COVID-related restrictions may result in skiers searching for new opportunities closer to home.
Monday, November 30, 2020, NewEnglandSkiIndustry.com
Many ski areas averted disaster during the 2019-20 season, as core holidays and vacation weeks occurred before governments imposed seemingly instant shut down orders at the end of the winter. However, as 2020 continued, it became clear that devastating COVID-19 restrictions would not be going away before the start of the next ski season.
As ski areas conducted routine maintenance, New England governors implemented and amended restrictions on a seemingly daily basis, leaving operators and customers unsure of what, when, where, and how they could conduct mountain recreation. Since many note that outdoor recreation is one of the best ways to maintain health, there is hope that governments will not shutter ski areas again. However, with most New England residents either directly or indirectly restricted from leaving their home state, skiers may not be able to go to their traditional home mountains. Instead, many skiers may be embarking on a journey of discovering smaller ski areas closer to home.
Every state in New England has one or more ski areas with a vertical drop of less than a thousand feet that tend to have smaller crowds, lower prices, and less red tape, while still offering a product on par or better than some mega-resorts to the north.
Connecticut residents have four small ski areas to choose from, ranging from Powder Ridge in the center of the state to Mohawk Mountain in the northwest corner.
Powder Ridge and Mt. Southington provide runs that are similar in length, pitch, and vertical drop to what thousands of early season skiers lap on the North Ridge of Killington each fall. Both areas have double and triple chairlifts, snowmaking, and night skiing. On the other hand, Mohawk Mountain and Ski Sundown are significantly larger than the North Ridge complex, with Sundown featuring the advanced Gunbarrel slope that captures the attention of mogul skiers throughout the region.
Rhode Island has mighty Yawgoo Valley. Though similar to a beginner complex at areas up north, it does still have some narrow trails that are over a quarter of a mile long. This small area has already made snow this fall.
The Mt. Greylock Ski Club is the most primitive, with all-natural trails served by rope tows that are nearly a century old. The high speed lifts allow those with a strong arm to rack up significant vertical in a short period of time. Just down the street in Pittsfield is Bousquet, which is both one of the oldest areas in the country as well as one of the newest, as a result of an ownership change. Projects underway this off-season include constructing a triple chairlift to the summit, renovating the base lodge, and installing modern snowmaking equipment. A short drive west of Springfield is Otis Ridge, which features short steeps served by a double chairlift, ample snowmaking, and night skiing. Narrow, wooded trails such as Dutchman transport skiers to days of yore.
Just outside of Worcester is Ski Ward, which offers snowmaking on lighted open slopes served by a triple chairlift. Within the I-495 corridor are Blue Hills south of the city, Nashoba Valley near Route 2, and Ski Bradford on the North Shore, which also offer chairlifts, night skiing, and snowmaking. Each of these areas offer one or more unique trails, such as the huge tree in the middle of Hornet at Bradford, the upper intermediate wide slope with lighted skyline at Blue Hills, and the eponymous perimeter trail at Nashoba.
Despite being dominated by mega resorts, Vermont also features small operations throughout the state. In Southern Vermont, the Brattleboro Ski Hill has an open slope with lights and snowmaking, served by a T-Bar. Bellows Falls has a small rope tow that runs on occasion.
East of Killington are Quechee and Suicide Six, both of which have quad chairlifts and snowmaking. Suicide Six's steeps are legit, while Quechee has a mix of mellow trails emptying into a vast open snowfield. Nearby is a volunteer run natural rope tow area, Harrington Hill. To the south is the rejuvenated Ascutney ski area, which now roughly mirrors the original T-Bar served footprint of the historic area with mostly mellow terrain. More advanced skiers can enjoy backcountry terrain on the abandoned upper mountain trails.
Just west of Bolton Valley is Cochran's, which has a T-Bar, snowmaking, and night skiing. North of Burlington is Hard'ack, a small rope tow area with snowmaking. North and east of I-89 are two natural snow T-Bar areas, Northeast Slopes and Lyndon Outing Club. Both have networks of trails that provide a surprising amount of variety for intermediate skiers with a definite old school feel.
Southern New Hampshire
On the outskirts of Manchester is McIntyre, a beginner area with snowmaking and night skiing served by twin double chairlifts. West of Concord is Pats Peak, which has significant novice and intermediate terrain, as well as some of the steepest expert trails in the state (including a bump run with lights and frequent snowmaking resurfacing), all of which are served by modern triple chairlifts.
Central New Hampshire
The Upper Valley has a range of areas under 1,000 vertical feet. Arrowhead offers a small handle tow novice slope, as well as some legitimate backcountry steeps above it. Storrs Hill has a fun slope served by a Pomalift with snowmaking and night skiing. Whaleback skis much bigger than it appears from the highway, with long novice trails and steep expert trails, all accessible via a double chairlift. Dartmouth Skiway has two peaks, one of which has mellow terrain served by a quad, while the other has some more rugged terrain, served by a double chairlift. Built onto the shelf of a cliff, the Don Worden Schuss is one of the state's most exciting trails.
Lake Winnipesaukee has a number of ski areas within a dozen or so miles of its shores. Red Hill and Abenaki are small rope tow areas, the former being a natural snow area with affordable club membership options, while the latter has night skiing and snowmaking. Veterans Memorial in Franklin is a natural snow area that has interesting old school trails served by a T-Bar. King Pine packs a bunch of variety onto its short slopes, all of which are served by triple chairlifts. The area's modern snowmaking system often makes it the first area in New England to be 100% open each season.
Northern New Hampshire
In the shadow of Waterville Valley is Campton Mountain, which features three short natural snow trails served by a double chairlift. Similarly close to Loon is Kanc Rec, an interesting rope tow slope complete with snowmaking and lights. North of the notch are Mt. Eustis and Mt. Prospect, both of which are rope tow served natural snow areas.
Southern Maine's only ski area is Powderhouse Hill, a tame rope tow slope that can be an epic place to ski under the lights during a snowstorm.
Small ski areas dot the landscape from Lewiston-Auburn to Bangor. Lost Valley is a small chairlift served area with snowmaking and night skiing and some short steeps. Camden has the unique Camden Snow Bowl, with ocean views from its triple chairlift served slopes. The town of Jay has Spruce Mountain, with tiered rope tows, snowmaking, and night skiing. The college town of Farmington has Titcomb Mountain, with two T-Bars, snowmaking, a large slope, and a few trails. Pittsfield has Pinnacle, a small natural snow rope tow area with affordable membership options. Just outside Bangor is Hermon Mountain, which has a double chairlift, snowmaking, and night skiing. East of Sugarloaf is Baker Mountain, a natural snow T-Bar area with a long slope and multiple narrow trails. Near the shore of Moosehead Lake is Big Squaw, which features a surprisingly large network of scenic intermediate trails served by a triple chairlift. Those who skin the upper mountain area may be shocked by the powder and views it can offer.
With Mt. Katahdin looming in the distance, Lee is home of Mt. Jefferson ski area. Served by two T-Bars, this natural snow area features quite a bit of terrain, including many narrow trails and some steeps. On the Canadian border at Mars Hill is one of the state's most impressive areas, Big Rock. With just under 1,000 vertical feet of snowmaking and night skiing, Big Rock features intermediate cruisers and narrow expert steeps, served by two chairlifts. On the other side of Presque Isle is the natural Quoggy Jo area, served by a T-Bar. The northernmost ski area in New England is Lonesome Pine, with nearly a dozen trails overlooking the Canadian border crossing. The T-Bar served area has night skiing and snowmaking.