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Downhill From Here

Downhill from here: Winter’s late gasp provides spring thrill

  • This was the crowd on a spring Saturday at Black Mountain in Jackson, NH. The snow conditions were excellent, but very few people took advantage. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    This was the crowd on a spring Saturday at Black Mountain in Jackson, NH. The snow conditions were excellent, but very few people took advantage. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • This Telemarker was enjoying a perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    This Telemarker was enjoying a perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • A perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

    A perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

  • This was the crowd on a spring Saturday at Black Mountain in Jackson, NH. The snow conditions were excellent, but very few people took advantage. (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • This Telemarker was enjoying a perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)
  • A perfect Spring Sunday at Sunday River in Newry, Maine. Soft snow all day long! (Tim Jones/EasternSlopes.com photo)

I’ll admit it, when I first planned our annual “Kings of Spring” ski getaway, I’d envisioned day after day of warm spring sunshine and corn snow, people gathered on the decks at noontime, weekend afternoons watching silly season events between runs – all the joys of spring skiing. Exactly what we’d enjoyed at Whiteface (whiteface.com) in Wilmington, New York a couple of weeks ago. What I hadn’t counted on was winter deciding to stick around for a little while longer. Trust me, I am not complaining!

The first day of our getaway was at Black Mountain (1-800-475-4669, blackmt.com) in Jackson, which will, sadly, be closed for the season by the time you read this. Black is a family mountain and it traditionally closes the weekend before Easter. Unfortunately, Easter is very early this year.

Anyway, as we drove to the mountain, the March wind was grabbing the car and shaking it, the temperature was stubbornly stuck below freezing, and it was snowing for much of the ride. No problem! Black faces south and I figured the wind wouldn’t find us there and whatever sun was peeking through the clouds would warm things up and soften the snow. I was half right. The wind didn’t bother us, but the sun never softened the snow at all. Instead, we enjoyed perfect groomed, mid-winter skiing on Black’s lovely, old-fashioned trail system. They don’t have any high-speed lifts, they don’t have a huge base lodge, but they also don’t have crowds or expensive lift tickets. The snow conditions late in the afternoon were just as good as they were first thing in the morning. What a great mountain!

Our next stop on the spring tour was Sunday River (207-824-3000, sundayriver.com) in Newry, Maine which is always the first or second major area in the northeast to offer snow in the early season, thanks to an amazing snowmaking system, and always among the last to close for the same reason. In places, they had piles of snow 30 feet high that they haven’t groomed out yet. If they aren’t still skiing off the Locke Mountain triple in May, I’ll be very surprised.

On a spring Sunday, it’s not surprising that Sunday River was hopping. They had at least four different race courses going that I saw, including one GS race for teams of five firefighters in full uniform all carrying a hose as they skied together through the gates. Plus I saw several busy terrain parks, lots of lessons and I saw at least one Telemark clinic with maybe a dozen people learning to genuflect properly (it was, after all, Palm Sunday). But mostly it was just folks like us, enjoying moderate temperatures and peeks of spring sunshine.

And what a day it was to enjoy. On Saturday night, while some folks were still skiing under the lights at the South Ridge base, we could see the lights groomers working the slopes before and after the traditional Saturday night fireworks display (it’s a good one). It never fell below freezing that night and in the morning, the groomed slopes were soft and smooth. As skier traffic scrubbed off some of that top layer, 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 afternoon.

We’ve still got a lot of vacation left, and we’ve got another day here at Sunday River (Monday is a different world at Sunday River – same mountain, no people), then two days at Wildcat (888-754-9453, skiwildcat.com) in Pinkham Notch and two days at Jay Peak (802-988-2611, jaypeakresort.com) in Jay, Vt. Both of those areas have gotten a lot of snow in the last few days. While some areas will close for lack of skiers, the ones that stay open will offer what will likely be some of the best skiing of the season. Won’t you come out and savor it with us?

Here’s the deal

Every ski area still open is offering deals … this is just the tip of a very large iceberg.

On Saturday at Okemo Mountain Resort (802-228-1600, okemo.com), lift tickets are $39 when you donate a minimum of five non-perishable food items to Okemo’s April Fool’s Food Drive. As of this writing, Okemo still has 100 percent of its terrain open. April 14 is Okemo’s target closing day for the season.

On Monday, Wildcat and sister resort Attitash (attitash.com) in Bartlett are offering $9 lift tickets. No, that is not a joke.

Want a real getaway? Go up on Monday, grab the $9 Wildcat lift ticket, stay the night at the AMC’s Joe Dodge Lodge where their $140 (cheaper for AMC members) ski and stay package gets you a private room, dinner that night and a huge breakfast and bag lunch the next day, plus a lift ticket. Two days of skiing and your meals for cheap.

Tim Jones can be reached at timjones@easternslopes.com

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