The pain of the first steps of the day after my last ski trip of the season felt like straight fire in my quads and calves. There was also a small amount of pleasure to be had in the muscle memory evoking actual memories of what went down the day before.
I thought my ski season was over on March 5 after an exquisite day flying solo at Black Mountain in New Hampshire. But a well-timed social media post by Jay Peak about the good late-season conditions got the gears turning on organizing one last trip to the mountains.
It was easy to recruit my son, who had only gotten one day of snowboarding in all winter and was missing the slopes as much as I was, to make the four-plus hour drive each way and everything lined up for a mid-April spring skiing day.
There was the fitness factor, however. A long vacation followed by a bout with COVID left me a bit out of shape, although I did do a ton of walking on the vacation and yoga throughout COVID. I was sure I could make it through one last ski day, even though I knew I’d pay for it the next.
Then, one last reward for seizing the day: As we rolled up to Jay Peak’s Tramside parking lot, a persistent rain turned to snow, and when we got on the mountain, we were coasting through a fresh four to six inches on pretty much every run all morning. It was cold and snowy and so much fun.
The skies cleared and things softened up after lunch. It got more difficult and strenuous to navigate the fluff that had turned into mashed potatoes and slush, but we went the distance. We walked off the mountain just before closing time, sore and tired but beaming with joy from a truly memorable and unexpected ski day.
This was a real treat at the end of what I had previously thought of as a below average ski season. On multiple occasions, my plans were scrapped because of the forecast. Conditions were hit or miss all winter. For the first time in a long time, I worried about the conditions on a daily basis leading up to a January overnight trip, and when it happened the ski area was maybe 50 percent open. Fortunately it was big enough that 50 percent was still a lot of terrain.
So did Jay save the season? Honestly, yes. There were a lot of fun days in the New England winter of 2021-22, and I got the most out of my pass, but that one last day really stood out, like a little gift from the ski gods.
It was worth every bit of the day-after consequences.
Other final observations from the 2021-2022 New England ski season:
• The place I visited for the first time this season that I most want to go back to is Bolton Valley in Vermont. After hearing many good reports about Bolton Valley, I was finally able to get there and had a super day that seemed to go by fast, a good indicator of how much fun I was having. The layout of the trails was really interesting, the scenery is fantastic, and the vibe was welcoming and fun.
Some trails are great because they are enjoyable no matter the line you pick – sometimes it’s skier’s left, sometimes it’s skier’s right, and other times it’s right down the fall line – and it felt like Bolton Valley had a lot of those.
• There’s a lot to be said for not fully judging a ski area off just one visit, and my second trip to Black Mountain in New Hampshire confirmed this. On Trip 1, in January of 2021, there was limited open terrain but I left with a strong desire to return because the closed slopes and trails sure looked tempting. Trip 2, in March of 2022 featured a nearly fully open mountain and was of course the better of the two days.
As I suspected, the rest of Black Mountain was a blast. For a mid-sized mountain, it has a lot to offer. I do wonder how many times I’ll have to go back before I find the summit open, but that’s a challenge I’m willing to take on.
• I am a fan of main base lodges that are big and spacious, clean, creatively decorated, and well-organized, and after spending two days at Saddleback this season, I’d put its lodge very high on my list, right up there with Bretton Woods, Sugarloaf, and Wachusett.
Saddleback’s big fireplace was a great spot to get ready for the slopes, and on a midweek day in January it was a great spot to do a bit of yoga before heading out. It was comfortable during the lunchtime rush, and there was plenty of space to stash your bag. It was one of the only places I skied this season where I used the lodge instead of my vehicle as my base of operations.
One thing I’m not a fan of is base lodges where it is difficult to figure out where there is open seating and space to gear up, relax, or just be on your own as opposed to lodges overrun by restaurant, bar, and retail space.
• The view I never tire of: Looking up at Vermonter from Montrealer at Jay Peak.
• With Bolton Valley, Blue Hills, and Saddleback now checked off of my New England ski area bucket list (I’m trying to hit them all in my lifetime) the new No. 1 on my list is Bousquet in Massachusetts. Shawnee Peak in Maine is up there as well.
Watch: NESJ TV heads to Jay Peak:
Matt Pepin can be reached at email@example.com.