As a ski patroller at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington, NY, I'm commonly asked, "Are the Slides open?" Opening the gate to the Slides is a job highlight and I'm ecstatic when I can say "yes," as one of the most extreme and exciting endeavors in the Northeast becomes available, by way of lift service, to those seeking a skiing or riding challenge.
Four of the seven Whiteface Mountain slides are skiable, and each has unique character, natural history and views. They are often perceived to be coated with bottomless snow and while there are a few stashes of powder, the real excitement is skiing through 35 acres of sub-alpine Adirondack wilderness.
Daredevils who want to earn their turns at New York State's fifth highest peak can access the terrain via a Summit Chairlift ride and a hike across a short traverse. For a more dramatic approach, adventurers can hike up the Veterans' Memorial Highway and enter by way of the East Ridge.
Slide #1 is wide which means snow conditions can vary as wind easily strips away coverage in certain areas. Even in the dead of winter, flowing water creates large ice bulges that have difficulty holding snow but when powder arrives, the entire pitch may be open for skiing and riding. The trail highlight is a 50 degree vertical known as "the waterfall" that's thrilling to tackle.
The newest addition to the Whiteface Mountain Double Black Diamonds is yet to be named. To some it's "2B," or "2.5,' while others refer to it as "Irene," named after the hurricane that struck the region in 2011, even though the landslide occurred the spring before. Whatever the name, navigating the trail is exhilarating. The narrow start is followed by a steep vertical chute, an eight foot ledge and an eventual merge into a large bowl with numerous lines to ski and ride.
Slide #3 is the shortest of the group and has many trees that demand careful technique. Reaching Slide #4 is rather difficult and requires a sometimes time consuming journey over a ledge that can be especially challenging for those cutting "first tracks." The trip is worth it for many as historically, #4 has the most coverage because wind blows snow off the west side of the mountain. The trail varies, beginning with open space and then narrowing to the width of a streambed.
Tackling the Slides may be intimidating but this remote part of Whiteface Mountain is truly extraordinary. A knowledgeable guide or passionate local who knows the trail well is advantageous and can calm jitters, particularly in regard to maneuvering low visibility and around unseen obstacles. The ice, rocks, trees, avalanches and occasional porcupine create adventure but for safety reasons, should never to be dismissed and ignored.
Perfect conditions are hard to come by as the Adirondacks are not typically coated with 300 inches of snow, but when it falls, the thrill seekers are eager for the Slides gate to open. The pristine terrain is untouched by grooming equipment and snow guns which lends itself to an incredible experience. I'm fortunate because my role in the Whiteface Mountain Ski Patrol affords me unique and special access to the Slides. I skied the Slides before they first opened to the public. After the ski area has closed for the season, I've hiked the Highway, dropped in from the ridgeline and enjoyed epic spring skiing with sunshine, warm temperatures and carved final turns before the snow melts.
So each year, as temperatures cool and frosty mornings set in, we hope it's one for the books with record snowfall and unbeatable backcountry skiing at Whiteface Mountain!