Whiteface skiers enjoy 44 inches of snow cover

Skiers take to the slopes of Whiteface Mountain Thursday after Winter Storm Stella dropped 44 inches of snow on the mountain, making for perfect conditions. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

WILMINGTON — Lynn Heidi and a group of her friends were supposed to be on a beach in Cancun Thursday, soaking up the sunshine and 80-degree temperatures.

Instead, the Saranac Lake woman was at Whiteface Mountain, carving turns in deep powder snow and enjoying every minute of it. Her friends were nowhere in sight.

“I should be in Cancun right now but we could not get there,” Heidi said. “Our whole trip has been postponed until April, and I don’t care because I’m at Whiteface and it’s awesome. I’m the only person from our trip that does not care.”

Powder hounds from near and far traveled to Whiteface Thursday after the mountain picked up 44 inches of snow from Winter Storm Stella, which hit the area Tuesday and Wednesday.

Connie O’Collison of Kingston, Ontario owns a condominium in Lake Placid and has been skiing Whiteface for 20 years. She said she’s never seen this much snow here from a single storm.

A skier plows through the dense snow powder at Whiteface Mountain in Wilmington Thursday. (Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)

“We’ve seen it to the knees, but never to the waist,” O’Collison said.

O’Collison said she wanted to ski the day after the storm, Wednesday, but couldn’t get here because her car was buried at the Lake Placid Club Lodges condominiums. She said management helped dig it out.

“We almost didn’t make it because of the warnings issued about coming in to here,” said Rishaal Lodhia of Toronto, during a ride up Whiteface’s Cloudsplitter Gondola. He brought his two cousins, ages 13 and 9, to Whiteface for their March break from school.

“We finally made it up here after a day of losing the car keys in the snow,” he said. “When we were driving we realized it wasn’t so bad and it was worth the voyage. The children are excited for their first big mountain experience.”

Asked why he picked Whiteface, Lodhia said it was because of the mountain’s vertical drop, which at 3,200 feet is the biggest in the east.

“It’s all about the ratio of time on the mountain to time on the lift, maximizing the time on the mountain,” he said.

Most Whiteface visitors Thursday came to maximize their time in the powder, but it wasn’t easy at first. Due to high winds, many of the mountain’s higher elevation lifts didn’t open until later in the day.

Saranac Lake High School teachers Kris Miemis and Chris Kollmer brought a group of 20 students to the mountain through their school’s outdoor club. They were waiting out the winds in the Whiteface base lodge Thursday morning.

“Hopefully the winds will die down and everyone will have a good time,” Miemis said. “The kids are really excited. We were originally scheduled for Wednesday but we got snowed out. I think some people were anticipating there wouldn’t be school again today because people are still digging out, but school is in session and we’re at Whiteface. All in all, it will be a good winter day.”

Heidi was doing laps on the lower-mountain Bear lift as she waited for the winds to die down. She said she wasn’t about to complain.

“This wind, it’s Mother Nature,” she said. “She dumped all this snow on us. How mad can we be about it? This is actual powder. This is light, fluffy stuff. We never get light, fluffy stuff on the East Coast.”

This morning, Whiteface crews were ready for another big crowd of powder-hungry skiers. The winds had subsided and they actually opened the mountain’s lifts early today, including the Summit quad, which reaches Whiteface’s highest trails.

This week’s storm bodes well for the rest of the ski season, especially with more snow in the forecast and winter-like temperatures expected through next week. It didn’t look that way a few weeks ago, when a major warm-up reduced the mountain’s base of snow. When temperatures turned cold again, however, Whiteface fired up its snow guns, and now it’s had a big helping hand from Mother Nature.

The ski season at Whiteface usually runs through Easter, which this year is April 16. Olympic Regional Development Authority spokesman Jon Lundin said it’s too soon to say how long it will last.

“We’ll put our minds together and figure out if we’re going to extend the season,” Lundin said. “We’re really in good shape for the remainder of the ski season, going back to our snowmaking in early March and then you have this.”