Last Writes: It's Nearly Spring... Time for Skiing!

Published: Thursday, Mar 06, 2008
Here in the Northeast, March is a month of anticipated change. After the short, cold, and dark days of February, March means still having some daylight left as we leave the office, the occasional spring tease of a mild day, and often the fi rst signs of spring growth on the trees.

And yet, every March, I find myself thinking about skiing. Being an eastern skier, I’ve been burned too many times when the planned New Year’s trip got derailed by a total lack of natural snow, and sometimes even difficulty finding unnatural snow. At Thanksgiving, we’re lucky to have a few trails of man-made slush, covered by a coating of ice. Christmas is rarely much better. And don’t even get me started on President’s Day weekend, the skiing equivalent of visiting a fl orist on February 14.

Through many years of experimentation, I’ve found that mid-to-late March is always the best time to ski in the East, owing to longer days, less chance of sub-zero temperatures, and a much higher chance of actually having some white stuff to sink my skis into. As a college student, I skied as often as twice a week in March, making a mad dash for the car immediately after my last class of the day, driving north to one of the three ice tracks within a twohour drive of Baltimore. My one venture to the “real” mountains was a ski club trip to Winter Park, CO, and it was the first—and to this day last—time I skied an entire three days without seeing my powder-covered skis. 

In the Northeast, we learn to ski on “loose granular” snow, and you know it’s going to be a bruise-fi lled day when, on your very fi rst ride up the lift, you can hear the tell-tale scrape of skis attempting to carve into ice. Still, there are some hidden gems in the East. Farther south than you could imagine that they have snow is a little West Virginian oasis called Snowshoe Mountain. It’s an upside-down mountain, which means that all the lodging is on top. Th is is great for the fi rst ski run of the day—you don’t have to wait in a lift line and take the slow journey up before you can go down.  On the downside, you take the lift runners pretty seriously when they say, “Th is is the last lift up.”

Closer to me in New Jersey are a few resorts that are passable for a day trip, but not much more, including Vernon, NJ’s Mountain Creek and Pennsylvania’s Blue Mountain, Shawnee Mountain, and Camelback, among many others. If you’re familiar with the conditions and trail lengths at Vail, Beaver Creek, or Mammoth Mountain, and you’re looking for a similar rush back East, you may wish to go farther north into the Appalachian Range, where at least a couple of the resorts have enough varied terrain to make a multiple-day trip worthwhile. New York’s Hunter Mountain, Gore Mountain (www.  goremountain.com), and Windham Mountain are a decent approximation of big-mountain skiing.  I have never been as far north as Maine’s Sunday River, but the Green Mountains of Vermont have been a frequent destination for me. Killington, Sugarbush, Mount Snow, Stratton, and Okemo are among the better-known resorts in the state.  But I’m partial to Bromley Mountain, a favorite of locals who don’t want to fi ght the crowds from Boston and New York that converge weekly on Killington. If I ever bought a vacation home, it would be at Stowe, which boasts the Green Mountains’ highest peak, Mt.  Mansfi eld, and a charming New England town fi lled with fantastic lodging and dining options.

During college, I’d pack a handful of granola bars so that I wouldn’t have to break for dinner. These days, I’m lucky if I make it back onto the slopes after a lazy lunch. I still get a tremendous rush from skiing, but now I allow myself to enjoy many of the other activities a couple of days at a ski resort offers: leisurely hours spent reading by the fire, a cutthroat game of Taboo, and perhaps a Manhattan on which to sip.

As I sit typing this column, snow the size of cotton balls is covering the New Jersey landscape. The snow will make for a long


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