School vacation weeks are around the corner, and you know what that means.
Your favorite ski resort is going to have visitors.
Since it seemed to come as a shock to many skiers and riders that they would actually have to wait in these new-fangled implementations called lift lines the last time we enjoyed a long weekend in January, we figured a reminder might be in order; holiday periods breed larger crowds. This isn’t anything new.
There seems to be this inherent reaction to blame the mega-passes anytime somebody has to wait in line for more than 15 minutes, or park his or her vehicle in a secondary lot.
There’s certainly truth to an influx of crowds via the Epic and Ikon passes, but it’s not like some overarching evil that is suddenly oppressing everybody’s skiing experience. Mind you, Epic Local passes were blacked out on the Sunday of MLK weekend at Stowe, and that didn’t stop some motorists from having to wait nearly two hours to navigate Mountain Road.
Besides, it isn’t like Epic and Ikon were the sole reasons for the crowds across New England. Jay Peak, not present on either pass, had its busiest day in the past three years on that same day. That’s the sort of thing that might be expected when a perfectly-timed snowstorm hits the region over a long weekend. Go figure.
Which brings us to the viral images that made their way across the internet last weekend, showing lines at the base of Vail Mountain that looked more like an apocalyptic wait for bread and water.
The base area of Vail is normally a starting point, and little more, for skiers and riders who will spread out across the expanse in due time. However, the heavy snowfall that the resort received — Vail Daily reported that the 38 inches received last Thursday through Saturday gave the resort one of its top-5 snow events on record — caused multiple lift closures. The snow also happened to be the weighted sort not normally privy to the Rockies.
“Heaviest snow I’ve ever ridden in Vail,” Chris Tierney, a former podium finisher in masters division snowboard cross racing, told Vail Daily. “The run I took was sick, but you have to point it and not stop.”
The heavy nature of the snow took a toll on skiers in Utah as well, where both Snowbird and Alta had to shut down due to heightened avalanche concerns. That led to rants from the likes of this guy, who apparently knew more about the situation than those trying to keep everybody safe.
There’s only so much the resorts can control, a factor that should be a primary realization in times of severe weather. Vail chief operating officer Beth Howard even released a statement Wednesday, trying to give some context for the images that circulated. She explained that Vail was fully-staffed, but even that couldn’t manage a crowd that started lining up at the gondola at 6 a.m. — two hours before the lift was scheduled to run. “While I don’t like to see anyone waiting in any line, I want to assure you that those lines were gone by 10 a.m. on Friday and by 9:15 a.m. on Saturday. That gondola can manage a lot of guests — and once the initial group dissipated, the line was around five minutes long the rest of those days.”
As for this weekend, even the less-trafficked ski areas in New England are likely to have bigger crowds, leading to longer waits. That’s just a factor to expect, one that probably didn’t have as much of an uproar before social media spread drastic images at a moment’s notice.
Epic and Ikon resorts are going to be busy. So too will independently-owned ski areas.
We could take this opportunity to appreciate the fact that our sports are thriving.
More likely, it will spark another stream of complaints from the masses. So, prepare for that.
Snow Train revival
The Conway Scenic Railroad and Attitash Mountain Resort are going old-school beginning Saturday with the revival of the “Snow Train,” featuring daily, 45-minute rides between North Conway and Bartlett.
Trains will depart the North Conway station every 90 minutes, beginning at 7:30 a.m. The last southbound train leaves Attitash at approximately 6 p.m. Tickets are $26, roundtrip, for adults, $17.50 ages 4-12 and can be purchased in advance.
The Snow Train will run through Feb. 29.
Whaleback, the ‘Little Mountain that Could’
L.L. Bean released the latest entry in its winter video series earlier this week, paying a visit to Whaleback Mountain, the community-centric hill in Enfield, N.H. that is in the midst of yet another revival. It’s a cool look at the importance of small ski areas that might otherwise go lost if not for the love and respect of locals.
Outfitter Till I Die is sponsoring a takeover of Pico Mountain on Feb. 25, with all profits to benefit Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports. Tickets are $49 and the event is limited to only 250 people. Organizers are also encouraging carpooling from both Boston and New York City. Check site for details.
Steals and deals
No Boundaries is a discount lift ticket website that offers a variety of deals at different ski areas across New England. Just become a member for free, and you’ll be open to a list of upcoming offers. Upcoming deals include Waterville Valley this Saturday for $49 (tickets must be purchased by Feb. 14 at noon) and Cannon Mountain on Feb. 22 (purchase by Feb. 21 at noon). Future deals include Jay Peak, Mount Snow, and Killington. www.skinoboundaries.com
New England Ski Journal TV visits Waterville Valley
New England Ski Journal’s TV show goes behind the scenes to bring you the latest at the Waterville Valley Resort in New Hampshire. Catch an all-new episode on NESN Friday afternoon at 2 with visits to Ski Bradford and Wachusett Mountain. (Also airs on NESN Plus, Feb. 14 at midnight.)