Fall is great for camping, biking, whitewater...and preparing to ski

  • The biking in Vermont is lovely in early Autumn, just like the camping. TIM JONES photo

  • The West Fest on the West River in Vermont is one of the biggest paddling events in New England, and a wonderful kick-off for Fall. TIM JONES photo

For the Monitor
Published: 9/30/2019 7:08:15 PM

Camping in the early fall is about as good as it gets.

This past weekend, I was in south-central Vermont, camping at Winhall Brook Campground in South Londonderry. The campground is operated by the Army Corps of Engineers and is one of the nicest car-camping areas I know of in New England. The sites are well kept, the bathrooms and showers are clean with plenty of hot water, and it’s along the banks of two brooks, so you fall asleep each night to the sound of water flowing over stones – the original white noise machine ever devised. You don’t hear any traffic at all, and the people noises shut off by 10 p.m.

We had perfect weather – warm days, cool nights and not a single biting insect or tick was seen in three days. It’s been a dry summer and early fall, and, as much as we’d all welcome some rain, dry weather is ideal for camping.

The camping alone would have been pretty wonderful, but the reason for staying at Winhall Brook was even better – the “West Fest,” which happens every fall (usually the third weekend in September). The lake behind Ball Mountain Dam is partially drained for the winter, and all that water is released into the West River, providing exciting Class II (easier) and Class III (more difficult) whitewater paddling opportunities. Because this happens at a time of year when water is usually in short supply, the West Fest attracts paddlers from all over New York and New England. It’s a pretty joyous crowd.

The whole area is also crisscrossed with easy mountain biking and hiking trails, so I took both my mountain bike and trails shoes. I’d get up early and ride or walk before the paddling started, and take another shorter ride or walk after it was done. The days were bright, the foliage colors were just starting to show, and the whole experience couldn’t have been more enjoyable.

Save now on ski season

Think it’s too early to think about skiing? Think again. Last year, Sunday River and Killington were turning their lifts on Oct. 19.

Here in New England, the modern ski business largely lives or dies by snowmaking. Whether you are talking Alpine or cross-country, it takes an awful lot of cold, hard cash to get a ski area up and running at the start of a season. A lot of that money needs to be spent long before the first carload of skiers pulls into the parking lot and walks up to the ticket window.

Borrowing money from a bank is expensive, so the best way for a ski area to get that needed cash is to offer potential customers (that would be you and me) pre-season discounts so deep that you buy your lift tickets early. That’s why you see so many incredible deals on season passes, frequent skier card and multi-ticket bundles at this time of year.

It’s also why those deals will disappear before much snow flies.

By enticing you with steep discounts now, the ski area not only gets the immediate cash they need, they also lock you in to skiing there more often (thereby, they hope, spending more money on food and drink and necessities in the ski shop).

This is a win-win, because you get out more often and have more fun for a lot less money. And that’s true whether you want to buy a season pass and ski the same place for the whole season or buy ticket blocks and mix it up a little.

Getting information on early-season ski deals is easy. Just pick the areas you might be interested in, visit their websites or social media pages and sign up for their emails or “friend” them. The deals will come to you.

Check your gear

The last thing you want to do is pull your ski gear out for the first runs of the season and find that your edges are so rusty they won’t carve early-season ice, or your boots or ski clothes don’t fit – feet change and bodies grow and shrink.

Even worse is taking your first fall of the season and suddenly discovering your bindings aren’t releasing properly. That can end your season in a hurry. It’s time to get your skis to the shop for a tune-up and binding check.

One more thought: If your ski helmet is more than 5 years old, it’s probably time to think about a replacement – foam deteriorates and plastic shells get brittle. You want your helmet to protect you.

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can be reached at timjones603@gmail.com)




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