PEOPLE FROM MAINE have a time-worn expression to describe a year up that way: "Nine months of winter, and three months of damn poor sleddin’." Ski season in New England doesn’t last quite that long (to the great dismay of hard-core ski bums and bunnies), but it is a good rule of thumb that, from mid November to sometime in April, most East Coast slopes will be open for business. And all over the region, ski resorts are buzzing in preparation for squeezing as much fun as possible from those few precious months.
If the 2002 Old Farmer’s Almanac is to be believed (and around here, we take it at its word), "Snowfall throughout the season will be above normal; expect it in mid-November, early and mid-December, early and late January, late February, and early March ... early January will bring back memories of old-fashioned cold winters." And that’s just the way skiers and ’boarders like it. The mountain staffers are working hard to make sure that that auspicious forecast is augmented with newer-better-faster-more trails, plus better snowmaking facilities, lodge amenities, and pricing deals than last year. Here’s a round-up of what to expect this season at slopes around the region.
Berkshire East (Charlemont, 413-339-6617, www.berkshireeast.com)
A sizable expansion has taken place for the 2001-2002 season at Berkshire East. Six new trails (two intermediate and four novice) are now available. One of them, Roundabout, is nearly two miles long. Add to this expanded and improved snowmaking coverage two new lifts to serve novice trails — a double chair to replace the old-fashioned J-bar and a new wire-rope tow — and the mountain looks ready to roll, bigger and better than ever.
Butternut Basin (Great Barrington, 413-528-2000, www.butternutbasin.com)
These days, taking a family of four for a day in the snow can easily break the bank. That’s why it’s such a breath of fresh mountain air to see Butternut continuing its tradition of charging a mere six bucks for lift tickets on opening day. Has frostbite spread to their brains? No. That was the price of a day at the mountain when Butternut’s lifts first groaned into action in December 1963. Of course, those obscenely low prices can’t be sustained throughout the season, but Butternut is offering $15 tickets every Monday and Tuesday all season long (excluding holidays). That doesn’t mean, though, that it’s okay to play hooky from school or work.
Catamount Ski Area (South Egremont, 413-528-1262, www.catamountski.com)
The big news at Catamount this season is that the old Wax Run has been redesigned from the top down to encompass a mile of cruising space. Rechristened Sidewinder, it now boasts complete snowmaking coverage. And snowboarders will be, like, totally stoked to check out the new Megaplex Terrain Park, with everything a young grunge kid could want: berms, banks, jumps, spines, quarter-pipes, kickers, and a mungo 400-foot half-pipe. Also, look for the Catamount racing series for skiers and snowboarders, which takes place over four weekends this winter, culminating in a grand finale on February 23. Start training now.
Jiminy Peak (Hancock, 413-738-PEAK, www.jiminypeak.com)
Because Jiminy unveiled the Berkshire Express, the region’s first and only high-speed six-passenger detachable lift, for the 2000-2001 season, big-ticket expansion is minimal this year. A portion of the two-mile novice trail Left Bank was expanded this summer, thus improving conditions for novice skiers and snowboarders. A somewhat boring but nonetheless important change: the ski patrol Summit House was moved to the top of the Berkshire Express lift, thus allowing patrollers to respond faster and be more visible to guests. And, perhaps most important and exciting of all, we’re pleased to report that the ladies’ room in the East Lodge has been completely renovated and remodeled, making it bigger and brighter than ever.
Camden Snow Bowl (Camden, 207-236-3438, www.camdensnowbowl.com)
The Snow Bowl is the exact opposite of the sprawling, many-peaked high-tech monsters that draw the big crowds in flashy jackets and expensive gear. And one gets the distinct impression that staffers here relish that fact. This place is simple, homey, and to the point. And it features one thing that can be claimed by no other ski slope: a breathtaking view of the Atlantic. In keeping with its old-fashioned charm, the Snow Bowl also has a toboggan chute — it’s a mere 50 cents per ride if you’ve got your own toboggan, a buck if you’re renting. (Or try an inner tube for $3 an hour.) Skiers will be pleased to know that the Snow Bowl folks won’t be raising the price of a lift ticket by even a cent this year.
Shawnee Peak (Bridgton, 207-647-8444, www.shawneepeak.com)
Shawnee’s main draw is its night skiing. This season, the slopes should be open by mid December or so, with nighttime activity getting under way shortly thereafter; check the Web site for exact dates. The calendar for the upcoming season is jam-packed with events and extravaganzas. Highlights include the hallowed Shawnee tradition of Ullr Fest on December 27, which welcomes the beginning of winter with torchlights and the beating of drums (is there really any other way?), and the Moonlight Charity challenge on February 1, when celebrities from Hollywood and the skiing world will convene on the slopes to benefit local charities.
Sugarloaf USA (Carrabassett Valley, 207-237-2000, www.sugarloaf.com)
Sugarloaf has already received a dusting or two, and that bodes well for the coming months. But the 4237-foot mountain’s big news this year is that, for the first time ever, novice skiers can make their way via a green-circle trail from the summit to the base. A thrilling view from the top and a three-and-a-half-mile trek to the bottom are enough to make any beginner want to become an expert as quickly as possible. Snowmaking has also been improved in the Whiffletree area, a popular spot for the novice crowd, and a new glade carved recently by local skiers and riders in the far eastern edge of the mountain will be officially adopted into the Sugarloaf trail system. All these additions bring the venerable ski resort’s trail count to 128.
Sunday River Ski Resort (Newry, 207-824-3000, www.sundayriver.com)
Three big charity events are planned for Sunday River this winter. Santa Sunday, in which participants don their best fake beards and fur-lined coats and ski or ’board their way free of lift tickets, will raise funds for holiday gifts for area children. Swimsuit Saturday will see participants bare their skin to the cold Maine spring. "No birthday suits are allowed," organizers warn, though they encourage creativity, adding: "Bathing-suit gender type does not need to coincide with the wearer’s gender." Hmm. Speaking of men in ladies’ clothing, Steve Craig Day, named for a Scottish friend of Sunday River, features men in kilts schussing down the slopes. No peeking underneath. Also new this season is a free shuttle service between the Sunday River megaplex and the quaint nearby town of Bethel.
Attitash/Bear Peak (Bartlett, 603-374-2368, www.attitash.com)
Opening day is set for November 16 this year, kicking off a packed season of events for all ages. On December 8, try "Demo Daze" on for size; all the latest equipment can be sampled for the low price of just $5. Like the way that pair of K2s took you down the slope? Get advice from the experts on hand, and then buy ’em. On December 30, take a break from the slopes and test your luck in "Human Foosball," a 30-by-50-foot inflatable playing field where participants are strapped in and ... you get the idea. Winners will take on teams from other ski areas in a North Conway Battle Royale on New Year’s Eve. On March 15, one of the most hallowed Mt. Washington Valley ski traditions takes place as the 29th annual Red Parka Pub Challenge Cup Dual Pro Format sees racers compete for prizes and — no less important — bragging rights.
Bretton Woods (Bretton Woods, 603-278-5000, www.brettonwoods.com)
In year three of Bretton Woods’ five-year expansion program, the big news is Rosebrook Canyon, 30 acres of glade terrain encompassing 10 runs that offer a challenging new experience to advanced skiers and riders. The resort also looks toward some exciting events off the slopes. The weekend of November 30, start the party early with a North Country Christmas. Cut yourself a fresh tree at the Rocks Estate, or enjoy the festivities at the majestic Mount Washington Hotel and a quintessential New England village. On December 30, the first Moonlight Cross Country Ski/Snowshoe Tour and Sleigh Ride of the season promises good times for all. On the weekend of March 2, the New Hampshire National Guard and Bretton Woods Biathlon Club present the New Hampshire Biathlon Championships. What’s that, you ask? A two-day competition featuring a 10-kilometer race for men and a 7.5-kilometer race for women and juniors on Saturday, and a 20-kilometer race for men and a 15-kilometer race for women and juniors on Sunday. Twenty-five dollars on the day of each race ($20 in advance) gets participants a trail pass and use of a rifle for the day.
Loon Mountain (Waterville Valley, 603-745-8111, www.loonmtn.com)
Eighty more snowmaking guns mean lots of the white stuff this winter, as Loon seeks to cover more terrain and supplement an occasionally gun-shy Mother Nature. Also, this season is a great time for aspiring snowboarders to get their swerve on. Loon is the only resort in New Hampshire to offer the revolutionary Burton Method Center. Working with small classes and Burton’s new LTR snowboards, bindings, and boots, Loon seeks to get the novice riders making turns on the very first day. An invaluable pass is another great feature this year: the 2001-02 Threedom Season Pass allows the bearer to hit the slopes at Loon, Waterville Valley, and Mt. Cranmore all season long. An added bonus: the pass will be honored Sundays through Fridays at Mont-Sainte-Anne in Quebec. Supplies are limited; log on to the Loon Web site to get yours.
Wildcat Mountain (Pinkham Notch, 603-466-3326, www.skiwildcat.com)
Wildcat’s going make the most of every weekend this season, planning events to complement the "pure, vertical FUN!" normally on tap. What kind of events? How about a weekly Sunday pig roast? Or, in March, a St. Patrick’s Day spectacular? (Just keep the skiing and the green beer separate, okay?) Other events include "Aristocrat Day" (ticket and lesson are only $35 for those over 50), ladies’ day (same deal for all the ladies in the house), and a massive Spring Fling/Earth Day weekend. As for new facilities, those who prefer to hit the slopes on one big plank instead of two little ones will appreciate the new half-pipe in the terrain park. New pricing deals are also available. For instance, a family of four can look forward to passes for five out of seven consecutive days for a mere $499. These days, that’s nothing to freeze at.
Killington (Sherburne, 802-422-3333, www.killington.com)
Boasting "more mountains than you can ski in a week" (seven peaks, 11 miles from border to border), Killington is one of the largest resorts in the East. It also boasts one of the longer seasons around; it’s not unheard-of for skiers to be schussing down its slopes from mid October until June. In keeping with tradition, it was the first in the East to make snow this year: on October 8. It also expects to be the first to open — for the 41st consecutive season. Events coming up this winter include the Sprint Collegiate Snow Fest (January 1–6), the 22nd annual Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge (April 6–7), and several "Vermont, New Hampshire, and Quebec Days" — when residents of those places can ski for less. Finally, the Killington Safe Streets Task Force was recently created to ensure that guests at the resort — which is known as much for its après-ski and nightlife scene as for its daytime activities — can enjoy a safe stay. Good thinking.
Mad River Glen (Waitsfield, 802-496-3551, www.madriverglen.com)
"Not your typical corporate ski stuff" is how marketing director Eric Friedman describes the changes taking place at MRG this season. After a record-breaking year in which "America’s only skier-owned mountain" saw the highest number of skiers, greatest volume of snowfall, and latest closing date in its 53-year history, the mountain is getting psyched for an even better season to come. That said, MRG’s approach to making it a great season differs from that of the typical gigantic resort. "Skiers come for the great ski terrain, [and the] unique character of the area," says CEO Bob Ackland in a press release. "That’s why you won’t ever see Mad River Glen boasting a new condo development.... Instead Mad River Glen will spend their skier-owners’ hard earned profits on what some might call mundane items." To wit: new sheave linings on the mountain’s single chair (no more dripping grease from overhead gears!) and a new maintenance shed for the mountain’s fleet of Sno-Cats and other machinery. Speaking of Sno-Cats, MRG purchased a new one this year. Don’t worry about plans to compromise the area’s famous "ungroomed" pistes, though — the new Cat’s simply replacing an older model. Boring? Sure. But the skiing’s the thing, and Mad River Glen has always seen itself as a purveyor of purist skiing. Not only is it now the only slope in the East not to allow snowboards, but it prides itself on a particularly wild ’n’ woolly experience: on March 16 and 17, it hosts the North American Telemark Festival, the world’s oldest and largest gathering of that special breed of skiers.
Mount Snow (West Dover, 802-464-3333, www.mountsnow.com)
This summer, Mount Snow created a full new acre of skiing by combining the blue-square Canyon trail with its neighbor, Choke. The removal of a tree island makes the resulting trail about 200 feet wide — a helluva lot more room to turn. It’s environmentally friendly, too: Mount Snow worked with the US Forest Service to ensure the protection of sensitive alpine species. And good news is brewin’ at the foot of the mountain, too. An 800-square-foot annex will be added to the clock-tower building, which will house a new state-of-the-art ski and snowboard shop. More important for the early birds, though, is a new café. Fresh Tracks offers discerning caffeine-ophile guests "the morning latte or Sumatran-blend coffee they get in the big city." Espresso, chai — they have it all. Events this season include the Rock Maple Racing Snocross Series, a weekend full of fast and furious snowmobile racing (December 14–16); the Holiday Fireworks & Torchlight Extravaganza, featuring fireworks and a downhill torchlight parade (December 29); the fourth annual Anti-Gravity Grail (the first free skiing event in the East), featuring skiers, snowboarders, and skiboarders competing in half-pipe, ridercross, and nighttime big-air competitions (March 9–10); and the sixth annual Spring Reggae Festival (March 30–31).
Okemo (Ludlow, 802-228-4041, www.okemo.com)
Two high-tech Bombardier BR-275s are the big news at Okemo this season. Sounds like equipment that could be put to good use on the front lines in Afghanistan, but they’re actually a couple of top-of-the-line grooming machines. In addition, an expanded terrain park has been added to the Nor’Easter trail — a welcome addition for snowboarders, whose ranks seem to swell every year. And the Okemo Valley Nordic Center and Winter Indoor Golf Academy will be showcasing spankin’-new rental equipment and clinic programs this winter. Finally, log on to the resort’s Web site for new pricing deals geared toward college students and mid-week skiers.
Stowe Mountain Resort (Stowe, 802-253-3000, www.stowe.com)
The Stowe Toys demo center at the bottom of the mountain is expanding this season. It allows skiers to try out different ski models throughout the day for a mere $40 (to be credited toward purchases if they’re made). Upcoming events include the Stowe Winter Carnival (January 19–27), six snow-packed days of sporting excitement featuring a Wintermeister cross-discipline race, a "Super G" race, a snow-golf competition, snowshoeing, cross-country, obstacle-course races, a kids’ fun day, a village block party with fireworks, snow-sculpture contests, and — you guessed it — a whole lot more. The Stowe Derby (February 24) is the country’s oldest combination downhill/cross-country skiing event. Look for competitors — amateurs and pros alike — from around the world to race 10 miles from the top of Mount Mansfield to the village of Stowe. The 61st annual Sugar Slalom (April 6–7) is also one of the oldest and most esteemed races in America. Perhaps it owes its enduring popularity to the treat of sugar-on-snow waiting for participants at the bottom?
Mohawk Mountain Ski Area (Cornwall, 860-672-6000, www.mohawkmtn.com)
Mohawk is the place where, 50-some-odd years ago, a mad visionary named Walt Schoenknecht had the audacity to devise a plan no mortal had ever before considered: beating Mother Nature to the punch and actually making snow. In the ensuing years, his little stroke of genius has been adopted by ski resorts the world over, extending the season on both ends and complementing the stuff that comes down naturally. For that reason alone, Mohawk deserves your reverence, and asks you to carve great swathes through its downy slopes. Opening day is slated for November 17. Let’s go skiing.
When he’s not on the slopes, Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard[a]phx.com