Jones: Tips for getting the most out of President’s Week in the snow

  • Cross country ski areas like Great Glen Trails in Gorham offer a quieter experience during holiday and school vacation weeks than Alpine skiing venues. TIM JONES

  • If you are looking for untracked snow during busy holiday and school vacation weeks, your best bet is backcountry glades. TIM JONES

  • Overlooked ski areas like Big Squaw Mountain near Greenville, Maine can offer uncrowded skiing, even during during busy holiday and school vacation weeks. TIM JONES

Published: 2/17/2020 6:09:17 PM

It’s snowing again in Mount Washington Valley as I write this. We’ve gotten over a foot of snow recently and I’ve skied two full-on powder mornings in the last 10 days. Plus, all 11 ski areas nearby have been blowing snow like crazy whenever the temps have allowed, so everything is in great shape for the upcoming Presidents’ Week (hereafter called “Prezweek”) holiday.

Even if there’s no snow in your backyard, there’s plenty of snow on the hills.

Until I moved to the very heart of New England’s ski country, I was only minimally aware of Prezweek. It was simply something to be worked around. When my sons were still in school, their vacation was a week later, so we only had one long weekend of overlap, which was fine by me. After they were out of school and off on new adventures, I adjusted my schedule slightly to avoid the places most vacationers went.

But where I live now, Prezweek is unavoidable – unless you don’t go out your front door for nine days straight, and what fun would that be?

For many families, weekends, Prezweek or school vacation weeks are the only times they have to really get out and enjoy winter. If the weather cooperates at all, the long President’s Day weekend will be three of the busiest days of the whole ski season at most Alpine ski areas.

Not everyone enjoys skiing on crowded slopes, so here are some tips for getting the most out of this Prezweek and the New Hampshire school vacation week that follows it this year.

Head for Canada (don’t forget your passport)

Weekends are weekends in both countries, but there’s no holiday this week in Canada, so if you head across the border on Monday morning, you are likely to find much quieter ski slopes. If you are already visiting northern New York or New England, consider daytripping across the border on Monday to the Eastern Townships of Quebec. Check out any one of the four great ski areas: Mont Sutton (very close to Jay Peak), Owl’s Head and Mont Orford (easy access from I-91), and Ski Bromont (which has amazing night skiing).

If you have more time, drive to Mont Sainte Anne and Le Massif on the north shore of the Saint Lawrence River past Quebec City. Both are incredible ski areas that have been simply buried in snow this season. Mont Sainte Anne has gotten a little over 10 feet so far, Le Massif has gotten over 12 feet, and it’s snowing at both areas as I write this. Or, you can head up through Maine and out to Auberge Chic Chac in Murdochville and ski the deep powder from lifts or a snowcat.

And if you can’t get away over Presidents Week, this is an amazing place to ski in March and April).

Head for “The County” (no passport needed)

Aroostook County in Maine has a wonderful mid-sized ski area, Big Rock, (1,000-foor vertical) that just doesn’t get really crowded, ever. Don’t look for high-speed slopeside condos and après-ski hotspots. This is pure, old-fashioned skiing.

Look for overlooked ski areas

Big Rock has the advantage of being a long way from most urban centers, but other “stealth” ski areas nearer home are often great places to ski during holiday periods. The trick is to find the hidden ground between small areas that draw a local crowd of school kids, and larger areas which attract tourists. These smaller areas with no high-speed lifts, no slopeside lodging just never attract the bigger crowds.

In New Hampshire, try Whaleback Mountain in Enfield, Dartmouth Skiway in Lyme, Black Mountain in Jackson (it’s the best ski area you’ve probably never skied, in my opinion), King Pine in Madison (just south of North Conway) and Tenney Mountain in Plymouth (a true gem that has finally managed to reopen after several years of struggles).

In Maine, check out Big Squaw near Greenville (incredible views!), Black Mountain of Maine near Rumford (incredible glades), and Mount Abram (don’t miss riding the t-bar1), which hides in the shadow of nearby Sunday River. In Vermont, try Magic Mountain in Londonderry, Ascutney Mountain in Ascutney (rope tow and t-bar only), Suicide Six in South Pomfret and Middlebury Snow Bowl in Hancock.

Hit the slopes early

If you are already locked in to a specific ski area, your best strategy is to hit the slopes early, catching first chair if you possibly can. The snow conditions are always best early in the morning, and most people like to sleep in a little while they are on vacation. Make your turns early on emptier slopes and you can relax for the rest of the day.

“Bad” Weather is Your Friend

It was 10 below zero when I pulled into the parking lot at Cranmore Mountain last Sunday. The parking lots were empty, the slopes were empty and the snow was perfect. Learn to dress for cold weather and snow and enjoy the days that other people stay home.

Go cross country skiing

Occasionally, in perfect weather with perfect snow conditions, you might see enough people at a cross-country ski area to qualify as “busy,” but I don’t think I’ve ever seen “crowded.” Here’s an insider tip. If you are a good downhill skier, try some of the steeper, narrower, “black diamond” ski trails at a cross country ski area. You’ll get many of the same adrenaline rush thrills you get from Alpine skiing and likely won’t see many other people on the trail.

Put on skins and go exploring

A few years ago, if you skinned up a hill (pick a hill, any hill) and skied down, you pretty much had the world to yourself. These days, backcountry skiing has gotten so popular that you have to go searching to find those untouched powder lines. “Established” backcountry areas like those created by the Granite Backcountry Alliance ( and Vermont Backcountry Alliance ( area great place to start your backcountry explorations.

Snowshoes are the way to go

If you really want to let your inner curmudgeon run free, get yourself a good pair of snowshoes and trekking poles and head out off trail to explore. You won’t see that many snowshoers on trails even during Prezweek, but as soon as you leave the packed trails behind, you’ll have the world to yourself.

Remember, any time outdoors is better than being trapped inside. Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out during Presidents’ Week and enjoy!

(Tim Jones writes about outdoor sports and travel and can be reached at

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