With January 2006 ending up as one of the warmest winter months in recent memory, the 2005-2006 ski season looked like it would end before it even began. The signs were certainly ominous going into February with the closing of a number of trails at Liberty Mountain, including a shut down of Blue Streak, and lower Heavenly at the beginning of the month. Dipsy Doodle, the core green rated trail necessary to get from the top to the bottom, was so thin in spots that as recently as the first week in February, the only way to get through was to find that thin slushy path from mud patch to mud patch. But what a difference one week of cold and a single snow storm can make.
Liberty Mountain had, of course, lost no time in making up for lost ground as the area turned on the snow guns as soon as the warmth of Super Bowl weekend had passed. A view of the webcams on the official resort website showed non-stop snowmaking on the front and backsides of the mountain for nearly the full week. To the credit of the snowmaking crew, last weekend’s winter storm was not really needed as coverage was all but restored due to the recent stretch of cold temperatures. The storm, however, did provide an incredible bonus becoming increasingly rare to the Mid-Atlantic -; abundant natural snow!
This past weekend’s storm started at Liberty Mountain much the way it had in the Washington, D.C. area -; slowly. By nightfall, however, the snow was coming down in waves. Skiers and boarders alike got a taste of powder skiing with trails like Upper Eastwind and Upper Ultra getting plenty of coverage on what is typically scrapped down runs by late afternoon. Snow also built up on Upper Heavenly and the lower mountain trails as well. While the Saturday night skiing was a treat, the real bonus came for those few lucky enough to wake up early because they were local or had stayed near the area that night -; untracked morning powder!
Although Liberty Mountain groomers typically knock down and groom flat almost every trail at the area (the sole exception typically being Upper and Lower Eastwind, which are allowed to bump up), Saturday night the call was made to leave the trails on the backside alone -; all of them! This meant that early morning skiers got to try on their powder legs in nearly a foot of the fluffy white stuff. Unfortunately, due to a late night the evening before, I missed most of the morning snow and spent the time, instead, making my way back to Liberty having gone home to get the family to bring them back up. Fortunately, through the skills of the snow removal crews of Maryland and Virginia, traveling up the I-270 corridor was a breeze.
When we arrived, Sean Jones, a ski patroller at Liberty, felt duty-bound to tell me that the early morning skiing was so awesome, that powder snow was flying up to knee level and higher as he and his wife, Janet, took numerous runs down the backside. Despite having missed the early morning snow, the storm had dumped enough powder that my family and I were still able to enjoy what was left.
We joined Sean, Janet, and fellow DCSki Columnist Otto Matheke on the backside and enjoyed run after run through the snow that had the cornstarch consistency more typical of Western ski resorts. By late afternoon, after Sean and Janet left for home and Otto had run off to teach a few classes, my wife and I had progressed from skiing the double black and black diamond trails of Eastwind and Ultra to the more sedate blue runs of Heavenly and Whitney’s Way. Both were still in excellent condition with Whitney’s Way providing a very uncrowded trail to the backside lifts even on what looked like a filled-to-capacity day. We finished the day by taking our four-year-old son out of the Children’s Learning Center and letting him enjoy several runs down the beginner area. By nightfall, even our energetic young boy was ready to head for home and some well-deserved rest. Thanks to Mother Nature, I have a feeling that the 2005-2006 ski season may just turn out alright after all.
James "Jim" Chen" is a member of the National Ski Patrol and Assistant Patrol Director at Liberty Mountain ski area in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania. Jim has been a member of the Liberty Patrol since the 1995-1996 season. Off the slopes, Jim is an attorney in Washington, D.C. where he counsels clients on transportation, innovation, safety and environmental areas.