It’s been nearly a year since the pandemic took hold of the American economy, way of life and ski season. When lifts nationwide stopped spinning in mid-March, many skiers were filled with uncertainty, and to an extent, denial. “We just need to wait this out for a few weeks,” many of us thought. “I’m sure the lifts will be running again in time for the tail end of spring skiing.”
But this turned out to be a delusion. The snowpack quickly gave way to summer, and urban New Englanders began their mass exodus to rural mountain towns like North Conway and Stowe. Trailheads throughout New England became mobbed not just on sunny weekends, but midweek as well. On one hand, urban and suburbanites were taking advantage of their new remote work lifestyles, heading to the mountains for some much-needed fresh air and exercise. But on the other hand, the limits of what our natural spaces can handle was being tested.
When ski season returned, the resorts were put to the same test. Midweek lift lines, which were the result of socially distanced lift protocols and an influx of people from cities such as Boston and New York, resembled those of peak vacation weeks. And the lines during weekends and vacation weeks were unprecedented.
Although the lines and crowding at resorts seemingly have been manageable so far, night skiing has proved to be another option to help thin the crowds, or at least provide a less dense time to go. Night skiing not only offers less crowded slopes, but also is an option for an outdoor, socially distant nocturnal activity.
At New Hampshire’s Waterville Valley, the ongoing pandemic has been a motivating factor for adding night skiing for the 2020-21 season.
“The driving force is obviously the pandemic,” said Jamie Cobbett, Waterville Valley’s marketing operations manager and head of Waterville’s night skiing operation. “It’s really us thinking of a way to give our community, the surrounding towns and guests more options for things to do outside, especially at night.”
According to Cobbett, Waterville Valley has more full-time residents now than ever before. And in a region with limited night skiing, aside from nearby Gunstock, the addition of Waterville’s night skiing gives these residents something to do for at least a few nights a week.
Of course, there’s something to night skiing that is special even when there isn’t a life-altering pandemic in play. At night, ski areas transform. The crowds diminish, and the runs seemingly take on a new form as they are illuminated by rows of lights along the trails.
Some resorts even offer midweek, discounted night skiing options geared toward locals, perfect for a few lift-serviced laps after work.
Regardless of your reasons behind heading to the hill after dark, there are a number of options in New England to get your evening turns in.
New for the 2020-21 season, Waterville Valley is now offering night skiing on limited terrain. Currently, temporary lights are being utilized to service terrain on two trails toward the base of the mountain, both accessed from the Exhibition Poma Surface Lift. Skiers have the option of hitting a NASTAR race course, terrain park with a handful of small features, or forgoing both for simple groomer skiing.
According to Cobbett, this season could be a primer for things to come. And at a resort situated on federal land, where talks of night skiing have taken place in the past but never came to fruition, this addition could be monumental. If all goes as planned, Waterville Valley hopes to expand night skiing terrain, installing permanent light fixtures and potentially adding a family race league and terrain park events.
Currently, night skiing is offered from 3:30 until 8 p.m. on Fridays and 4-9 p.m. on Saturdays at a rate of $25 for non-season-pass holders and $20 for season-pass holders. During night skiing operating hours, the Freestyle Lounge, located in the base area, will be opened for food and drink. Ticket sales will be limited to approximately 150 per evening, keeping crowds to a minimum.
With lighting on 10 trails, Bolton Valley is on the leading edge of night skiing in Vermont. In fact, it is the only major resort in the state to offer night skiing (Cochran’s and Lyndon Outing Club offer night skiing, but are much smaller destinations). And during the 2019-20 season, Bolton made the transition to LED lighting in an attempt to lower its carbon footprint and improve the overall night skiing experience.
At night, the mountain has a low-key, local feel to it. “It’s the type of place where people will come out after work or after dinner to ski for a few hours,” said Kyle Crichton, a rider who lived in Bolton Valley during the 2018-19 ski season and frequently skied the resort at night. “Bolton has always been a low-key resort anyway, so it definitely doesn’t feel overcrowded at night.”
There are a number of illuminated runs from the 3,140-foot summit of Vista Peak, giving skiers a choice of slopes from beginner to advanced. The resort is typically open for night skiing from Tuesday through Saturday from 4-10 p.m. Day passes are valid until close, or skiers have the option of purchasing a night ticket for $25.
Cranmore’s location just minutes from the center of North Conway makes it an ideal night skiing destination.
The town, which finds a home on USA Today’s list of top 10 ski towns year after year, has a vibrant night scene, with a number of bars, restaurants, breweries and even a distillery. Add Cranmore Mountain’s night skiing to the after-dark options, and you might have one of the best night skiing destinations in the East.
On Saturdays and during weekends, Cranmore keeps the lifts running until 8 p.m. on its South Slope, offering access to five beginner to beginner-intermediate trails and a terrain park. Night skiing requires the purchase of a $39 ticket and isn’t included with a day pass.
Zip’s Pub, located at the mountain’s base, remains open until the lifts stop spinning and is a great place to grab a quick drink or bite to eat.
While it doesn’t go quite as late as at some of the other resorts, Sunday River, located in Bethel, Maine, offers twilight skiing from 3-6:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and during Christmas and February vacation weeks.
Two lifts — the Chondola and South Ridge Express — provide access to the South Ridge and North Peak during the evening hours. Day passes are valid for twilight skiing and riding, but twilight-specific passes also are available for $37.
Bethel itself doesn’t have quite the same bustling night scene as nearby North Conway, or even Stowe, but there are a handful of options to grab a beer and food after the lifts stop spinning for the night. The Foggy Goggle might be one of the better-known aprés bars and is conveniently located at the South Ridge base area, but the Suds Pub, which is in town, might be a better option for those looking for a wide selection of beers.
While King Pine, located in Madison, N.H., might be the smallest ski area on the list, it is a top night skiing destination for Mount Washington Valley locals.
The resort, which has a 350-foot drop over 45 skiable acres during the daytime hours, typically offers $10 night skiing tickets on Tuesdays, although due to the pandemic, the area isn’t offering the discounted rates during the 2020-21 ski season. During normal seasons, a $10 burger and beer special on Tuesdays also helps draw an evening local crowd.
Twilight skiing, which takes place from 3:30 until 6 p.m., is offered seven nights a week for $29. At night, skiers can access a few beginner and intermediate trails, as well as a mellow terrain park.
Perched above Moose Pond in Bridgton, Maine, and located between Portland and North Conway, Shawnee Peak is a low-key ski area that offers night skiing until 9 p.m. Thursday through Sunday for $40 during the week and $45 on weekends.
Like Bolton Valley, Shawnee also has a locals vibe, with skiers often traveling from the surrounding nearby towns after work, or even from the Mount Washington Valley and Portland.
While there are some on-mountain dining options, Bridgton has a number of additional restaurants and bars for before or after your evening laps.
There aren’t many ski areas that stay open until 10 p.m. in New Hampshire — but Pats Peak, located in Henniker, is an exception. In fact, 100 percent of the mountain’s 22 trails and 10 lifts is open for night skiing, making it one of the largest night skiing operations in the Northeast.
For much of January and February, Pats Peak is open for night skiing from Monday through Thursday until 9 p.m., and until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Pats also keep lifts running late during select vacation weekends and Thursdays through March.
Night tickets, which are valid from 4 p.m. until close, can be purchased for $59. ′