The more early mornings I spend skinning up Whiteface or earning turns in the backcountry, the more I believe that the best descents don’t include a lift.
It’s the sound of your breath as you stop to turn back and see the sun begin to rise over the mountains, the feeling of floating on the untouched snow beneath your skis, and the fulfillment that your morning adventure was completely self powered.
But before I go on, let’s go back.
A few years ago I fell in love with skiing. I didn't grow up in the mountains, but after getting a small glimpse of the outdoor lifestyle in college, I wanted more. With no plans after graduation, I decided to spend a year hiking mountains, learning to ski, and becoming one of those free-spirited, outdoorsy types, something my Long Island upbringing hadn’t given me. So when a friend told me she was moving to Lake Placid and looking for a roommate, I went. It was a place I had never been, but I knew it had mountains.
I arrived to the Adirondacks and quickly began working at High Peaks Cyclery, an outdoor shop in downtown Lake Placid. Through my then job at HPC I had learned about uphill skiing and the necessary gear that was required, like skins, touring boots, and bindings. Skins are strips of material meant to mimic hairs of an animal that stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to travel uphill without sliding. Touring bindings, unlike alpine bindings that keep your heal locked, allow the heel to move freely while you’re skinning uphill for an easier, more natural stride, and touring boots feature a walk mode that allows the boot to flex for better range of motion when you’re going up.
I loved the idea of skinning and being on the mountain before everyone else. As soon as a touring ski setup appeared in the Recyclery, High Peaks Cyclery's consignment room, they were mine. I knew I could somewhat successfully ski down from the gondola, and that’s all I needed. I loved the uphill. The climb provided a great aerobic workout first thing in the morning; I had accomplished so much before work even began! The ski down, though, I secretly feared. However, with each passing trip to the mountain, I got better. I loved having the mountain to what felt like myself.
The wide open runs gave me the confidence to make turns at my own pace. No one was watching from the chairlift or racing by me. The snow was untouched and begging to be skied. It was me and it was the mountain. I was getting the experience I dreamed of when I first packed my car and moved to Lake Placid.
Three ski seasons later, I still appreciate the climb, but now it’s all about the descent. Though not the traditional way to learn to ski, early mornings on Whiteface helped to foster a love I never knew I was missing. Skinning up today was a reminder of that first winter I spent here. The excitement and frustrations of learning something new, but mostly the smile that graced my face with every completion of another morning. It brought me back to the great community of skiers in the area that have become more than just familiar faces at the mountain. This was the lifestyle I needed!
I think the greatest thing about skinning is that it does not require the same skill set needed to go into the backcountry. Anyone that has a little experience on skis, and is up for a new challenge can try it! Skinning is great way to change up your skiing experience and appreciate it in a new way, though everyone has their own reason for why they choose to go uphill. If your interested in trying skinning at Whiteface, I highly recommend talking to the staff at High Peaks Cyclery. They’re all knowledgeable and excited about getting more people uphill skiing. Locals can even enjoy free demos mid-week, and rental setups are available to curious travelers.
Like all ski areas, Whiteface has its own set of rules pertaining to uphill skiing. These are just a few and anyone interested should read the full list of rules on the Whiteface website, under the Whiteface Mountain tab. The uphill pass can only be purchased during the mountain's hours of operation so purchasing it in advance is necessary.
Uphill climbing is permitted starting January 6, 2021 on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 6 - 8 a.m. All users must have an Uphill Pass, which may be purchased for $59 for season pass holders or $129 for non-pass holders. The Uphill Pass does NOT provide lift access.
Uphill skiers are required to wear reflective clothing and a light that is visible from any direction.
Users should be vigilant for snow cats, winch cat cables, snowmobiles, ATVs, trucks, other skiers and riders, and other exposures typical of an operating ski area.
Apart from skinning, Whiteface is a great mountain for all skier types. Ready to plan your trip? Check out our Ski and Stay packages here!