Okay! The main course has arrived in time for Christmas.
The appetizers were the cold evenings since early November that allowed ski areas to use their snow guns to build a solid base and provide excellent early-season conditions — the best we’ve seen in years. Lately, nature has chipped in with a couple of storms that piled on top of the machine-made.
Mid-winter conditions are here. Time to get outside and enjoy.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to ski at both Whiteface and Okemo, two full-size areas in our region. Both have good snowmaking infrastructure and a solid, experienced staff that knows how to use it. Not all terrain was open yet, but there was skiing top to bottom and that’s plenty to assure a good, full day on the hill. And the snow guns continue to fire.
From the perspective of the resorts, the objective is always to be fully open for the Christmas holiday and that usually means with a combination of natural and machine-made snow. Rain and fog are the enemy, but an established base such as we have now can go a long way in weatherproofing the ski conditions. From Christmas through the Martin Luther King holiday in January and on through the President’s week in late February is the main course for ski areas. From March on, it is dessert time.
So, we have all this great snow. Where do we go? There is always good skiing some place. This year, we have excellent conditions no farther than a car ride away. No requirement to get on a plane this winter.
If you want a rubber tire getaway with “ski in,” “ski out” lodging, here are a couple of suggestions, if accommodations are still available.
Look at Smuggler’s Notch in Vermont if a program for the kids is important. Consider Bretton Woods, N.H., if the mix of downhill, cross county, and great scenery is appealing. Check out Mt. Snow in Vermont if parks and pipes and snowboards and twin tips are in the picture. And try Stratton and Okemo in Vermont if cruising on the trails followed by top-notch dining on the mountain is the combination you want.
But sometimes, especially around the holidays, especially with good conditions, these bigger areas can get a little crowded. Ski areas have learned to deal with crowds much more efficiently than a few years ago, certainly when it comes to lift lines, and in many instances, there are parking-area shuttle arrangements. But these areas didn’t get to be big by turning away patrons. And a crowd is a crowd is a crowd.
But there is an alternative.
We are lucky. There are several fine small areas close by. These may not win admiring looks from your friends back home, but in general, you will get in plenty of runs to help the legs get in shape and lots of fresh air on the hill. You will never be far from the base lodge for a warm-up if needed, and you’ll pay less for a lift ticket than you will at the “bigs.”
A long-time favorite of mine is Royal Mountain in Caroga Lake. Owner Jim Blaise has built an excellent snowmaking system over the years, and this winter, he has been a full operation since the beginning of December. What the area lacks in length of trails, it makes up for diversity of terrain. The teaching area is separate from the main hill, and that makes Royal a great spot for people new to the sport.
Speaking of first-timers, Maple Ridge in Rotterdam is just right for beginners. It will be open daily except Christmas through the holidays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. And for more after the holidays, the legendary Schenectady Ski School, with 92-year-old Freddie Anderson and her daughter Christina, will begin their Saturday program on Jan. 4. The after-school program begins Jan 7. For more information on the ski school, call 377-3730.
One place we are happy to be able to try is Oak Mountain in Speculator. On the verge of being relegated to the roster of lost ski areas just a few years ago, new ownership is in its second season this winter, and early reports are that it is going great guns since it opened Dec. 7.
Willard Mountain in Greenwich is also at full daily operation, including evenings, through the holidays, except for Christmas Day. Just in case you get the itch to try some racing, you’ll see why places like Willard are where some of the best U.S. alpine ski competitors have started out over the years.
Then there is West Mountain in Glens Falls. The area, just off Northway exit 18, had a good start to its season with a successful open house last Saturday, followed up by 14 inches of new snow that night. New management is working to restore the luster to this old area favorite and who better to bring back great local memories than Bobby Dick, who will be performing in the base area lounge Saturday from 7-10 p.m.
Hickory? Not until we have some big snowstorms. Even then, call ahead!
If you don’t want “big” and “north” is not the way for you, but you still want to ski close by, one of the great things about our area for skiers and riders is the choices we have. Try heading east to Jiminy Peak, just over the Massachusetts border in Hancock, or to Catamount that straddles the New York-Connecticut border just off the Taconic Parkway, or south to Plattekill in the Catskills.
Each of these areas has a website that details holiday operations, including pricing and special deals. Shop around a bit and try a place you haven’t skied before.
OK, not sold on small just yet? Well, here are two large areas that can ski “small” — The North Creek Ski Bowl at Gore Mountain and Jackson Gore at Okemo. Both have their own entrances, their own base areas, parking and lifts away from the main mountain. Both offer plenty of skiing on their own, but both have trails that connect to the adjacent main area if you want to migrate during the day.
Whether you go big, or decide to stay small, the plate is full for us this holiday season. It is a Christmas gift to enjoy.
Still need some small items for the Christmas stocking? Here are some excellent last minute suggestions from Alpin Haus’ Mark Dietrick.
1 — A balaclava, aka head sock: Perfect under a helmet on a cold morning.
2 — Ski lock. The combination version is more convenient. Try opening while wearing gloves. This may be a nuisance, but your skis will be there after lunch in the lodge.
3 — Ski wax. Small pocket-sized tins or tubes with applicators that can be used anytime, anyplace.
4 — Hand warmers. You know you need them. Carry a couple in your parka pocket.
5 — Yak Trax walkers. These go on over your boots to help you walk from the parking lot to the lodge and back to the car at the end of the day. You’ll love them when snow shoveling, too.
You don’t need to go downhill to have great skiing right now. Lapland Lake in Benson is one of the premier cross country ski areas in the Northeast, and it is in full operation for the holidays. If you are not sure about your equipment or need some brush up on technique, you’ll find plenty of help right there at the area. There are some new programs for children that deserve a look too.
I Ski NY
Looking to find out where third- and fourth-graders ski for free in New York, or where you can get vouchers for a $12 ski ticket? Check out iskiny.com, the website ponsored by the statewide Ski Areas of New York Association.
SANYA has some fine programs that deliver ski bargains throughout the season.