Perhaps it’s my heritage, but I think of spring skiing in the same way I look at a traditional “Irish wake.” It’s a time of mourning, when the inexorable march of time brings my favorite season to a close. But it’s also a great opportunity to celebrate everything that we skiers and snowboarders are grateful for.
Thanks to the unpredictable nature of New England weather, even a true spring outing can have a true winter feel. Last April, my wife and I (together with our daughter Brynne) met up with some friends at Sunday River. The plan was to enjoy some nice weather and some nice easy turns, my first since having spine surgery the previous November. But Mother Nature had other ideas.
The snow flurries started during our drive from Boston’s North Shore, and by the time we got to our suite at the Jordan Hotel, it was dumping pretty good. As we enjoyed our ribs and brisket from Smokin’ Good BBQ and sampled a variety of tasty bourbons, I kept glancing outside.
The snow kept accumulating, quickly. By the next morning, we had at least 8 inches of sugary powder, and I remember saying to Lauri, “Welcome to spring in New England.” We had mid-winter conditions, in April. Crazy.
Now, trying to predict a late-season snowstorm anywhere in the Northeast is a tricky proposition. So I prefer to hedge my bets. I typically look for resorts that boast a superb combination of abundant natural snow and stout snowmaking operations. Here’s a quick rundown of my favorite post-March 1 destinations – my Fab Five, if you will. Sure, it’s a subjective list, I admit, but I like my odds.
Jay Peak, Vermont
The infamous Jay Cloud still hovers over the 3,858-foot Jay Peak, making sure the 2,153 feet of vertical and 78 trails, plus 24 glade sections, has more natural fluff than any other New England resort. The Jay Cloud is actually a meteorological phenomenon, known as an orthographic uplift, which means those westerly winds carrying precipitation from the Great Lakes run smack into Jay, rise and then stall, producing snow. Lots of snow. An average of roughly 350 inches each winter (compare that figure to other resorts below). And if you’re going to offer great spring skiing, having a great natural base is the place to start. The resort’s Pump House water park (check out the annual Beach Party on April 7) and Ice Haus indoor arena are bonuses, and a nice hedge against the possibility of inclement weather (as is the Taiga Spa). The annual Tailgate Party on April 28, featuring a cooking competition among local chefs, is a “can’t miss” event.
No, Sugarloaf doesn’t have the Jay Cloud. But it’s got the only lift-serviced, above-treeline skiing in New England, with a summit elevation of 4,237 feet, a vast variety of terrain, more than 200 inches annual snowfall, snowmaking over more than 600 acres, and a welcoming vibe that is simply impossible to duplicate. The undisputed highlight of the spring season is the 30th annual Reggae Festival, April 12-15. Reggae during Maine’s springtime, while it might sound like an oxymoron, is as fun a combination as mid-winter skiing and Mexican food (hello, chili and margaritas!). Enjoy four days of music and nonstop parties at the base of Sugarloaf Mountain. Coming up a different weekend? You’ll always find live music at the Widowmaker Lounge. And the East Coast Pond Skimming Championship is set for April 21.
Sunday River, Maine
Of course, I got lucky during last spring’s visit to Sunday River. But the reality is that I, or Sunday River, didn’t “need” that late-season dump. The resort, with eight interconnected peaks (compared to the single massive mountains at Jay Peak and Sugarloaf) almost always has great coverage, a legacy that Les Otten established decades ago. In addition to roughly 170 inches of annual snowfall, Sunday River has close to 2,000 snow guns providing manmade snow over 95 percent of the resort’s 552 acres. All of that makes for a promising Spring Festival (April 6-8) featuring the annual Slip ‘n’ Flip and rockin’ live bands. New this year is the Maine Brew Fest, a craft beer-tasting event on Friday night, April 6. For those who love speed, Sunday River will host the World Pro Ski Tour the previous weekend (March 30). The following weekend (April 14) features Pond-A-Palooza and the Spring Après Concert at the South Ridge Outdoor Stage.
Bretton Woods, New Hampshire
Surprised? Don’t be. Bretton Woods is not about listing superlatives, like “biggest,” “greatest” or “steepest.” But this wonderful family area, coupled with the nearby Mount Washington Hotel (with sleigh rides, dog-sledding, nordic and snowshoe options, as well as a top-notch spa), is an exceptional springtime option. It’s got 464 acres of skier and rider accessible terrain, with a vertical drop of 1,500 feet, and an annual snowfall of 200-plus inches with 92 percent snowmaking ability. Now consider that it is annually ranked as one of the best East Coast resorts for grooming — a key element in good conditions — and Bretton Woods quickly rises to the top of a short list for spring skiing and riding. The annual pond-skimming contest is an absolute howl, and the three-hour canopy tour is a terrific alternative for anyone who wants to try something out of the ordinary.
The “Beast of the East” can be buttery smooth come springtime, thanks to the region’s most powerful snowmaking system, top to bottom. This 4,241-foot monster prides itself on being one of the last resorts in the Northeast to shut down lift operations, and that simply doesn’t happen without an abundant snowfall — 250 inches annually, thanks to the 2,500-foot base elevation — and an exceptional snowmaking and grooming infrastructure. Signature spring events include the Hibernation Park Jam on March 31, the Bud Light Bear Mountain Mogul Challenge on April 7, the always-entertaining Pond Skimming on April 14, and the Nor’Beaster Dazed and Defrosted festival with live music on April 21. Looking for a truly epic challenge? Check out the Killington Triathlon (ski, bike, and run) on April 28.
Of course, the above areas aren’t the only New England hills with great spring skiing. Places like Attitash/Bear Peak, Cranmore, Wildcat, Cannon, Waterville Valley, Sunapee and Loon in New Hampshire, Okemo, Sugarbush, Stowe, Mount Snow, Smugglers’ Notch and Stratton in Vermont, and Shawnee Peak in Maine are all solid choices. Just don’t forget your sun block.