WILMINGTON - There was a flock of turkeys on a grassy trail, at least one skier in sweatpants, and cobwebs hanging from one pair of skis seen riding up the gondola lift at the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center Friday.
It wasn't an ordinary start to the season at Whiteface - the earliest it's ever opened by one day - but the available skiing was pretty good. That was essentially one run from the summit of Little Whiteface Mountain down to the base lodge and gondola, the only lift open this day. Still, it was enough to draw hard-core skiers and snowboarders.
"I love it," said 75-year-old AuSable Forks resident Charles Marshall. "I can't remember the year, but I skied the latest year that they stayed open, until May 1, so I've got to get this other end of the spectrum in."
A snowboarder heads down the Excelsior trail Friday morning at Whiteface Mountain Ski Center in Wilmington.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Marshall said this is the first time he can remember skiing Whiteface on opening day. Normally, he avoids it because of the large crowds, but they weren't present Friday, likely because most people were at work or in school.
Marshall said he doesn't ski as much as he used to. He's down to visiting the mountain 60 times a year, which he says is now mostly a social thing for him. He said he's been coming to the mountain since it opened in 1958.
He even helped cut the trails in 1957.
"I have grown up on this mountain," Marshall said. "I can see it on my kitchen window, watch the groomers, and I just love the place."
The trails opened at 8:30 a.m., and as expected, there was a line at the gondola of a few dozen skiers. Early on, the snow was pretty crusty, but it softened in most places as the temperatures rose.
"It's fun. You start to see some familiar faces popping up, and tomorrow it will even be more so," said Olympic Regional Development Authority President and CEO Ted Blazer, sitting in the main lodge. "It's nice to get an early start. People (can now) get their ski legs back again."
Blazer said the ski center is important to the local economy, and this early opening should help area businesses.
"Once we get open, then other businesses can have an opportunity to thrive as well, from hotels and motels to shops, gas stations, restaurants, you name it," he said. "This is very important for us, for the whole economy of the region."
Robert Vidile is the manager for Maui North in Plattsburgh. Friday morning he visited Whiteface and took some runs on his snowboard. He offered similar sentiments as Blazer.
"I think it's huge for multiple reasons," Vidile said. "I think it's awesome for the state of New York, but New York as a state has a lot of ski resorts, so it'll help get them on the map for saying, 'Hey, we have a lot of great mountains. We're opening early like Vermont and other states.'"
Whiteface is expected to stay open this weekend through 4 p.m. Sunday. It will then close down during the week, reopening next Friday through Sunday. It is then scheduled to reopen for the season on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 29. That schedule is subject to change, depending on the weather. Lift tickets are being offered at discount rates.
Whiteface was able to open early this year because of the combination of the recent cold weather, high-tech new snowmaking equipment and some hard work on the part of its staff.
"We made this decision a couple of days ago that we were going to open, and the amount of options that we have for our guests right now is to me, pretty awesome," Whiteface General Manager Aaron Kellet said. "We have lodges open, restaurant's open, and we just kind of pulled the trigger the other day, so thanks to the crews for working to get everything open."