Sunday, February 24, 2013

New England Skiing...5 observations from a West Coast native

Over the past three years, I've begun to explore New England skiing - which as one friend put it - "is not West Coast skiing"- a statement that implies West Coast skiing is far superior.  I've currently skied nine of the seemingly unlimited ski resorts of New England and have found it enjoyable and challenging.  If you are planning on visiting New England to ski, here are five observations from a West Coast native...

Sugarloaf Mountain, Maine

1.  It's Icy - and that's normal.  I've realized that although you might enjoy the groomed corduroy for the first three runs, it won't be long before there is a consistent scraping sound beneath your skis or board.  In Oregon, an icy patch was unusual and was usually on the summit on a harsh day.  In New England, this is the norm.  As a result, New England skiers are skilled and used to the tough terrain. You rarely hear complaining.  It's what skiing is supposed to be.

2.  It's a ski mountain... snowboarding optional.  When I had a seasonal ski pass in California, I was one of the only skiiers on a hill dotted with boarders sitting in the trail, whizzing by me, and crowding the space off the chair.  The opposite is true in New England.  Skiing is the sport of the land, and although there are many talented snowboarders, they appear to be less than 10% of the population at these resorts.  I'm not sure the reason - maybe it's the poor boarding terrain or just the strong ski traditions of the Northeast, but either way, snowboarding is for the "alternative" nephew of the family.  Have fun buckling up at the top dude...we'll be half way down.

Wildcat Mountain Quad Chair
3.  There are A LOT of options and everyone has their favorite.  I grew up in Portland, Oregon.  If we wanted to drive up to Mt. Hood to ski for the day, we had three options: "Ski-bowl", "Meadows", or "Timberline".  The choice was usually easy since each had their advantages based on the weather, snow conditions, and budget.  Living in Southern Maine, I have at least 30 options within a three hour drive.  Over the past three years, I have never gone to one resort more than once.  This is because each friend has a favorite and are usually very attached to "their" mountain.  I haven't found "my mountain" yet, but here are a few I have tried...

- Sunday River (Maine)
- Sugarloaf (Maine)
- Saddleback (Maine)
- Wildcat (New Hampshire)
- Sunapee Valley (New Hampshire)
- Cranmore (New Hampshire)
- Waterville Valley (New Hampshire)
- Stowe (Vermont)
- Killington (Vermont)

Poor weather at Killington, VT
The larger resorts like Stowe and Sugarloaf cost around $80-$85 for the day and offer more trails, a terrain park, and in some cases, a gondola.   Smaller hills like Cranmore and Wildcat cost $60-$70 for a day and although offer fewer trail options, they often have fewer crowds at a lower cost.

4.  It's called "Wind Hold".  Maybe it's just my bad luck, but three of the 13 times I've gone up skiing, I've been put on "wind hold", which means I'm stuck riding the kiddy lift or even worse ... the T-bar... until the wind lets up.  Wasted money and time.  Check the weather before you head out and if it looks windy, don't make the drive. There's nothing worse then spending three hours in the car to spend 5 hours in the lodge waiting for the wind to die down.

Ski buddy Jenny enjoys her winter ski outing
5.  New England folks love New England skiing.  While spending the afternoon as a "single" on the chairlift during my recent afternoon at Wildcat Mountain, I had the pleasure of meeting many New England skiiers.  I found them all happy, friendly, and excited to talk about their New England skiing adventures.  The conditions at the time included blowing wind, icy trails, and negative temperatures - but to them, it was a normal skiing day. These folks were all happy to enjoy the "great day for skiing".  I realized that my soft West Coast conditions had spoiled me.  These New Englanders were what the sport should be ... taking nature for what it is and enjoying it.  Like a Girl Scout standing next to a Navy Seal - the West Coast ski scene now seems more about show and less about tactical skill. Ski The East!

My powder-friendly skis see more ice than pow