Downhill From Here: Small ski areas offer plenty of fun
This was the Saturday afternoon crowd at Granite Gorge on the Keene/Roxbury N.N. line. Small ski areas offer lots of fun at lower prices. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
On a chilly Sunday morning, most of the people at Pats Peak were there for ski lessons or a big race, leaving the slopes almost empty for the rest of us. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
If I ever get so jaded I can’t have fun on a little ski hill, I’m going to give up skiing. I hope, for your sake, that you feel the same way.
Now don’t get me wrong. I purely love the biggest and burliest mountains that New England, New York and Quebec can offer. There’s something soul-satisfying about a non-stop, breath-taking, thigh-burning top-to-bottom run at Sugarloaf or Saddleback in Maine; Cannon Mountain or Wildcat in New Hampshire, Stowe, Sugarbush or Mad River Glen in Vermont; Whiteface in New York; or Mont Orford, Mont Sainte Anne or LeMassif in Quebec. I’m glad they are all within an easy day’s drive of me. But they are all farther away and a lot more expensive to ski than some little local hills.
On Saturday, my sweetheart Marilyn and I, along with our friends David and Susan Shedd, skied Granite Gorge (358-5000, granitegorge.com) in Roxbury. It was a cold day, and some weather forecasters were blathering about “dangerous cold.” We laughed, dressed warm, went skiing and had a ball.
Granite Gorge was once a “lost” ski area. It operated as Pinacle Mountain (nelsap.org/nh/pinnacle.html) until the mid-70s, reopened as Granite Gorge a few years ago and has been steadily adding improvements since, a little at a time. By the way, when I say it’s a “little” area, I mean it covers only 55 acres and has 525 vertical feet. But one thing in Granite Gorge’s favor is that 525 feet carries its pitch from top to base – there are no flat spots or long run outs. It had about half its terrain open and was blowing more snow all day.
An all-day adult lift ticket here is $45. There’s a cute little base lodge with a snack bar, they offer lessons and rentals, cross-country skiing and tubing. In short, it’s a real ski area.
On a “busy” Saturday, we had to wait in line exactly once, when we happened to hit the lift line at the precise moment that all of the Saturday morning lessons were launching. After that, we sometimes had to wait for two or even three chairs to load before we could get on. The lone double chair (there’s also a handle tow for the main terrain park and a beginners carpet lift) moves right along, getting you to the top of the hill before you have a chance to chill. The wind was blowing; we could hear it, but never really felt it.
Susan wanted to work on her technique, particularly turn initiation, so she and I took several runs together. David and Marilyn went their own merry way, found a couple of small jumps and went over them a number of times, gradually gaining speed, height and distance. You could hear them giggling over the whole mountain. After three hours, we were cold, hungry, ready for a break and grinning ear to ear. After lunch, a few more runs put the perfect cap on the day. By that time, there was almost no one else on the hill, though the snow was still in perfect shape.
On the way home, all we could talk about was how much fun we had. Nobody felt like we had to ski more to justify an expensive ticket. We just had enjoyed a lovely little hill with everything we needed.
Pats Peak Sunday
Sunday morning, we toddled over to another small area, Pats Peak (428- 3245, patspeak.com ) in Henniker. Pats is a quite a bit taller at 710 vertical feet, covers more acres (95), has 100 percent snowmaking coverage and 10 lifts including five chairs. Snow conditions were superb (at least on the groomed trails, we didn’t do any bumps).
Incidentally, it also has 100 percent of its terrain lit for night skiing, and its Pay One Price Saturday nights are a tremendous deal – $45 for lifts, rentals, tuning and “lesson tips” from 3-10 p.m.).
It also happened to be “Mascot Day,” with a bunch of fuzzy and friendly icons on the slope. One football team mascot (apparently there’s a “Pats” connection) was riding a snowbike and still smiling, even though his team purportedly lost a big game last weekend. I didn’t see any bird mascots … It was all in good fun.
Again it was cold, again we dressed warm, again there were no liftlines, again the lift rides were short enough that we were able to take a lot of them before we got chilled, and again we felt like we had a whole lot of fun for comparatively little money.
By the way, Pats offers one of the largest and most respected ski school programs in all of New England. I doubt you’ll find a better place to learn at any price.
Here’s the deal
We almost did a third small ski area, Crotched Mountain (crotchedmountain.com) in Bennington Sunday afternoon. They were offering Sunday afternoon lift tickets for $14.99; sign up for their e-newsletter for future offers. During non-holiday periods, you can ski 6-9 p.m. at Crotched for only $28, and two-for-Tuesdays let two people ski for $29 each.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Mount Snow (800-245-7669, mountsnow.com) in Dover, Vt. has three great deals: the Super Morning Ticket is valid from 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; non-football fans can ski Sunday afternoon for $25 with the “I Hate Football Ticket” or ski all day Sunday and Monday for $99 with the Super Sunday Plus two-day ticket.
Ski NH (skinh.com) has a whole list of Super Bowl specials including:
∎ Cannon Mountain (823-8800, cannonmt.com) in Franconia: Super Sunday Special with two-for-$70 tickets
∎ Cranmore Mountain Resort (356-5544, cranmore.com) in North Conway is offering a Super Bowl ECoupon for $47 adult lift tickets that must be printed by midnight the night before
∎ Bretton Woods Ski Area (278-3320, brettonwoods.com) in Bretton Woods will be offering a limited amount of $30 advance when purchasing online lift tickets.
∎ Gunstock Mountain Resort has “Souper Bowl Sunday,” when guests can bring a can of soup to donate to a local food pantry and receive a 2-for-1 Prime Time Lift Ticket. Guests who wear a piece of clothing with an NFL logo will receive $10 off a Prime Time Lift Ticket. And Sunday afternoon, Gunstock is offering 2-for-1 afternoon lift tickets and 2-for-1 zip yours (1 and 2 p.m. only) for Super Bowl Sunday only.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)