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Ski Lines: The season comes to an end​

Ski Lines: The season comes to an end​

Phil Johnson's latest column
Ski Lines: The season comes to an end​
The popular Twister trail at Gore is shown earlier this month.
Photographer: Phil Johnson

The ski season is over. 

Widespread health concerns that strongly discourage crowds and use of shared public facilities have caused areas throughout our region to close. The decision in most cases had nothing to do with snow conditions. Trail coverage at the larger areas, especially, is still good, due to aggressive early season snowmaking and attentive terrain management. 

In the world of sliding, this would normally be the time when cool nights, mild days, and good grooming mean great spring conditions, a long awaited seasonal reward for those who ski. 

Not this year. 

Besides the health concerns, ongoing operating costs at a time of year when fewer people come to the slopes even under normal circumstances will make reopening — whenever that can happen — an unappealing option. 

The early closings come right at the time when areas are promoting pass sales for next winter. Once again, there is attractive early purchase incentive pricing for those who commit now. 

The major multi-pass plans, Epic and Ikon, are available now with many versions, each tailored to how you use them. As with other plans — Big Three, Mountain Collective, Indy Pass — the key to choosing the best one is related to where you plan to ski and how often. Are state-of-the-art lifts and vast terrain the top priority, or is easy travel and proximity to home more important? 

If you like to try different areas and ski more than five days a season, or have a multi-day road trip planned, the savings can be considerable — and, if you are living the dream, there is no limit on how many different passes you can buy. 

The best pricing is generally between now and April. Check your favorite areas, consider possible travel plans, and compare prices online.

The world of ski passes has undergone a major shift in the past few years. It has been just a decade since Vail Resorts pioneered the Epic Pass plan, and since then other multi-area plans have been introduced. The result has been an almost-universal decrease in season lift ticket costs for those who ski regularly and the added appeal of skiing more areas covered by these passes. 

Not everyone is happy with this development, especially people who can ski only on weekends and holidays. 

While acknowledging reduced cost, there are rumblings of discontent about more people on the slopes and a ski experience that is less satisfying than in the past. Video of an enormous lift line at Vail in Colorado after an early February snowfall went viral as skiers waited for what one reporter termed “five minutes of pure joy followed by two hours of misery.”

Now, it was a "perfect storm" of bad circumstances that morning, for which Vail has taken considerable heat and its leadership has apologized. But everyone who was there that day, and the many more people who have watched the video, may be wondering, “What is the value for my ski money, and what can I expect in the future?”

One step that a handful of areas have taken is to eliminate on-site ticket sales on weekends and holidays. These areas will be open only to pass holders and those who have purchased tickets in advance online. It is a way to have some control over the number of people on the slopes on a given day and, perhaps even more important, to ease the crowding of mountain access roads and parking lots on a busy weekend. This is not a problem just for Western areas like Alta and Snowbird; think of the Stowe access road on a busy weekend — or closer to home, Gore on a holiday weekend after a fresh snowfall. 

Crystal Mountain near Seattle stopped selling lift tickets on site weekends this winter. So far, no area in our region has proposed such a policy.

GEAR STORAGE

With the season ending, it is time to put away gear until next fall.

Here are some simple steps to follow. 

First of all, everything needs to be dry — skis and boots, as well as clothing. Empty the ski bag and hang up gear. Skis should not be stored flat on a floor, especially not a concrete surface. Keep them off the ground in a rack, if possible. Clean the ski base and apply a layer of wax. Ideally, the bindings tension should be reduced, but that is not essential. A good alternative is to have the ski prep done at a local ski shop where you can usually bring them back in the fall for a check at no additional cost. 

LOPPET CANCELLED

Health-related matters weren’t the only issue for the ski scene last weekend. 

Bad weather and deteriorating trail conditions at Mt. Van Hoevenberg forced the cancellation of the Lake Placid Loppet cross country ski races.

NORDIC HEADQUARTERS

With little fanfare, Paul Smith’s College outside Saranac Lake is becoming the center of Nordic training, at least in the East.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Nordic Combined team announced it will establish a headquarters there, and last week the U.S. Biathlon team said it, too, will have a base there. 

The combination of a college setting for young athletes and suitable training facilities was appealing to both federations.

Reach Phil Johnson at [email protected].​​​

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