This winter has required an awful lot of patience for the snow lovers among us. Finally we got a cold week and instead of waiting for the snow to come to us, we decided to go to the snow. You would have to head way out West or up North to find real snow, but only about an hour and a half from the DC area there is plenty of the man made variety.
Last Sunday morning we got up bright and early, packed our car with a lot of ski gear and headed towards Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. It was an easy 1 1/2 hour drive. Upon arrival we were directed to a parking area (pay attention to where you park, I was not the only one searching multiple similar looking lots at the end of the day). Shuttle buses circled the parking lots continuously to take guests to the main resort. We hopped on a bus and moments later we were at our destination.
Our first destination was ski school which is called Kids Mountain Camp (KMC). We had signed both kids up online in advance as the site recommended. Our 4 year old was signed up for their Trailblazers morning program and our 8 year old was signed up for their Mountain Adventurers all day program.
The program for the younger kids (ages 4 to 7) makes things quite easy for parents. You drop your child off wearing their ski gear and they get the kids set up with skis, boots and a lift ticket.
For kids 8 and older you pick up their lift ticket and rental ticket at a window right outside the KMC building. After that you walk them through the rental building and get their gear. My son already owns gear, so instead we found a locker inside the rental building that we could get into throughout the day and got our boots, helmets and gloves on.
My husband purchased our lift tickets at the KMC window, although we also could have purchased them at the main sales windows just on the right as you enter the resort.
About fifteen minutes before my older son’s lesson was to begin, we went to the meeting spot down the path and to the left of the KMC building. Drop off for both children went quite smoothly, although as I waited for my older son’s instructor to arrive I witnessed quite a few 4 year olds crying (including my own) over in the beginner’s area. They appeared to be playing a game of duck duck goose to get the children comfortable and acclimated and it seemed to be having the right affect.
We have decided to have our kids learn to ski, but there are similar programs for kids who would rather snowboard. The main difference is that the youngest age a child can learn to snowboard through the camp is 6. If you would like your child to learn to snowboard younger than 6, then there are private instructors available.
After dropping off the kids, my husband and I headed out to ski. It has been years since we skied together as we have spent the last couple of years trading off watching our younger son. For those whose children are younger than 4 that would rather ski than watch kids, there is a childcare program for kids between 6 months and 12 years. There are hourly and full day options.
The snow was actually quite nice considering all but a few inches was man-made. Most of the trails were groomed, packed powder. We did have a bit of a delay waiting for the EZ Rider Quad which services green (easier) and blue (intermediate) slopes.
The lift is a slower lift to begin with and quite popular because of the terrain it serves. The Whitetail Express Quad is far faster with much shorter lines, but be aware that you can only reach blue trails from that lift.
We also found that due to the lack of natural snow, Whitetail has to make snow during the day if temperatures allow. This means that you absolutely need to have goggles on the trails where the snow blowers are on. It also means that a trail that might have been groomed the night before now has mounds of snow all over it, which can be quite a bit more challenging for many skiers.
About a half hour before it was time to pick up my 4 year-old, I went over to the Kids Mountain Camp ski area and watched my son’s lesson. I was thrilled to see that he was smiling and happy. Progress is much slower for the youngest group, but the children were able to walk in their skis and go down a tiny hill without falling too much. The older children learn at a faster rate, but at the end of the day, I was just thrilled to see a smile on his face and very grateful for the wonderful, patient instructors!
After handing back his skis and trading ski boots for shoes, we headed to the base lodge for lunch. There are multiple lunch options at Whitetail. We chose Marketplace which is a typical ski lodge cafeteria. My little guy and I both chose hot dogs and fries, but they also offer burgers, chili and sandwiches.
We found a table on the third floor. Tables go quickly, so you might have to share a table with others or wait for someone to get up. If it is possible, I highly recommend eating at off hours.
We came prepared with entertainment options to occupy my 4 year-old while waiting for my older son to finish skiing. We could have skied for up to an hour after his lesson ended, but he decided he was done for the day. The full day camp ends at 3pm, so we headed over just before that. They were actually a few minutes late taking advantage of one last run. My son wanted to show off his skills, so he went down the beginner hill a few more times before calling it a day.
After finishing up, we changed and headed back to the car. After finding the car, we headed out and were home in no time at all. There are many dining options if you decide to pick up dinner on the way home, including the ubiquitous Golden Arches just after leaving the resort.
- Lifts operate from 8:30am to 10:00pm daily. Lift tickets are sold in 4 hour, 8 hour, extended day and night options.
- If you’re new to skiing or Whitetail Resort, read through their First Timer’s Guide!
- Make all Kids Mountain Camp lessons at least a few days before heading to the mountain. You have to cancel at least 2 full days in advance to receive all but $10 back or you can postpone your reservation to a future day during the same season as long as you call before the lesson begins.
- Make sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before Kids Mountain Camp begins.
- Dress in warm, waterproof clothes for skiing. Jeans will quickly get wet and uncomfortable.
- Definitely get a locker you can get into throughout the day. The extra money is well worth it. There are lockers of this variety in the rental building and baskets you can access throughout the day on the first level of the lodge.
- 1 hour group lessons for kids 8 and up and adults are available without advance reservations for $42. See the website for hours.
- Packages which include rentals and a group lesson are available for 1st time skiers, beginners, and those that want to ski most of the mountain. See the website for prices.
- 4th and 5th graders can ski for free! Go to skipa.com to find out the details and get an application. A book of vouchers entitles 4th and 5th graders to 3 days of lift tickets at each of 22 participating resorts in Pennsylvania and one free beginner package. You do not have to live in PA to get the deal. Processing takes 2 to 3 weeks, so check it out for next year.
- Whitetail also has snow tubing! We did not get a chance to try it out, but it looks like fun. On weekends tubing is open from 9am to 10pm. There is a kiddie hill with separate rates for children ages 2 to 4.
- If you choose to stay overnight, there are a select number of slope/side condos as well as a few hotels in the Mercersburg area. A number of other choices are available in Hagerstown, MD. Check the website for hotel listings.
- If you can, go on a weekday – it is less expensive and a lot less crowded.
Skiing is great fun and Whitetail is an easy day trip from the Washington, DC area. We were thrilled with all aspects of our recent trip to the resort. Their ski school was great, the snow was quite good for man-made and all services ran quite well. The only thing you need to be prepared for is the price tag. Skiing is definitely not an inexpensive sport.