There is, quite simply, nothing I enjoy more than spring skiing.
Some of my most-cherished memories of my favorite activity come when the sun is shining just a bit brighter, the temperatures are just a bit more friendly, and the scents of sunscreen and charcoal filter throughout the base area. I wait patiently every season for the forgiving corn snow that makes up the navigable mounds on the hill. I dream of those fleeting days when skiers and riders strip down to their T-shirts in order to enjoy the remnants of a bygone winter.
“Springtime is especially fun because everything is soft and playful,” said 23-year-old Maggie Leon, who works as a prototyping engineer at Burton Snowboards and was part of Red Bull’s most recent Slide-In Tour, a road trip with some of the nation’s best snowboarders traveling along Route 100, the “Skier’s Highway” in Vermont.
No argument against powder days, but give me a sun-splashed day in the spring and I can promise a borderline spiritual experience. Music pumps from speakers set up on the lodge’s outside deck, where dozens of skiers and riders, with the well-worked thighs that only spring snow can deliver, sit sunning and sipping. And the event calendar is jammed at resorts across the Northeast, perhaps hoping to lure some of the uninitiated into what joys the spring season brings in the mountains.
Except, well this year is a little different.
Due to COVID-19, the spring skiing and riding season is going to take on a little bit of a different tone, particularly in terms of the annual parties and activities that normally come around this time of year. Popular go-to’s like Sugarloaf’s ReggaeFest, Cannon Mountain’s BodeFest and Cranmore’s Hannes Schneider Meister Cup race have been postponed for a second straight year. Most pond-skimmings, that annual rite of spring, have been put on hold this season, although Sugarloaf, Sugarbush and Mad River Glen still plan on holding their own in some fashion this spring.
Gone will be any rowdy après scenes on the deck. Killington’s Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge will sit out another season. The spring scene, the one that tries to entice a healthy portion of skiers and riders to delay pulling the golf clubs out of the hall closet, features a sparse calendar of events in 2021.
7Despite every effort made to the contrary, there still lives this general misconception with the vast majority that skiing and riding season ends with the second weekend of February break. There’s still genuine surprise when you tell people that March is, historically, the snowiest month of the year in the mountains of New England, a factor that arguably makes it the best stretch of the season.
So, with COVID intruding for a second straight year, it will be different this spring.
But after last year? We’ll take it.
Oh, will we take it.
Having just passed the one-year anniversary of when COVID-19 caused ski resorts across the nation to shut down for the remainder of last season, we now have a spring season to look forward to. Most New England mountains made and received enough snow this season to last well into the warming temperatures, but, as always, some resorts will last longer than others.
Case in point: Killington Mountain Resort is the self-appointed “King of Spring” for good reason. The Vermont resort is notorious for being the last (and usually, the first) resort to remain open in the Northeast every season. Killington’s spring season on the famed Superstar trail can last into June, pushing into the summer months when most resorts are focused on opening their mountain coasters and zipline rides.
“Oh my god, it’s the sickest,” said Leon, a Connecticut native who started boarding at the Beast when she was 8 years old. “Spring boarding at Killington is amazing because there are so many cool side hits. And honestly, my favorite part of riding Killington is you really get to ride your snowboard. The trails are long and they lead down to the park, so you can hit some features and kind of eye up some little things that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. You talk to anyone about that, you’re going to hear that.”
Leon also frequents Sugarbush, where she holds a season pass this year.
“’Bush is great,” she said. “Their parks are amazing. It’s kind of like skate-style vibe. You feel like you’re at a skate park. The cool thing is a ton of friends go there, so no matter what day you go there, you’re going to know somebody who you’re probably friends with. During the springtime it’s pretty awesome because there are bleachers at the bottom, and people post up and watch. I bring my dog and we all just grill at the bottom and do whatever. Yeah, ’Bush is amazing.”
So in terms of spring destinations, Killington and Sugarbush are no-brainers (for the time being, the resorts plan to close on May 2 and April 25, respectively). But other spots in New England tend to embrace spring a little differently. For some, it signals the end of winter. For others, the season provides opportunity to milk as much as they can out of the wealth of snow on their hills. Better than just watching it melt, right?
Here are three more springtime destinations to keep in mind, each one focused on a particular aspect to enhance the experience.
Family friendly: Okemo
My final turns of the 2019-20 ski season came on a bluebird afternoon at Okemo Mountain Resort. The kids had just finished their afternoons and were cavorting with their mother to plan the evening’s dinner destination. I, meanwhile, went out to grab that last run as the snow was starting to loosen up in the moderate temperatures, creating soft little mounds of fun on Quantum Leap.
About halfway down the trail, and the time pushing the 4 p.m. closing time for the lifts, I picked up my pace, understanding I might be able to beat the deadline in order to snag one more run for the day. Alas, 46-year-old legs aren’t what they once were at 25, and I made it down to the Quantum Four around 4:02 p.m. The day was over.
Little did I know that my season also would be over. The news came later that evening that Vail was shutting down all resorts, coast to coast, due to COVID-19. Sunday was shaping up to be a fabulous day, too, but it would be spent foraging for toilet paper rather than stashes in the woods.
Okemo is on my family’s return list, though, because of the friendly experience we all felt there. After the lifts closed, we were all able to take a ride on Okemo’s mountain coaster. My kids all laced up their skates and took their talents to the resort’s skating rink (both attractions are currently closed for the 2020-21 season). We enjoyed a great meal at DJ’s in Ludlow, all while sitting in the same room as a salad bar that my wife and I understood was now probably a sign of a past life with the pandemic taking center stage.
We might have been denied spring skiing in 2020, but at least I had that one, spring-like run to remember. More importantly, my wife and kids also brought home some good memories from their first spring trips to Okemo.
Okemo’s closing date is currently set for April 4.
Northern bound: Jay Peak
While Killington normally comes out on top in the endurance category, others are able to try to push the limit based on their situations in the northern regions of New England, where it stays colder, longer, and the snow is apt to remain well into May. Sugarloaf and Saddleback, both located in Maine, fit into that category.
So does Jay Peak, the Vermont resort that sits near the border with Canada.
When my wife and I recently discussed our plans for this April’s school vacation, Jay came immediately to the forefront of my mind. First of all, the whole house should (hopefully) be vaccinated by then, which means we would be following the state’s mandatory COVID travel laws. But Jay would most certainly be open, even as some other Vermont destinations shut down for the season. Stowe, for example, is scheduled to close on April 18. While other Vail-owned properties such as Mount Snow and Wildcat actually have extended their seasons one week, the same is not likely to happen on Mount Mansfield.
In fact, it was at Jay only a few years ago where my sons had their first spring skiing experiences during their April break, doing what they could to navigate the somewhat foreign surface of mashed potato snow. It took only until the third or fourth run before I could actually hear their legs barking for mercy.
It was a perfect day for spring skiing, and the mountain was occupied by maybe a couple dozen people over on the Stateside side. It was a far cry from the day before, when a raw and rainy atmosphere greeted our arrival. Which was just fine with everybody who wanted to splash and play in the Pump House water park anyway.
Jay Peak’s closing date is currently set for May 2.
Off-the-beaten-path: Black Mountain
I first learned to ski when I was 10 years old at Black Mountain in Jackson, N.H. The hardened New Englander in me takes pride in the fact that my first experiences in the sport came via a J-bar. There was no modern luxury like a magic carpet whisking me to the top of the bunny hill. I was able to learn the old-school way at a place with serious historic vibes.
Not much really has changed at Black Mountain since 1984. The aura remains the same and so, too, does the speed of the lifts. Nope, you will not find any sort of high-speed contraption at Black Mountain. The lifts here run just a bit slower than the horses normally hanging out near the base lodge.
We shouldn’t want it any other way.
Let’s take up the road at Wildcat, for instance, where the summit express lift takes skiers and riders from bottom to top in just about seven minutes. It’s one of the fastest lifts in the East and leads to an abundance of various terrain. Normally, that’s a phenomenal reason to visit. Problem is though, when it comes to deep powder days and serious spring afternoons, the old legs could use a break every now and then.
Which is why Black’s genteel speed is something to cherish. Taking a run through the Carter Notch or Lostbo Glades can be a workout. In fact, much of Black’s terrain is generally underrated in the East, featuring a host of gnarly runs that certainly make it among the most-cherished independent ski areas in New England.
Black Mountain’s closing date is currently scheduled for March 20.
Take advantage of the weather and experience the blissful, yet melancholic experience of spring skiing, gripping onto to the leftovers of winter.
Nothing beats it.