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Downhill From Here

Downhill From Here: Whiteface in the sunshine

  • This is the view you see at Whiteface as you get off the summit quad (which doesn’t go to the summit—there’s still 400 feet more mountain above). Yes, the trails that drop off to the left are STEEP, but there are easier ways down. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    This is the view you see at Whiteface as you get off the summit quad (which doesn’t go to the summit—there’s still 400 feet more mountain above). Yes, the trails that drop off to the left are STEEP, but there are easier ways down. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • This is how the summit of Whiteface looks from the top of the Gondola on Little Whiteface. That big expanse of white just to the right of the peak in “The Slides,” some of the most daunting expert terrain in the east. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    This is how the summit of Whiteface looks from the top of the Gondola on Little Whiteface. That big expanse of white just to the right of the peak in “The Slides,” some of the most daunting expert terrain in the east. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • Sunshine on a blue-sky morning often means corn snow galore. Enjoy it while you can! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    Sunshine on a blue-sky morning often means corn snow galore. Enjoy it while you can! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • This is the view you see at Whiteface as you get off the summit quad (which doesn’t go to the summit—there’s still 400 feet more mountain above). Yes, the trails that drop off to the left are STEEP, but there are easier ways down. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • This is how the summit of Whiteface looks from the top of the Gondola on Little Whiteface. That big expanse of white just to the right of the peak in “The Slides,” some of the most daunting expert terrain in the east. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • Sunshine on a blue-sky morning often means corn snow galore. Enjoy it while you can! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

Any skier can tell you this: when you hit it just right, it feels like you live an absolutely charmed life. You absolutely wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, doing anything else. You wouldn’t change a thing.

I hope you’ve gotten some days like that this season. I’ve now had four days like that in the last two weeks. The first two were pure powder heaven at Saddleback in Rangeley, Maine, and one was a perfect blue sky-and-corduroy morning at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley, Maine.

Saturday was corn snow at Whiteface (518-946-2223, whiteface.com) in Wilmington, N.Y.

Now, Whiteface is pretty special in its own right whenever you visit. It offers more lift-serviced vertical (3,166 feet) than any other ski hill in eastern North America and a truly wonderful layout of trails and glades with everything from gentle beginner terrain to the “The Slides,” a series of double-black diamond natural avalanche chutes where only the best of the best should venture (I’d say that less than half of the people who do ski The Slides actually should ski The Slides).

Corn snow is pretty special, too. Like fluffy, fresh powder, perfect corn snow is rare and ephemeral and all the more precious and

cherished for it. Corn snow (named for the loose crystals about the size of corn kernels that are created when snow goes through a number of freeze-thaw cycles) usually forms when the night has been below freezing and the temperature climbs during the day. You’ll see it first on slopes that face east where the sun goes to work first.

We (my sweetheart Marilyn and I and our friends David and Susan Shedd) arrived in Lake Placid on Friday afternoon, with the plan of skiing Whiteface together Saturday. Lake Placid is one of the great ski/outdoor towns of the east. We stayed at The Golden Arrow Lakeside Resort, right in downtown Lake Placid. The rooms are super comfortable, and the views are gorgeous. There’s also a choice of fine restaurants within easy walking distance (even on tired legs), including Generations, the restaurant right here in the hotel (which is good enough that we often eat here when we are staying somewhere else).

Saturday morning, the trails at Whiteface were mostly nicely groomed corduroy. We were among the first folks up the Summit Quad and made our first run down Cloudspin and Niagara, which was soft, smooth snow from top to bottom. Our next run was on Paron’s and that’s when the magic started. On the far left side of the trail, I noticed those first magic kernels of corn snow. By the time we were halfway down the run, it was pure corn. That’s when I started getting that feeling I described above, where you know deep in your soul that you are in the right place at the right time.

For the next couple of hours, we skied non-stop in lovely soft corn snow. I’ve heard it described as “skiing on butter,” and that’s as close to accurate as I can come up with. It’s smooth and soft and slick and, if you do it right, almost effortless. You just swoop through it, almost like skiing on untracked powder. It’s an amazing feeling.

Of course, all good things come to an end, and the sun that creates corn snow eventually turns it into slush – still fun to ski on but a lot more work. Occasionally, if clouds build at just the right time and the temperature holds steady, you can ski corn snow all day, but that’s even rarer than untracked powder.

Anyway, today was a perfect corn snow morning on a fabulous mountain and that’s about as good as life gets. There’s a lot of snow on most hills and the skiing is going to last at least through the end of March, probably into early April. Plenty of time for you to get in your own perfect corn snow day.

Here’s the deal

Mount Snow (800-245-7669, mountsnow.com) in Dover, Vt. has $17 lift tickets on St. Patrick’s Day. You might be able to find a beer somewhere, too. Oh, and they have $75 mid-week ski and stay packages, too.

Ski and stay packages come out to play in March; here are just a few examples. Check with any ski area that tickles your fancy for a spring getaway.

∎ The Golden Arrow (877-832-9912, golden-arrow.com) has $79 mid-week ski and stay packages from March 17 to the end of the season, perfect for spring corn snow. This is just one of dozens of ski and stay packages listed on the Whiteface website.

∎ Sunday River (207-824-3000; sundayriver.com) in Newry, Maine has $119-per-person weekend ski and stay packages that include a 12-hour lift ticket (night skiing on a warm spring evening is another amazing experience).

∎ Stratton Mountain Resort (stratton.com) in Stratton, Vermont has Lift tickets up to 50 percent off in March when purchased in advance online, with the biggest savings available midweek. Lodging packages are 30 percent off for midweek, multiple night stays in March. And lift and lodging packages are even better deals.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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