The uptick in ski talk that coincides with the holidays and the steady turn of fall to winter always is a welcome prelude to my ski season.
With only a few exceptions over the years, I’ve never really been one of those skiers who has to get on snow as soon as possible. It was fun to kick off one season at Killington during the World Cup weekend after Thanksgiving, and some years have been blessed with plenty of early snowstorm action. There was a pretty amazing late November day at Mount Snow in recent years that I’ll never forget.
However, I prefer to wait until places are close to fully open, or at least are well on the way, before I really hit the slopes.
No matter how the season begins, the ski talk arrives about the same time each year. Plans are shared, inquiries made and equipment compared. One of my favorite aspects of ski talk, though, is when the topic is the mountains themselves. Hearing the advice, experiences and other details of fellow skiers and riders always fascinates me, whether I learn about somewhere I’ve never been or get to see how my perceptions match up with theirs.
Over the years, I’ve noticed through these conversations that New England ski areas tend to get a reputation. Multiple people will share the same or similar impression of a resort that usually fixates on a particular feature or attribute, a vibe, or a raison d’etre.
Here’s a little personal collection.
Jay Peak, Vt.: The first thing they always say is “the glades,” and then they mention the “Jay Cloud.” It was here I discovered how magnificent tree skiing could be, thanks to a guided tour from a local who also explained the bounty of snow at the mountain is due to the weather phenomenon unique to its location in the Northeast Kingdom.
Killington, Vt.: First to open, last to close. The undisputed king of snowmaking sets the season in the Northeast. Oh yeah, it’s also the host of a major international ski race that Mikaela Shiffrin wins every year.
Cannon, N.H.: I’ve noticed people sometimes cower, cringe or shrink in fear when Cannon is mentioned at the Thanksgiving happy hour. Many describe it as cold and rugged, and it is, sometimes even in July. But there are few winter experiences like barreling down Avalanche on the Front Five overlooking Echo Lake, or going top to bottom on a sub-20 day.
Waterville Valley, N.H.: It seems like the Sununu family’s connection to Waterville always comes up, usually in the form of conversational factoid or footnote to the real story, which is that this is one of the most fun mountains in New England. There is something for everyone, and such variety, from High Country to Oblivion to Valley Run. Admittedly, I’ve probably been here more than almost anywhere except Wachusett, and that has given me a great familiarity, but I know I’ve left here many times smiling ear to ear.
Loon, N.H.: Sorry, but crowds always get mentioned when this place comes up, often in the context of “here’s how to beat them.” I do think Loon is one of the best layouts in New England, and if you get over to North Peak early in the day, well you’re on your way to beating the crowds.
Pico, Vt.: “What a hidden gem” is probably the single most common phrase I’ve heard about a lot of ski areas, but none more than Pico. It’ll always be in Killington’s shadow, but it’s a major league hill.
Magic, Vt.: It’s like skiing in the olden days. Just the way they like it there.
Bretton Woods, N.H.: Land of the wide-open blue-square cruiser. Great lodge, too.
Mount Sunapee, N.H.: The closest “big mountain” to Boston is so easy to get to.
Sugarloaf, Maine: That’s one long ride, even once you get to Maine, but it sure is worth it if you want the big-mountain experience. The trip home is better because your mind is probably full of freshly made fond memories.
Mad River Glen, Vt.: “It’s a unique experience,” is a common refrain I’ve heard, often enough to believe it to be accurate, when people talk about MRG. I’ve never been, and I don’t plan to because I disagree with the no-snowboarder policy.
Wachusett, Mass.: Whenever I hear someone say “Wawa,” I am momentarily consumed with visions of being either at the top of Conifer Connection or standing within the utter chaos of a lodge filled with kids on school trips on a Friday night. My favorite place for night skiing.
Yawgoo Valley, R.I.: “Rhody has a ski area” is a statement if you’re from New England, and a question if you’re not.
Sunday River, Maine. It’s Maine’s version of Killington, but for sure with its own distinct north woods kind of vibe. Without question this is one of my favorite places to stay slopeside.
Bromley, Vt.: Everyone mentions this is the place to be on a sunny day, and it’s true because of the southern exposure. Being able to see neighboring ski areas is pretty sweet, too.
Gunstock, N.H.: “Oh my god, the view!”
Wildcat, N.H.: See above.
Stowe, Vt.: It has everything, and it’s expensive, and it’s also one of the real giants of the East when it comes to the terrain offered. A winter playground all the way around. I can’t remember ever hearing a bad trip report connected to Stowe.
All the lost ski areas of New England: Whenever one of these comes up, it often elicits a “I remember that place …” or similar exclamation, which is great. The memories remain.
Matt Pepin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.