I’ve now been able to get out for several ski trips, and this has been an interesting season. I’ve gone to Saddleback for two days, and spent one each at Berkshire East, Jay Peak and Bolton Valley.
It was a bitter cold day on the drive to Saddleback — the temperature hit minus-14 on the car’s dashboard indicator — and the town was deserted. Fortunately, Sarge’s was open for dinner and beer.
The first of two cloudy ski days also was very cold. By the end of it, I was one of the only people left on the mountain. Day 2, a Thursday, was more crowded with what looked like a school ski racing meet and perhaps more incoming visitors, but still a day in which I got my fill of skiing and never had a lift line wait.
About a month later, I hit Bolton Valley just right — a warmer day with full sun — and skied everything until that place, too, was taken over in the evening by a swarm of school kids. It’s a real hidden gem.
Here are some other takeaways from the first part of my season:
Three things New England ski areas get right: 1. No extra charge for RFID cards at Jay Peak and Bolton Valley, and kudos to any other places that do likewise; 2. Leaving some terrain au natural; 3. Small terrain parks for entry-level riders.
The card fee isn’t that big of a deal to me — it’s usually only $5 — but on back-to-back days I was quite surprised when told there was no charge.
Top five blue squares I’ve skied this season: 1. Blue Devil at Saddleback; 2. Kokomo at Jay Peak; 3. Alta Vista at Bolton Valley; 4. Mohawk at Berkshire East; 5. Vermonter at Jay Peak.
Over two days, I skied Blue Devil at Saddleback at least a dozen times under a range of conditions. It’s a fantastic, classic downhill trail through the woods, with twists and turns and amazing sightlines. It’s fast and fun.
Kokomo is a unique experience every time. I could ski it over and over.
First impressions, Part 1: There has been no shortage of “Saddleback is back!” features this year, including in New England Ski Journal, and they’re all justified. I’ve wanted to visit this place ever since it reopened, and had the chance in early January to knock it off my list of New England ski areas I had not yet visited.
It’s a wonderful ski area high up in the mountains of Maine’s Rangeley Lakes region, which is a cool place in its own right and filled with very nice people.
I loved the comfy and spacious lodge, the remote and rugged feeling, and the way the wind whistled through the trees while I rode the Rangeley Quad lift, very often solo. It’s also a pretty nice touch that almost every ski area staffer you encounter tells you to “have fun” when you part ways, and they do it with a certain look in their eye that felt sincere and genuine.
Pet peeve, Part 1: It seems like skiers or riders playing music from a speaker in their backpack has become a thing more and more in recent seasons, and I’m not a fan. I do enjoy music at lift stations, in the après-ski bar, and in my car on the way to and from the mountain.
But I don’t like it out on the slopes. That’s what headphones are for.
First impressions, Part 2: Bolton Valley was another first-time experience, and I was blown away. Maybe it was because I visited on a spectacular day — blue skies, mild temperatures and soft snow — but wow, this was one of the all-time great ski days for me.
A big part of it was the features and characteristics of the trails. You know how some slopes or trails are just more appealing than others, the kind you can ski over and over but still find new lines almost each time? It felt like almost everything at Bolton had that kind of charm, like it really did not matter which route you chose, you were in for a good time.
I especially liked Peggy Dow’s to Old Turnpike to Lower Turnpike, and the Wilderness Woods were a blast.
Pet peeve, Part 2: Sometimes lift-line RFID card scanners work well. Other times, it’s comical to watch people contort their bodies, brush up against the sensors, back up and try again over and over, or any number of other attempts to get their card to work. It continues to astound me that the technology here is not better than what I’ve seen.
Olympic memories: As the Olympics unfold this month, a lot has been made of the fact that the region of China where the ski racing is held gets little natural snow and the snow being used is all man-made. Having been to one Winter Olympics and closely followed many others in the past two decades, I can tell you snow has been an issue at every one since Vancouver in 2010.
In fact, the mountains that surrounded the Jeongseon Alpine Center in South Korea in 2018 had no snow at all. I also can tell you the manmade snow was magnificent, having skied on it for two days while staying at YongPyong Resort, which was the venue for the slalom and giant slalom races in 2018.
Matt Pepin can be reached at email@example.com.