Steepest Ski Trail in New York - The Slides, Whiteface

Whiteface Mountain is one of the premier ski destinations in the eastern United States because of the lively nightlife scene in nearby Lake Placid and it has the greatest vertical drop in the east at 3,430 feet.    Whiteface hosted the 1980 Winter Olympic alpine skiing events (the 1932 Olympics didn’t contest alpine skiing). The slalom and giant slalom were won by the greatest skier of all time, Ingemar Stenmark (not Lindsey).  The downhill was won by Austrian Leonard Stock. Andrew “The Warhorse” Weibrecht, who won a bronze medal in the Super G at the 2010 Winter Olympics and a silver medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics, grew up skiing at Whiteface.   The average snowfall is around 168 inches per year plus 98% of the mountain trails are serviced by snowmaking. The mountain is located in Wilmington, New York.

Whiteface Mountain

The Slides were formed hundreds of years ago by avalanches that ripped away trees and rocks to create a series of scars from the summit of the mountain.  Fortunately, for skiers, these 35 acres offer an outstanding expert skiing opportunity the Slides were considered out of bounds until the 94-95 season when Whiteface opened them to the public.  The Slides are legitimate double black diamond skiing.  As noted they were formed by avalanches, so they can be wide open in places, but they also hold narrow chutes, especially when you get into Slides 3 and 4.  It should be noted that rarely can you just go to Whiteface, get off the lift and ski them.  The Slides are open only when Ski Patrol deems them safe, which generally occurs in the Spring.  When they are open, the patrol has an Olympic themed rating system. If the Slides are open with a Silver rating, Ski Patrol requires avalanche precautions such as a beacon, shovel and probe.  If the Slides are open with a rating of Gold, they can be skied without avalanche gear, but you skiers must be in groups of two or more. And yes, they do check. 

The Slides are accessed from the Summit Quad Chair, which actually ends 500’ below the summit.  Once at the summit, the entrance to the Slides is immediately to your right when offloading from the chair.  If they are open you will be greeted by a member of the ski patrol, standing next to orange mesh fencing.  Once ski patrol has admitted you to the Slides, there is an uphill traverse/side step that is required to access the terrain.  Once on the Slides, below you will be what Mother Nature has offered up – there is no snowmaking and no grooming – you are skiing backcountry, while still on an inbounds trail, also known as side country.  On the descent you will encounter shrubs, trees, rocks, cliffs, frozen waterfalls, variable conditions and if you ski them on a great day…powder – take it seriously.

The Slides at Whiteface!  The steepest skiing in New York State. Photo courtesy of Jim Kenney.

The Slides at Whiteface! The steepest skiing in New York State. Photo courtesy of Jim Kenney.

The four Slides are arranged like fingers on your hand, with the start being the tips of your fingers and then they all funnel into one area, the palm.  Each Slide is accessed by traversing further out from the entrance to the slides. Slide 1 is the first Slide you will encounter and the “easiest”. The slides get progressively more difficult until you get to Slide 4, which is the highest degree of technical skills.  The two slides really worth doing are 1 and 3. Slide 1 has been compared to a western resort bowl, Hillman’s Highway at Tuckerman’s Ravine, or its neighbor to the left Upper Skyward.   Slide 1 is generally considered the easiest of the 4 slides, even with a sustained pitch of 37.26 degrees, the steepest in Eastern North America.  Additionally, the trail averages 32.01 over the entire length of the trail, making it the 3rd steepest trail from top to bottom on the East Coast.  However, it is not the steepness that makes this trail difficult, it is the series of frozen waterfalls.  These waterfalls are un-skiable during the majority of the season, unless you are a former World Cup racer and have race tuned edges, thus they are the main reason the slides usually don’t open until the spring.  Once they soften up they do become skiable, although tricky. While Slide 1 is wide open, the trickier Slide 3 is not. Slide 3 is a precipitous and constricted chute that requires extreme faith in your skiing skills, because you drop into a sightless line.  A word of caution, at least on your first descent, keep your velocity under control or you find yourself in deep stuff as there is a series of ledges that need to piloted.

So, there you have the Slides of Whiteface.  They are some of the best skiing the Northeast has to offer, when open.  However, that is where they fail, they lack dependability.   Will they be open when you get there?  Most likely no.  Then again did you remember to pack your probe/shovel/transceiver?  Most likely no.