Downhill From Here: Seeking the Kings of Spring, Part 2
Four days before they closed for the 2012-13 season, Cranmore had lots of sunshine and lots of snow on most of their trails. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
It had snowed every day before we arrived at Jay Peak in Vermont, and was snowing when we left. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
On the last Monday in March, Sunday River in Newry Maine had lots of snow and very few skiers. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
There is nothing in New England skiing that compares to the view at Wildcat on a blue-sky spring day. The skiing was as good as the view! Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
Now let me say right here that the ultimate King of Kings of Spring here in the Northeast was, is and forever will be Tuckerman Ravine on Mount Washington, where the skiing this year should easily last until the 4th of July. Of course, you have to hike to get your turns at Tucks, and any adventure there always comes with a risk of avalanches, falling ice and crevasses – any of which can kill you if you aren’t careful. Never head up to Tuckerman without reading and heeding the latest advisory from the Mount Washington Avalanche Center (mountwashingtonavalanchecenter.org).
But mere mortals who prefer to ride lifts have lots of resorts to choose from. For late March, Marilyn and I put together a tour of some of our favorite candidates for the Kings of Spring title. We hoped for one perfect spring day at each stop. Turns out that strategy worked pretty darned well.
As I told you last week, we expected to find spring skiing at Black Mountain (blackmt.com) in Jackson on its next-to-last day of the 2012-13 season, but instead, found perfect mid-winter snow and lots of it. On March 24, Sunday River (sundayriver.com) in Newry, Maine, had piles of snow 30 feet high that hadn’t been groomed out yet. I’m betting they’ll still be skiing on Memorial Day. The mountain was busy with spring festivities that Sunday; the day warmed up just enough to soften everything up, but not enough to turn it to slush. We had terrific skiing right into the late afternoon.
The next morning, March 25, was just enough cooler that it felt like we had taken a step back into winter. We hit the (empty) slopes early on perfectly groomed corduroy and made one non-stop run after another as we worked our way across the resort from the Grand Summit Hotel where we were staying to the Jordan Bowl and back, in deep snow everywhere we looked.
On Tuesday morning, we got up early and headed for Wildcat (skiwildcat.com), arriving in time for the first chair. The weather was nearly perfect: high, clear blue skies, light winds, abundant sunshine. If there’s any place more beautiful than Wildcat on a perfect blue-sky day, I’m not sure where it is. It wasn’t quite warm enough to really soften up the ungroomed terrain, but the groomed trails were in outstanding condition and we made enough runs to really feel it. The runs at Wildcat are long, the “blue squares” are really “navy blue,” and we couldn’t have enjoyed the day more.
We stayed that night at the AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge (outdoors.org/lodging), five minutes from Wildcat, where a lavish family-style dinner and buffet breakfast are included with the price. It’s very friendly and comfortable (if you don’t mind bathrooms down the hall) and probably our favorite place to stay when we are skiing Wildcat. I say probably because, just 15 minutes from Wildcat, the Royalty Inn in Gorham has huge, clean, quiet rooms, a full health club including sauna, swimming pool and hot tub, and a good restaurant (Boott Spur Grille) about 20 steps away. Their ski-and-stay packages with Wildcat are outstanding.
When we awoke on Wednesday, clouds were bubbling up over Mount Washington, the trees around Joe Dodge were dancing in the wind and the flags out front were standing straight out. So we decided to visit south-facing Cranmore (cranmore.com) down in North Conway, where, we hoped, the sun would peek through and give us corn snow.
Cranmore made a huge change this season, removing the old East Bowl chair and adding the new “Schnieder” triple that ends at the same spot but starts lower and farther south on the mountain, making some of their best terrain easier to access. That’s probably a great change overall, but not on this particular day. The new lift wasn’t running (it looked like they’d slightly miscalculated the amount of snow needed to keep the trails to the base of this new lift covered through the end of their season on Easter Sunday).
As hoped, the East Bowl developed perfect corn snow that morning. A year ago, we’d have yo-yoed the old East Bowl chair all morning, grinning every moment. But this time, skiing that great corn snow meant making an annoyingly long (and, frankly, boring) commute mostly on flat trails and harder snow all the way back around to the summit quad. To get the best skiing of the day, we had to wait for the front-side trails to soften up in the early afternoon.
On Thursday, we drove through a snowstorm most of the way to Jay Peak (jaypeak.com), where it had been snowing all week. Snow on the trails, snow in the woods, snow everywhere. The first few runs of the day were on smooth groomed trails with a half-inch or so of fresh snow on top. By late morning, however, the sun had done its magic and lovely corn snow had appeared everywhere. Some of the steeper trails, like Can-Am, Hayes and Jet, were so soft and forgiving that even intermediates could ski them easily. Lots of smiles on the mountain that day.
The skiing at Jay has always been phenomenal, but the resort used to have a kind of down-at-the-heels feel about it, but no more. Instead of giving everything a fresh coat of paint, they tore it all down and started fresh. The new slopeside Hotel Jay is gorgeous and super-comfortable, the on-mountain dining at Alice’s Table and the Foundry Pub and Grille are several orders of magnitude better than anything Jay had in “the olden days.”
Then there’s “The Pumphouse,” the amazing indoor waterpark (with a retractable roof for summer) that’s so much fun you almost wouldn’t mind if the weather didn’t cooperate for skiing. After burning my legs out on all that fabulous corn snow, I went to the Pumphouse and channeled my inner 10-year-old for about two hours. Adrenaline-charged chutes, lots of pools and hot tubs, a lazy river for relaxing, even a surfing pool. Man, I wish they’d had this when my kids were younger.
Oh, and it was snowing when we left Jay.
Based on what we saw this past week, lots of resorts are going to ski well through mid-April, at least. There’s snow on the slopes. What are you waiting for?
Adios until September
As always happens at this time of year, there’s plenty of snow on the slopes and some of the best skiing and riding of the year is still ahead, but most people have quit skiing for the season. Of course, the real hard-cores (I’m one) are going to keep skiing for at least another month. To read what it was like, you’ll have to go to EasternSlopes.com and pick out the “resort snapshots” from among the hiking, biking, camping and paddling stories.
But in just about six months, the first cold snap will get us all thinking about winter again (maybe we’ll see a dusting of snow on top of Mount Washington), ski shops will be stuffed with new gear, and season pass promotions will be in full swing. Then it’ll be time to start dreaming of deep and white again – unless you are like me and dream of deep and white all summer.
(Tim Jones can be reached at email@example.com.)