In some ways, “what’s new” should be considered “what’s normal.”
One year after the 2020-21 New England skiing and riding season was defined partly by mask mandates and pandemic restrictions, winter enthusiasts should expect fewer protocols at their favorite resorts during the upcoming season. In general, group lessons have returned, along with the use of lodges. Lift ticket reservation systems are a thing of the past, and the nightlife scene, one that failed to exist a year ago, gets a reboot this winter.
But, of course, a return to normal doesn’t mean you should expect the same old, same old this year wherever you ski or ride. Here’s our annual state-by-state roundup of all that’s new this season at New England ski areas.
One of the bigger developments in the Northeast this season will be the debut of Loon Mountain Resort’s Kancamagus 8 chairlift. The eight-passenger “Kanc” will feature tinted bubbles, heated seats, locking safety bars, and an adjustable loading carpet. It will be the first “8-Place” detachable in the eastern United States and will replace the 26-year-old Kancamagus Express quad. The new lift will increase uphill capacity by about 20 percent and will make its debut in December.
During the offseason, Gunstock upgraded its snowmaking equipment, which included the addition of 30 new HKD snow guns. New software by Snowright, a GPS snow management company from Canada, will allow for the operations team to monitor snowmaking and grooming production by tracking snow levels on the mountain. This new technology and innovation will allow Gunstock to increase the capacity of its snowmaking efforts across the mountain this winter. A new rental building will make the renting experience more efficient for guests and staff, while 200 new parking spaces at the base will eschew the need to park offsite.
Parking lots at Pats Peak also are receiving some major upgrades. Nearly all travel lanes will be re-graded and paved for the upcoming season, while new drainage will be extensively installed to create a smoother ride. In order to welcome visitors back to its lodges this season, the ski area is installing new carpeting throughout. Two new grooming machines (Prinoth Husky X and Prinoth Bison X) will help provide superior snow conditions, and five new energy-efficient snowmaking fan guns have been added, along with a new snowmaking pipe connecting the Breeze and Duster trails.
Cannon Mountain and Franconia Ski Club announced the completion of the Mittersill Performance Center, a 9,000 square-foot facility at the base of the Taft Training Slope at Mittersill. The center, built entirely with funds from private donations raised through Franconia Ski Club, began hosting all of the club’s events and operations over the fall.
Erik Barnes, former president and general manager of Mount Snow in Vermont, recently was announced as the new general manager of Ragged Mountain in Danbury. “With expanded snowmaking and the successful Mission: Affordable season pass program, it’s an exciting time to lead the team at Ragged Mountain as it transitions to a noteworthy mid-sized New England ski area with potential for more growth and future expansion plans,” Barnes said. “I am very pleased to be in a position to take Ragged Mountain to its next level of progress.”
Ragged guests can expect to see renovated lodges at the resort, along with updated kitchen enhancements for the ski area’s food and beverage outlets.
North Conway’s Cranmore Mountain Resort continues its resort redevelopment, this year opening the Artist Falls Lodge, a new base lodge for its tubing park. Visitors also will see site work beginning on an 89-room Marriott hotel adjacent to the park. It is projected to be completed prior to the start of the 2022-23 winter season.
Manchester’s McIntyre Ski Area will offer new rental equipment. A new outdoor patio and redesigned lodge will enhance the guest experience, indoors and out.
Jackson’s Black Mountain will again offer ski school lessons this season, something it was unable to manage last year during the height of the pandemic. In addition, the Lostbo Cabin deck has been expanded, with more seating being planned for the mid-station bar. Timely repairs and new equipment also have helped to overhaul the snowmaking system.
King Pine Ski Area, located in Madison, added inventory to its rental fleet, including 358 sets of skis and bindings, 486 sets of ski boots, 600 ski poles, 289 helmets, 113 snowboards, 113 snowboard bindings, and 174 sets of snowboard boots. Grooming at King Pine will be enhanced with the purchase of a new Prinoth Bison snow groomer. On-mountain Wi-Fi access points have been added for improved online connectivity.
Black diamond trail Wilfred’s Gawm will receive a snowmaking expansion at Attitash Mountain Resort, while the Lift Line trail, just beneath the Abenaki Quad, will be widened, making for better descents off Bear Peak. New fire pits in the Bear Peak base area will provide the perfect spot for a toasty après. A dozen new features also will be added to Attitash’s terrain parks.
More is coming to the Bartlett resort next season as well. As part of Vail Resorts’ $320 million capital plan calling for 19 new chairlifts at 14 of its resorts across North America, the resort conglomerate announced it will replace the east and west double-double chairs at Attitash Mountain Resort with one fixed-grip, four-person chair. The new lift will debut in time for the 2022-23 season.
Waterville Valley is in the process of installing a new, six-passenger detachable bubble lift that will replace the White Peaks Express Quad, which, at one point, was the first detachable high-speed quad in New Hampshire. “Replacing our White Peaks lift is the most important project in our investment plan for the existing resort footprint and will continue our work to enhance the guest experience at Waterville Valley Resort,” Waterville president and general manager Tim Smith said.
The project will be installed over two construction seasons and will be ready for 2022-23.
Wildcat Mountain will see some revamped snowmaking and the addition of two more snowcats to the fleet. New chairs will be added to the Wildcat Express lift. Fellow Vail properties Mount Sunapee and Crotched Mountain Resort will provide special access to youth groups from the National Brotherhood of Skiers thanks to more than $97,000 in youth access program grants.
Okemo Mountain Resort is undergoing an upgrade as part of Vail Resorts’ capital improvements plan. Projects include major lift upgrades — highlighted by a new, high-speed, six-passenger chairlift — as well as terrain and snowmaking expansion, an improved arrival process, and an aesthetic refresh of the resort’s Clock Tower base area.
Okemo also is upgrading snowmaking infrastructure as needed around the mountain. The resort will now have the capability to cover 98 percent of its trails.
Sugarbush is getting a multimillion dollar addition to the Mount Ellen base lodge for Vermont Adaptive Ski and Sports, an organization that works to make outdoor sports accessible to all. “They operated out of a small space in our lodge previously and will now have a purpose-built facility,” Sugarbush spokesperson John Bleh said.
The rest of the Mount Ellen lodge also has seen improvements, including the addition of an elevator, new bathrooms, and new carpeting and painting. Snowmaking improvements include the replacement of the Northstar snowmaking system at Mount Ellen in order to open beginner terrain earlier in the season with better conditions. The Wunderbar also has expanded, overtaking what used to be the Valley House Cafeteria.
At Mount Snow, terrain park Carinthia is being revamped to help gear itself toward beginner and intermediate riders. This starts with a reconfigured grommet (beginner) park, where “a 6-year-old or 36-year-old individual can try something for the first time, in an environment that emphasizes safety as much as fun,” mountain operations director Kevin Harrington said.
Stowe Mountain Resort will replace its existing “Mountain Triple” with chairs that can fit up to six riders. The replacement and extension of the existing fixed-grip triple to a high-speed, six-person lift will increase uphill capacity by 100 percent and eliminate the steep hike to the base of the lift. The addition will be made in time for the 2022-23 season.
Also, recognizing the need to introduce guests to the joys of tree skiing, Stowe continued to expand its most easily accessible glades, dubbed “Adventure Zones.” Available off the Mountain Triple lift, these low-angle, gladed areas are appropriately designated for skiers and riders looking to learn the basics of tree skiing.
Bromley Mountain invested $1 million to completely upgrade its main lift, the Sun Mountain Express Quad. The upgrade makes it one of the most modern lifts in all of New England. After being put on hold much of last season, kids lessons and seasonal programs will return this winter.
Magic Mountain, in Londonderry, has expanded its beginner terrain and refurbished its snowmaking pipes and hydrants in the beginner area to make snow on two beginner trails above its carpet lift for the first time in 30-plus years. Snowmaking system repairs were also made to add three trails that have not seen snowmaking for decades — Black Line, Witch and Vertigo. This will allow more than 50 percent of Magic’s trails to have snowmaking. In addition, the ski area’s new quad lift is expected to be operational this season, almost doubling uphill capacity. Magic still will keep its maximum daily ticket sales to 1,500 to keep lift lines and slopes less crowded.
Stratton Mountain Resort is observing its 60th anniversary this season. A birthday celebration is planned at the resort on Dec. 29. Stratton also has launched a new app to navigate the resort, order food on the go, purchase tickets and more. Another snowcat also has been added to the fleet. Stratton’s second Prinoth Bison X will be used for all frontline grooming needs including specialized terrain park shaping and grooming.
Mad River Glen took delivery of its own new Prinoth Bison X earlier this fall. The groomer will team up with the co-op ski area’s PB400 to groom the main hill this winter. “Most people associate Mad River Glen with little-to-no grooming,” Mad River spokesperson Ry Young said. “But the fact of the matter is, we groom every night, and on the weekends we groom nearly all of our beginner and intermediate trails. We rarely, if ever, groom a black diamond. While we might not be known for our corduroy, I assure you it’s some of the best in the business. You just can’t duplicate natural snow and that shows in the product left behind these machines.”
Burke Mountain worked with Efficiency Vermont to upgrade its lower mountain snowmaking with high-efficiency guns in order to get its learning terrain open faster. The Dashney Nordic Center saw the installation of 10 drainage culverts as well as improvements to existing terrain. “These improvements not only created a beginner loop for mountain biking, but also created a level surface for nordic grooming with sections of trail made easier for the novice cross-country skier,” Burke spokesperson Jessica Sechler said. Burke also is upgrading its information technology infrastructure, replacing every point-of-sale system to include new hardware and software.
Shawnee Peak has a new owner. Michigan-based Boyne Resorts, which already owns Loon Mountain Resort in New Hampshire as well as Sunday River and Sugarloaf in Maine, purchased the Bridgton ski area last month. “I know they will maintain the special family vibe of Shawnee Peak,” owner Chet Homer posted on social media. There will be no changes made to skier passes or products at the ski area this year, but it is a good bet that Shawnee would be added to the New England Pass (good at Loon, Sunday River and Sugarloaf) next season.
Sunday River Resort installed 9.5 miles of new snowmaking pipe on White Cap, Locke Mountain and Merrill Hill, and added two new fan guns in Barker Basin and South Ridge. One hundred thirty-one new tower guns will be present on the Road Runner, Jibe, Heats On, Cascades, Lights Out, Sensation, Cyclone and State Fair trails. Working with Efficiency Maine, Sunday River also received grants for energy-efficient snowmaking equipment for Merrill Hill, the Newry resort’s new mountaintop development, complete with chairlift access. The terrain and chairlift will open on select dates later this winter and will open for regular operations in winter 2022-23.
Saddleback owners have invested more than $30 million into the Rangeley ski area over the past year-plus. Upgrades include four new lifts, $3 million in snowmaking improvements, three new groomers, and a major renovation of the base lodge, making it one of the safest lodges in the ski industry in terms of air flow. Over the summer, Saddleback also began construction of its anticipated mid-mountain lodge. Project leaders collaborated with the Maine Audubon Society to pay attention to the needs of the Bicknell’s Thrush habitat. Mating season forced Saddleback to delay construction until this past August.
Sugarloaf’s SuperQuad lift underwent significant maintenance over the summer. The loss of a transformer at the end of last season required it to operate on diesel power for the final few weeks of the season. Elsewhere, Sugarloaf worked with Efficiency Maine to add several hundred new, low-energy HKD tower guns in various locations across the mountain. Significant progress also was made on the Sugarloaf 2030 Road Map, most notably on the West Mountain development. The resort continues to work with the Town of Carrabassett Planning Board and is hopeful that the first stages of construction will begin as early as next summer.
Even with pandemic restrictions being eased, Wachusett has beefed up its outdoor lounging space. Heated benches from “Dragon Seats,” just like the ones the Patriots use on the sideline at Gillette Stadium, will be located outside at O’Brien’s Grill Deck Bar and Grill. Returning this season to the deck will be fire pits, heaters and increased seating, as well as new outdoor lockers. “We wanted to provide a gear storage area for anyone who is still uncomfortable with being inside the lodge,” Wachusett spokesperson Chris Stimpson said
Also this season at the Princeton ski area, guests can experience new terrain park features from Coastal Jibs, a Canadian snowpack equipment outfitter. There also will be a live cooking station in the cafeteria, serving freshly made items, including tossed pasta and burrito bowls.
Great Barrington’s Ski Butternut is replacing the Paddywagon Double lift with a new quad.
Several hundred thousand dollars went toward additional snowmaking infrastructure at Berkshire East, including several miles of new pipelines and six high-efficiency snowmaking pumps, which will double uphill snowmaking capacity. Trail edge clearing should help improve the ski area’s gladed areas.
A new summit triple will greet guests at Catamount Mountain Resort. The new lift replaces the old summit double and is quad ready. “So we can switch out the carriers at some point,” owner Jon Schafer said. Elsewhere at the mountain, the lower mid-mountain trails have been cleared and regraded, and a new snowmaking system upgrade includes 30 new fan guns, new electrical infrastructure, and miles of pipelines. Also, the lodges are launching an entirely new dining experience with five new spaces featuring BBQ, Mexican cuisine, a coffee bar, and a new convenience store.
Eric Wilbur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.