Whistling winds, wintry wonder: Whiteface


Chris Mitchell

Lucas Peduzzi holds out a method grab over the hip at Otis Mountain, N.Y.

In the immortal words of John Steinbeck, “A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”

The Johnson Ski and Ride trip this past weekend certainly lived up to this line, proving both exciting and slightly out of control.

Six of us packed into one of the old Johnson vans with all of our gear Friday night, March 21, and began our trip west to New York.

We arrived in Elizabethtown, N.Y., at my parents’ house around 11 p.m., stoked the fire in the barn, buried our bodies in sleeping bags and fell asleep in anticipation of early-morning shredding.

We woke up at 7:00 to a warm fire, thanks to our joint effort to keep it going through the night. Quickly eating breakfast and gearing up, we loaded back into the van and headed a half-hour northeast to Whiteface Mountain.

The beauty of Whiteface, other than its location in the Adirondacks, is that it is a state-run mountain. This means no waterparks, no hot tubs, no golf course, no condos and very few Canadians, as opposed to resorts like Jay Peak and Stowe that cater to the vacation ski crowd. Whiteface, in a nutshell, is a local’s dream.

While most of us were not local to the Adirondacks, club treasurer Luke Peduzzi and I grew up on this mountain. Peduzzi is still employed by the mountain and receives a small number of discounted tickets every year, which he used to help fund this trip.

Whiteface was not very crowded this Saturday. Most of the people who were at the mountain were there to observe or compete in a small moguls competition taking place halfway up the mountain.

With no lines we walked onto the gondola and rode up in our bubble of warmth. Visibility was low but the conditions were good. While it was relatively cold this morning, at about 20 degrees, the snow was soft from nightly accumulation. The Coca-Cola ski report that morning listed conditions as powder/packed powder.

The runs at Whiteface are long and fast. Rising to over 4,800 feet, Whiteface is the fifth highest peak in the Adirondacks and has the most vertical drop in the East.

Unfortunately, a blizzard came through early Saturday and shut the gondola down in the morning after we had only had a chance to take a few runs. All the other lifts remained spinning, however, and we were able to make the most of this snowy day.

Taking the Facelift chair, we were able to lap the Broadway and Brookside parks easily. These parks were well set up with many unique features including a flat down rail over stairs, an S-rail, and a skate-inspired bowl feature with two wall rides. The triple jump line was full of pop and set up properly with a quarter pipe option.

Another fun aspect of Whiteface that day was the border-cross track. We raced from the starting gate, weaving past one another, trying to make it to the end without crashing. The track was fast and well thought-out. The speed held through the course remained ideal for clearing the jumps even towards the end of the track.

After a lunch consisting of ham sandwiches and cliff bars in the lodge we decided to take the Summit quad to the top of Big Whiteface.

Exiting the lift at 4,386 feet, we were almost completely blinded by the intense whiteout conditions. The storm that was supposed to have cleared off by the afternoon had come later than expected and lingered all day.

On a clear day, at the peak of Whiteface, there is a 360-degree view and you can see from Vermont to Montreal, which is over 80 miles away. Today, however, it was difficult to see the person in front of you. The snow was excellent on the sides of the trail, but it was hard to relax and enjoy the terrain in gale-force winds and blinding whiteouts. We only took the Summit quad once.

After a long seven-hour day at the mountain, we all returned to the barn and our oh-so-important fire. Throwing a few logs on the fire and beginning to rest, I threw the idea out for a hike up a short local trail on Blueberry Hill. While everyone was exhausted we agreed that it would be worth our energy, especially if we could board back down, so we headed out.

The hike was steep, but only lasted about 30 minutes before we reached the top. The weather by this time had cleared considerably and at the peak we were able to see a full view of the surrounding mountain range and sunset.

Finishing our Stewart’s Mountain Brews at the top, we began our descent back down the mountain through the woods. They were tight but navigable, and the ride back down took only a fraction of the time it took to hike up. Back at the barn we ordered bacaroni and cheese pizza to refuel for another long day ahead of us.

Working ourselves into our sleeping bags, our faces were lit up by the light of the moon shining through the window. We had a feeling that the weather was going to cooperate with us the following day. Our mission Sunday was to ride a local mountain called Otis.

Otis is an extremely small rope tow-serviced mountain that is privately owned, has two trails, and is nestled in Pleasant Valley. My friend’s father, Jeff Allott, has owned Otis since I have been alive, and has always been more than gracious about sharing this amazing hill with all of his friends. I grew up riding this hill, and it has grown into a serious private snow park over the years, thanks to Jeff’s son’s shared interests in freestyle skiing and riding.

Otis is completely dependent on natural snow conditions, which means that the number of days that it is ski-able are few and the amount of days out of the year in which the conditions are optimal are fewer. This day was a once-a-year kind of day at Otis.

When we arrived late Sunday morning, we were the first to show up. Jeff had already groomed the slopes and was about to start the rope tow as we pulled in. Greeting us with a smile and handshake, he explained the safety precautions that come with using the rope tow and obviously shared our excitement over the beautiful day. We headed up the hill to start shaping the park features that define the hillside.

While shaping the features, more people began to arrive and the Johnson crew started to take laps. The rope tow is an awesomely efficient means of ascending the mountain and it is not unusual to get upwards of 50 runs in one morning.

The corduroy was fresh and soft from the late-morning sun. Our edges ran through it like a knife through butter and everyone had a grin ear to ear. It’s runs like these that confirm my love for snowboarding.

Once a crowd gathered at the hill, 15 or more kids started working on setting all the features up. There were four flat bars ranging from 20 to six feet, two boxes, a tabletop/hip, a corrugated down-flat tube, a wooden spine, a quarterpipe, and a hay bail feature.

We rode for a few hours before we had our first mishap.

Ethan Haddad, JSC Ski and Ride member, crashed on the double barrel down rail right onto his shoulder. No one thought too much of the crash at first, but a little while later we agreed that he most likely had broken his collar bone. One would think that a broken bone would ruin the day, but Ethan understood how awesome this day was and still wanted to stay for the rest of the afternoon, even in his sling, unable to ride.

Shortly after Ethan broke his shoulder, another JSC Ski and Ride member, Jess Simon, fell and injured his wrist. When both Jess and Ethan were on the bench, the rest of us decided we should probably call it a day. We posed at the bottom for a group photo, thanked Jeff for his generosity in sharing Otis with us, and headed back to the barn to grab our gear and return to Johnson.

This trip was a great success, with a few minor setbacks, but everyone who came was glad they did – even Ethan.