New York State has more ski areas that any other state. That’s led to a solid ski culture. Most of these areas are small to medium-sized. I learned to snowboard at one of the smaller areas called Dry Hill. Dry Hill has 11 trails and only 300 feet of vertical, but it was enough to cut my teeth on and work on the basic skills I needed to become an intermediate rider. And that’s the beauty of New York’s ski areas. They produce some of the best skiers in the country.
But not all of New York’s ski areas are small. In fact, one of them stands head and shoulders above all the mountains in the East: WHITEFACE!
Whiteface has 3,430 feet of vertical making it the most you can get in the East. That can be daunting for any rider, especially if you have only been riding a three-hundred-foot mountain! I mean, do the math here. Whiteface is over ten times higher than the mountain I learned on! Needless to say I was a bit lost when I first got there. But I learned where to go as a beginner, and worked my way up to the expert terrain. Both of my kids learned to ski at Whiteface, so I've been on every beginner trail it has to offer.
So let me help you by giving you the best trails — in my opinion — for each skill level. I've highlighted the trails and the lifts are highlighted in red.
Author’s Note: I’m going to assume that you know how to ski or board and that you can get on and off a lift. So I’m going to skip over the Magic Carpet and Mixing Bowl areas.
Home mountain trails: Greens
Skier: You can ski all the greens but the snowplow is your go-to move.
Snowboarder: You’re a falling leaf.
If you’re unsure of how much of a beginner you are, you’re going to want to head over to Bear Den Mountain. Whiteface has a whole section dedicated to the beginner. It’s completely separate except for a few small connector trails, so you don’t need to worry about getting run over by faster skiers.
Author’s Note: Notice I didn’t say “better skiers” there? One thing that Whiteface will reveal to you is whether you’re a good skier/rider or just a stupid one. More on that later.
My favorite trail for the beginner is Flying Squirrel. It’s got some steepness to it and a few features that will help you work on skills. After you feel good here, it’s time to head down one of the connector trails to the Bear Lift.
Home mountain trails: Greens
Skier: You still like pizza better than French fries, but you’re starting to get those parallel turns.
Snowboarder: You’ve linked up a heel edge to toe edge turn but you’re still mostly a falling leaf.
The Bear Lift accesses the Fox trail which is wide and great for practicing turns. Right under the lift is the Deer trail which is great for practicing turns as the trail is very narrow and you have to dodge lift towers. You’re more in the mix here as well. You’ll start to see intermediate and expert riders finishing up their runs from further up the mountain.
Home mountain trails: Greens and blues
Skier: You’re all about those parallel turns now. French fries for the win!
Snowboarder: You’re linking turns on your heel and toe edges and can ride in a straight line.
If the previous trails are making you yawn and you’ve hit every feature, made all the turns, and ridden them as hard as possible, it’s time to head up the mountain. The first lift you’re going to is the Face Lift, which goes right up the middle. The Face Lift accesses a lot of trails, but to start out, you’re going to want to cruise down Boreen. This green trail has great snow and is wide enough not to intimidate newer riders. There are a couple of blue options you can take, as well as some park trails, so each run can be an opportunity to try something new.
Home mountain trails: Blues and some blacks
Skier: Parallel turns in your sleep, good speed control, and christe/hockey stops.
Snowboarder: You’ve upgraded to carving turns and can stop on a dime.
Author’s Note: Whiteface is a BIG mountain which means that controlling your speed is imperative to having a good day. You might be able to straight line your home mountain, but that kind of thinking at Whiteface can get dangerous fast. See what I did there? Ski within your abilities and stay in control.
You’re ready for the big time now. Time to get on the Cloudsplitter Gondola and head to the top of Little Whiteface!
Little Whiteface is a side summit that stands at 3,676 feet of elevation which means you’ll get 2,456 feet of vertical if you ride all the way down to the base lodge. Once you get off the gondola, be sure to take in the sights. To the left you’ll see a great view of Lake Placid. To the right you’ll see the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Straight ahead is the summit of Whiteface (where you’ll be going soon!)
For your first laps from the gondola, I’d suggest taking Excelsior. Excelsior is a blue that winds down the mountain through a series of fun turns. It’s one of the most fun intermediate trails on the mountain. From Excelsior drop into Upper Valley to Mid Station.
Author’s Note: Mid Station is a great excuse to give your legs a break. The food is good, the coffee is hot, and the beer is cold. Plus, it’s got one heck of a view! Not to mention you can take a lift from there back to the top of Little Whiteface.
From Mid Station you can either take the Little Whiteface Lift back to the top or take Lower Valley down to the gondola and do it all over again. Your legs will be burning, but it’s a good burn. The Upper and Lower Valley trails serve as the main conduit down the heart of the mountain. On busy days these trails will be packed. So good speed control is a must.
Home mountain trails: Blues and blacks
Skier and snowboarders: You rail like a train and can handle uneven conditions. Your turning and stopping skills are solid.
Lucky dog, you! It’s time to go to the top! Hop on the Summit Quad and head up to an elevation of 4,386 feet. Don’t let the height scare you. There’s a nice mellow way down. Stay right along the mountain side and you’ll be heading down The Follies, a delightful, narrow, twisting trail.
Follow Follies into Paron’s Run and swing left through John’s Bypass to get to Victoria. Victoria is a bump and run paradise. The middle is usually full of moguls (if you're into that sort of thing). Skier's left is often left ungroomed which gives it a wild character that's a lot of fun. If you want a smoother run, stick to the skier's right side where the snowboarders typically go. All of this deposits you right at the Summit Quad again making multiple laps possible.
Home mountain trails: Blues but mostly blacks
Skier and snowboarder: You have your turns and speed control dialed in.
The third summit at Whiteface is Lookout Mountain. Take the Lookout Mountain Lift to the top and ride down one of the longest trails in the east: The Wilmington Trail! I put this as the next step up because of the length of the trail and because there are some exposed sections where the drop off the side of the trail would be unpleasant to say the least. But the views are spectacular and the ride is a fun one. The trail has several fall lines as it hugs the backside of Lookout Mountain. A definite leg-burner for sure! Once you make it to the bottom, the most direct way back to the top is to take the Face Lift up to the Lookout Mountain Lift. Or you can combine this with a trip up the gondola and make your way from there.
Home mountain trails: Blacks
Skier and snowboarder: You’re a carving monster and feel comfortable on steep terrain.
Ready for your first black trail on Whiteface? Time to head up on the gondola and head down Approach, which accesses a lot of advanced trails. But you’re headed to the legendary Mountain Run! Mountain Run is wide and mostly flat, but at a serious and sustained angle.
From the top it looks very intimidating, so take a deep breath and take it one turn at a time. Turns are your friend here. Make a lot of them. Plus, that’s why we’re all here, right? Mountain Run ends at Mid Station where you can take a break and watch how others come down the slope. If you’re ready you can hop on the Little Whiteface Lift and head right back to the top and do it all over again.
Home mountain trails: Blacks
Skier and snowboarder: You’re comfortable on steep and varied terrain and not afraid of heights.
Let’s go back to the Summit because I’m sure you were wondering what that big trail right off the lift was. That’s Upper Skyward. The big imposing black trail you can see from miles away. It’s wide, but steep and long. Plus, the first challenge is dropping in over the head wall which can seem near vertical in some spots. Personally, this is my favorite trail, especially on powder days. Take Upper Skyward to Lower Skyward and you’ll be back at the start of the Summit Quad Lift trying to wipe that goofy grin off your face. Laps here are not only recommended, but necessary. I hope you brought an extra pair of legs!
There are dozens of trails for every one of these skill levels at Whiteface. Sure, for the advanced riders there are all the glades, The Slides (are they open?), and lots of demanding expert only trails. But Whiteface is a great place for all skill levels to come and get better. Remember: the better you ride, the more fun you’ll have!
Now that you're in the know, it's time to check out Whiteface for yourself! Plan a trip now while there's still plenty of spring skiing to be had— we've got plenty of lodging and dining choices close to the slopes!
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