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Downhill from Here: Random ski thoughts on a holiday week

  • When the sun sets at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH, the fun is just beginning--especially on POP Saturday nights which start on December 29 (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    When the sun sets at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH, the fun is just beginning--especially on POP Saturday nights which start on December 29 (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • You don’t have to travel far to find snow. This is how Mount Sunapee looked in last winter’s snowless January. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    You don’t have to travel far to find snow. This is how Mount Sunapee looked in last winter’s snowless January. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • If you want natural snow this Holiday week, head north. Areas like Wildcat have plenty! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    If you want natural snow this Holiday week, head north. Areas like Wildcat have plenty! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • When the sun sets at Pats Peak in Henniker, NH, the fun is just beginning--especially on POP Saturday nights which start on December 29 (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • You don’t have to travel far to find snow. This is how Mount Sunapee looked in last winter’s snowless January. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • If you want natural snow this Holiday week, head north. Areas like Wildcat have plenty! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! There’s snow on the slopes and more in the forecast. It’s time to go skiing.

There’s a lot of natural snow at the northern ski areas, little or even none at all farther south. But don’t let that fool you into thinking you have to travel north to find good skiing. Even the areas that got heavy rain this past week were making snow as soon as the temperatures dropped again and my spies tell me the skiing was really good on the weekend before Christmas, even where there was no natural snow at all.

If you can’t afford the time or money to travel somewhere to ski, go somewhere close. With modern snowmaking and grooming, the conditions are almost always better than you think they are going to be.

Holiday weeks present something of a conundrum for skiers and riders. It’s the same challenge presented by weekends. That’s pretty much when most people can ski, but that’s also when the slopes are most crowded and the prices are the highest. Of course, if you happen to like the energy of being surrounded by lots of other happy people, it isn’t an issue. Think of holiday weeks as the skiing version of Black Friday shopping, without the bargains, of course.

If you don’t like crowds but still want to ski on holidays, get to the area early in the morning in time for first chair. If you can’t manage that, try to arrive when everyone else has been out on the slopes for a couple of hours and is about to break for

lunch. This second strategy can sometimes save you money, too – check to see if the area offers half-day tickets.

Generally, if you are looking to ski during a holiday week, the smaller and mid-sized areas are going to provide a quieter, more relaxing experience. I’m a big fan of smaller areas anytime, and especially during holidays.

Night skiing now

Christmas-New Years is also a great time to try night skiing. Skiing under the lights is pretty magical. Areas that offer night skiing often host after-school groups and night race leagues, which can make the whole scene pretty lively, but that isn’t an issue on holiday weeks. Nights are generally quieter than days. And cheaper.

Bousquet Ski Area (413-442-8316, bousquets.com) in Pittsfield, Mass., is offering $10 Thursday nights (3-9 p.m.) all season long. (Note that you’ll have to purchase a $5 RFID “Access Pass” on your first visit.) A regular night ticket is only $20. The adult weekend/holiday ticket is only $37.

This Saturday, Pats Peak (428-3245, patspeak.com) in Henniker – which is, by the way, celebrating 50 years of family-owned operation this year – starts up its Saturday Night POP (Pay-One-Price) program.

POP Under the Lights on Saturday nights includes skiing, snowboarding, snowtubing, rentals, lesson tips and entertainment.

Tubing hours are 5-10 p.m. Lesson tips are 4-6 p.m. in the Beginners Area and are a great way to give yourself something to focus on as you ski the evening away. Here are the prices: noon-10 p.m., $75; 1-10 p.m., $65; 2-10 p.m., $55; 3 or after to 10 p.m., $45.

This is one of the best bargains in New England skiing (especially if you don’t own ski gear) and a whole lot of fun. The fact that you get the same price during a holiday week is a bonus.

January is learn-to-ski month

If you or someone you know has always thought about taking up skiing or snowboarding, January is the time to do it. January is learn to ski month, and almost every ski area around is offering some sort of great deal for beginners.

I’ll be delving into more of these deals next week, but the one at Mount Sunapee (763-2356, mtsunapee.com) in Newbury really caught my eye.

Sunapee is offering a “Two for One, Join the Fun” promotion, which means you get two “Get Into” introduction to skiing/snowboarding packages for $89. Participants must be at least 13 years old.

The package includes a two-hour beginner lesson, rental equipment and a full-day lift ticket to the South Peak Learning Area. The package is offered from Jan. 2 through Jan. 31, excluding Jan. 19-21. To participate, you have to print a coupon from the Mount Sunapee website and bring it to the ski area to purchase your package.

(Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com.)

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