Although my family and I consider Liberty Mountain our ski home away from home, that does not stop us from partaking in all that the region has to offer. So when we got the invite from our friend Tom Fitts of Liberty’s Ski Patrol to join him, his sister and her family out at their family cabin in the Deep Creek Lake area of Western Maryland, we jumped at the chance. Of course, I found out later that he needed help painting the newly dry-walled basement of the cabin, but it was a small price to pay for a nice place to stay near the Wisp Ski Resort in McHenry, Maryland.
Although the weather was dry and clear when we headed out on Saturday morning, February 18, 2006, the promise of snow in the Allegheny Mountains was made good when we hit Cumberland. Shortly after passing through this small Maryland town on I-68 and reaching the foothills of the mountains, it started snowing. By the time we got to the Deep Creek Lake area, the snow was several inches thick and the roads pretty slick. While the conditions did not make for fun driving, the snow was definitely a plus for the skiing yet to come. We arrived at the cabin in the early afternoon and decided to relax a bit first - well, at least my wife, young son and another friend of ours, Lisa, did. After a late lunch, Tom and I headed downstairs to help his sister and her husband finish painting their renovated basement. Given the lack of installed flooring and the prep work already done, painting was done quickly. With that out of the way, we could concentrate on the skiing to be done the next day.
After a tasty breakfast prepared by Tom’s sister, we headed to Wisp early Sunday morning. My son got dropped off at Willy Wisp where he was signed up for a full day of skiing and play care. With advance reservations, the drop off was a breeze and my wife was able to avoid the long line that quickly formed for those that did not have my lovely bride’s foresight. We also got to talk with some of the Wisp Patrollers - always a friendly and accommodating bunch. After having not visited Wisp in a couple of seasons, I was pleasantly surprised that Larry Pease, the Patrol Supervisor, not only recognized us, but welcomed us back for another visit. For those that have not been to Wisp yet this season, the area recently opened up a whole new area of terrain. Larry, Joe and a couple of the other patrollers told us of some of the challenges they faced in having their territory of responsible coverage expand by over 1/3 while having the same number of patrollers. It was apparent to us, however, that they managed to do the job admirably as all the trails were well marked and Patroller coverage did not appear to be an issue.
For the first few runs of the day, our group decided to head over to the new expanded area, called the North Camp. Getting over to the new terrain was a breeze from the three main chairs serving the front side. There, we found a number of green, blue runs and one black trail. The North Camp was interesting enough and the lack of crowds made it worth trying out all of the new runs. However, after going through all of the runs, we decided we needed a bit more challenging terrain. So we headed over to Main Street. By this time, the crowds had started to appear and we had more of a wait in the lift line. Being a bit more exposed and popular, Main Street was a tad scraped down. I also noticed that as we rode the lift up, the terrain right under the chair lift, which is normally bumped up in heavy snow years, was too thin for skiing without “rock skis.” Nevertheless, the view from the top was awesome and the skiing fine.
The highlight of the day had to be in the late afternoon when we headed to run “The Face.” So named because of its steep pitch compared to other trails at Wisp. Several of us regretted not starting there sooner. Admittedly, there have been times when The Face is nothing more than a frying pan skillet of ice all the way down (so described by a Wisp Patroller) - but not Sunday! By late afternoon, The Face had bumped up nicely, but not too deeply with even the apparent slick spots being still eminently carveable. We spent so much time there, that it was early evening when we finally finished. Unfortunately, we were only able to have a single full day of skiing.
The weekend nearly ended on a very sour note. My wife had quit earlier in the day to pick up our son from Willy Wisp ski camp. While she was attending to him, someone made off with her brand new Dynastar skis.
We were both distraught over the dishonesty of the person who would think nothing of taking someone else’s skis. We filed a report with Max over at Wisp Guest Services who was very sympathetic and understanding. He even offered my wife rental skis for the next day if we were coming back for skiing. While Max did not offer much hope for recovery, he did recommend we check back the next morning on the off chance the skis were merely taken by mistake and returned.
When we did call the next morning with very low expectations, the Guest Services office had wonderful news for us - someone had turned in my wife’s skis! Apparently, they had mistaken the skis for rentals (how I have no idea!), and turned them into the Rental Department who, in turn, took them to Guest Services. So there was a happy ending to our weekend after all. Thanks to Max and the folks at Wisp Guest Services for being so understanding and helping us find my wife’s wandering skis. You can bet we will both be locking up our skis from now on!
Thanks also to the Wisp Patrol, including Larry for his hospitality and John and Dave for showing us around on skis. And finally, thanks to Willy Wisp and their wonderful teaching staff who left this expression on our son’s face after a day at ski camp.
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.