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Downhill From Here

Downhill From Here: Vermont's Okemo Mountain Resort is prime for early-season skiing

  • Don’t let the bare ground fool you! Okemo Mountain had 28 trails open and well covered with snow on the weekend of December 8 and 9, 2012 (Tim Jones/ photo)

    Don’t let the bare ground fool you! Okemo Mountain had 28 trails open and well covered with snow on the weekend of December 8 and 9, 2012 (Tim Jones/ photo)

  • Don’t let the bare ground fool you! Okemo Mountain had 28 trails open and well covered with snow on the weekend of December 8 and 9, 2012 (Tim Jones/ photo)

Don’t let the bare ground fool you! Okemo Mountain had 28 trails open and was well covered with snow this past weekend.

After you’ve skied all your legs can stand, Okemo lets you keep the adrenaline flowing with high-speed runs on its Timber Ripper Mountain Coaster.

Want to know what an early-season weekend ski getaway can be like? Read on!

9:02 a.m., Dec. 8, 2012

Okemo Mountain Resort (800-786-5366, ) in Ludlow, Vt., has been one of my early-season favorites for many, many years now. Its next neighbor north, Killington (800-621-6867, ) traditionally opens sooner, but Okemo typically takes a little longer and offers a greater variety of terrain when it does open.

Okemo is noted, of course, for doing a great job of snowmaking and grooming. This year’s Nov. 8 opening was its fourth-earliest ever, and by this weekend it had 28 trails open and was well-covered in snow.

Of course, early-season skiing and riding is a gamble; Mother Nature always has the final say.

I’m writing with my feet up, sipping hot tea in front of the fireplace in a comfy studio at Okemo’s Jackson Gore Inn, shortly after 9 in the morning. Normally, Marilyn and I would have been out on the slopes an hour ago. In fact, I even started that way earlier with all my gear, ready to go. (Marilyn, smarter than me, had decided to wait.) But then I hit a wall of rain and fog that misted up my goggles before I could even get to the shuttle that was supposed to take me to the lifts.

The weather forecast is calling for things to improve in an hour or so. More later.

3:28 p.m., Dec. 8, 2012

Well, it never got “partly sunny” like the weatherman said it would, but the rain stopped and we jumped on the lifts at 11 o’clock. It was a little foggier than we would have liked, but the snow was perfect – butter soft, consistent and a delight to ski. We hammered the slopes for a good hour and a half until hunger forced us to stop for lunch (try the new Vermont Pizza Company location in the base lodge – great soups and salads, even if you don’t do pizza). Then we hammered some more (Defiance and Upper World Cup were exceptional!) until our legs said it was time to quit and hit the sauna and hot tub at the hotel. Wonderful day of skiing.

9:56 p.m., Dec. 8, 2012

We had originally made reservations for a five-course “snowcat dinner” where they take you from Jackson Gore to the Epic restaurant in the Solitude baselodge by snowcat, long after the lifts have closed. Then, they feed you spectacularly, ply you with excellent wines, and then bring you back to reality. The ride in the snowcat under starlight is supposedly a wonderful bracket to an elegant, romantic dinner with perfect food and excellent service.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t quite enough snow for the snowcat ride, so we took a shuttle van instead. Not as much fun, but who needs a snowcat ride when the food is this good? They change the menu often, but if the superb porcini-dusted beef tenderloin or wild halibut are offered as entrees, you can’t go wrong. They pair each of the five courses with a special wine. And, if you give them advanced notice, they’ll work with any dietary restrictions you might have and still produce a gourmet feast. This just ain’t a typical ski-area dining experience, and if you are looking to splurge, I’d highly recommend it. Wonderful evening.

7:10 a.m., Dec. 9, 2012

Gotta hustle. We’re headed for breakfast and, if possible, first chair. The sky cleared overnight, the temps dropped and the sunrise was spectacular. Hoping for a corduroy morning.

11:30 a.m., Dec. 9, 2012

Well, we didn’t make first chair, but we were close. We did manage to get up the mountain ahead of almost everyone else. By weekend standards, the slopes were empty.

Yesterday was warm. The overnight temps dropped below freezing and the Okemo crew was out making conditions as good as they possibly could be considering the tricks Mother Nature was playing on us. This was classic New England early-season skiing – either smooth and hard or soft and a little chunky. In any case it was fast, fast, fast. We’re hardy New Englanders with sharp ski edges and had no problems. In fact, we had a ball, skiing until our legs gave out.

12:45 p.m., Dec. 9, 2012

Just because your legs won’t let you ski anymore doesn’t mean the adrenaline flow has to stop. At least not at Okemo. After our skiing was done, we took three runs on the “Timber Ripper” Mountain Coaster. What a hoot! This is a little cart that rides securely on a seamless steel track, kind of like a long, fast roller coaster. It plunges 375 feet in just more than six-tenths of a mile. The carts have brakes so you can slow them down if you want to – but why would you want to? My advice: push the brake levers all the way forward and let it fly as fast as you can go. Big grins guaranteed.

Okemo also has the new “Sawyer’s Sweep” zipline course that runs all winter. We a-l-m-o-s-t signed on for the two-hour adventure with seven different ziplines, two suspension bridges and three rappels. But we’d run out of time and had to get on the road. Next time.

Here’s the deal

Dec. 12: Mount Snow (800-245-7669, in Dover, Vt., first opened for skiing on Dec. 12, 1954. Starting this year, Dec. 12 will be known as Founders Day and will feature $12 advance purchase lift tickets, plus a party in Cuzzins Bar and Grill.

Only 1,000 $12 lift tickets will be sold and they must be purchased online ( at least 48 hours before the day of the event. But, there will also be a discounted rate at the lift ticket window for those who missed out on the advance purchase price.

(Tim Jones can be reached at

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