either Washington, DC or Baltimore, Maryland. If you are skiing on a weekday, you will have a nice reverse commute and little traffic if you head out in the morning. From DC, take I-270 West to Fredrick, then get onto I-70 West and take the exit for Clear Spring. Follow the snowflake signs to Whitetail. The roads are generally in good condition, and 4WD is rarely necessary except in the midst of a serious storm. Clear Spring is a great place to fill your gas tank.
On the Hill
As you can see on the trail map, Whitetail is divided into three ski hills — one for beginners, one for intermediates, and one for experts — each served by a different lift. Advanced skiers would be making a mistake if they totally shun the EZ Rider Quad. You’ll find one of the best runs, and some of the best snow, on the left edge (facing downhill) of Snow Park above the mini-terrain park, and then the right edge of the same trail below the terrain park. On powder days, this is sometimes one of the last untouched stashes on the mountain. This can be a great place to start and end your day. The downside is that the EZ Rider Quad is quite slow.
The on-mountain food is pretty much what it was when Whitetail opened more than 20 years ago, but you can ask them to cobble together a decent sandwich or they will make you a flatbread with toppings of your choosing. Still, I recommend bringing your own food.
Go early on a weekday and you will have the place to yourself. It sometimes fills up on weekday afternoons when conditions are stellar. Avoid weekends unless you enjoy standing in lift lines and skiing an obstacle course. Military and some government civilians can obtain discounted lift tickets in advance through MWR offices. If you decide to rent gear, the rental shop will allow you to switch between skiing and snowboarding at no extra cost.