The Top 9 East Coast Ski Resorts & Why You Must “SKI THE EAST”:

Andy Hays | | Featured ArticleFeatured Article
Killington, VT. photo: killington
Killington, VT. photo: killington

So you’ve finally tucked the skis away, the jacket has been hung up, or at least thrown into a heap in the corner and it’s time to think about the joys of summer.  The lake and the hiking and the biking and the golf and the fishing and all of the other wonderful activities that you’ve been waiting for.  Right?  Wrong.  You’re still thinking of skiing aren’t you.  Well, you’re in luck, it’s time to start planning on where you will be taking a trip to next season.

You’ve thought of all the usual suspects, Jackson, Snowbird, Whistler.  Maybe you’d like to get off the beaten path.  Big Sky?  Revelstoke?  Is this the year to head across the pond?  Is this the year you finally get to Alaska?  I hope so, but really where should you take your next adventure?  It’s time you finally ski the East.  

 skitheeast_sticker_2010

This sounds crazy you may be saying to yourself, and well, it is, but aren’t most good ideas?  Why would you ever do something like this?  Simply because you should.  Will the skiing actually be any good?  Probably not.  Is there much tangible enjoyment in not being able to feel your extremities?  No.  Will your friends be impressed with your Go Pro footage?  Not likely. So why?  Ask yourself this simple question, do you consider yourself someone who skis, or do you consider yourself a Skier, in the proper sense.  If you responded to the latter, and you’ve never left the comfy confines of your western resort, it’s time.  Are you one of the countless transplants to move out West and never look back.  Maybe this is the year to make a return trip, just to remind yourself of how good you have it now.

So here it is, my top 9 (sort of) destinations to check out and return to the roots of American skiing.  There is no scientific methodology implemented here, and these have no real particular order.  The beauty of the East is that everything is (relatively) close together, take a trip and enjoy a few.

THE TOP 9 SKI RESORTS IN THE EAST: 

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MAD RIVER GLEN, VT

Mad River Glen, VT
Mad River Glen, VT

Even if you’ve never been to the East Coast you’ve seen the ubiquitous stickers challenging to “ski it if you can.”  You can, and you should.

Why:  This is practically as old school as it gets.  If you are searching for the roots of skiing, this would be a great place to start.  This place is what Vermont is all about.  Not Yuppy Volvo driving Vermont, Flannel bushy beard Vermont.  It has a single chair, which is refreshing in todays age of high speed six packs.  Also you can find someone to show you around you can actually catch some East Coast air.

When:  If it snows.  Gnarly, untamed terrain will be fun with a fresh blanket of snow, otherwise you’ll be glad the lifts are so slow.  

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JAY PEAK, VT

Jay Peak, VT. photo: jay peak
Jay Peak, VT. photo: jay peak

As close to a Western ski experience you’ll find East of the Rockies.  The terrain is legit, bolder steeps than you’ll find at Northstar.  Even a lot of Easterners don’t get up here, because frankly, it’s far from just about everything.

Why:  It snows.  No, really, it snows.  In fact Jay Peak has received more total snowfall than Squaw Valley the last two seasons.  Sure we’re talking about historically low snow totals for California here, but you get the point, it’s Vermont and they’re getting more snow than Squaw.  Over the last ten years they’ve averaged 355″ of snow annually.  Where will you find that snow?  In the trees.  Jay is all about the trees.  Not wide open mellow Steamboat trees.  Tight steep technical Eastern trees.  This is more like skiing in the woods.  Put your hands in front of your face and crash though the brush.  Otherwise test your meddle on the face under the upper terminal of the tram.

When:  Whenever.  When it isn’t snowing anywhere else it very well may be snowing here.  February and March tend to produce the most snowfall.  

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STOWE, VT

Stowe, VT. photo: stowe
Stowe, VT. photo: stowe

Really this should also include Sugarloaf, Me as well as leading category of “classic”  ski experiences.  This is where ski culture was born on the East Coast.  If you are about history, this is the place to live it.

Why:  Sure the skiing will be good but you are here to say you skied Stowe.  You ski Aspen because if you ski you should ski Aspen, same logic applies here.

When:  The Holidays.  Am I really recommending you plan a ski vacation during the busiest time of year?  Yes.  When I think Stowe, I think quaint notions like carolers and a crackling fire.  It’s just that kind of place.

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KILLINGTON, VT

Killington, VT. photo: killington
Killington, VT. photo: killington

The undisputed beast of the East.  It’s big (six peaks), it’s crowded(Thanksgiving weekend is like a video game), the snowmaking guns will probably be blasting, and everyone there is kind of a jerk (seriously people think Squaw has attitude, those people have never skied here).  This is what East Coast skiing is all about.

Why:  For all of the reasons above.  The access road party scene is as solid as it gets (think coked out stock traders meets Hot Dog).  It has the longest season on the East Coast, and sometimes anywhere.  Almost always the first to open and last to close.  It’s so big that there is something for everyone, if you know your way around there is some pretty legit terrain in the trees.  Hint, if you can see it you can ski it.  Everything between the outer boundaries is open.  That said, you really come here for one thing.  The bumps.  You thought mogul skiing died with Jonny Mosely’s ski career?  Wrong, it is alive and well and it lives here.

When:  Spring.  Killington will be the first to open, but the time to be here is in April and May (they even extend their hours to 8:30am to 5:00pmMuch is said about Outer Limits, steepest, longest, widest, bestest, but the fun really starts when things shift over to Superstar.  All year they stockpile snow so that Superstar can last until June, and it goes off.  Pack your “fate” pants and brush off your Dynastar Assaults and bash the spring bumps with the local legends.

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MT SAINTE ANNE, QE

Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec
Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec

If you thought Jay Peak was far away then you should check this place out.  It’s a trek from anywhere, unless you find yourself in Quebec City, which is only 25 miles away.

Why:  Its black diamond runs are real black diamond runs.  It’s steep and the snow is good.  These trees aren’t for amateurs.  It rises out of the St. Lawrence River and has spectacular views.  French Canadiens are pompous jerks but that’s just part of their charm.  No one around here speaks English, really, no one.  This isn’t Whistler, when you are here, you know you are in another country.  It has night skiing from the top serviced by the gondola, which is necessarily because it is cold.  Really really cold.  Mandatory puffy coat for this one.  Warm up with some poutine.

When:  I’ve only been here once, it was January and boy was it cold, even by Eastern standards.  That said, the snow quality was excellent, no freeze/thaw cycle here.  Both my dad and I got frost bite but ultimately it was totally worth it.  Did I mention it will be cold.

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WHITEFACE, NY

Whiteface, NY. photo: whiteface
Whiteface, NY. photo: whiteface

Sticking with the cold theme here.  It hosted the Olympics in 1980 (the 1932 ski events were elsewhere).  The mountain is owned by the State of New York, and is still a true skier’s mountain.

Why:  So you are one of those people who says base “villages” are stupid.  Then this is your place.  Adirondack park regulations make building very very difficult, the base operations could be considered spartan at best.  No shops, no condos, no aquatic centers.  What you get instead is completely unspoiled views of the Wilmington Notch and the wilderness of the surrounding Adirondacks.  Nearby Lake Placid (about 10 miles away) belongs amongst the pantheon of true mountain villages.  Locations such as Sun Valley or Aspen have nothing on this place when it comes to authenticity.  Twice host of Olympics virtually all of the venues are still open and used (You’ve heard of the Miracle on Ice right?)  Get outside the village of Lake Placid and it gets wildly upstate quick, which is a good thing, (ain’t no Starbucks ’round here bud.)  Back to the skiing, longest vertical of the East at 3,430 ft.  For reference Squaw Valley is 2,850.  The Slides is a hikeable portion that can access side country to get your adrenaline going.  Will they be open when you get there?  Most likely no.  Then again did you remember to pack your probe/shovel/transceiver?  Most likely no.

When:  There’s no beating around the bush, the weather sucks here.  It’s called Iceface for a reason.  It will be cold, really cold, and cloudy.  Even in the summer that same damn cloud just seems to cling to the peak (5th highest in NY).  It can be sunny your whole drive here (which will be considerable unless you’re coming from Montreal), it will be cloudy when you arrive.  Bottom line you don’t come here to get a tan, you come here to ski and live the winter.  My highest level of recommendation, everyone should go to Lake Placid at least once in their lives.

Tuckermans Ravine,
Tuckermans Ravine, NH

TUCKERMAN’S RAVINE, NH

So you did remember to pack your probe/shovel/transceiver?  An absolute must for a true East Coast backcountry adventure.  Full disclosure, I’ve never skied the ravine despite growing up with a picture of it on our living room wall.  I’m embarrassed by this and feel kind of like a poser of an East Coaster.  This one is on my personal list.

Why:  Ummm… it’s backcountry skiing on the East Coast, that’s why.  It rests along the side of the highest peak in the Northeast (Mt. Washington).  It’s a huge scene, there’s no way around the fact that it’s absolutely mandatory.  Even Chris Davenport went there for a Warren Miller film a few years ago.  Chris Davenport knows what he’s doing when it comes to these things.  It’s steep, rugged, and there can even be avalanche activity.

When:  Spring.  April is traditionally the time to get your friends together and hike your way up.  Snow stability issues and really really difficult weather conditions make this less of a winter time activity.

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SNOWSHOE, WV

Snowshoe Mounain, WV. photo: Chris McLennan Photography
Snowshoe Mounain, WV. photo: Chris McLennan Photography

Really?  There needed to be a southern resort on this list.  Snowshoe takes that honorary spot.

Why:  I’ve never been to Snowshoe, will I ever go, probably not.  Have you ever been there?  Probably not.  Do you even know anyone who has ever been there?  Probably not.  There’s your most compelling reason right there.  Sometimes the backstory is more important than the actual skiing.  Who doesn’t want to tell the guy on the chairlift about that epic day you had south of the Mason Dixon line.

When:  This is one of those places you just need to go when you are there.  When and why will you ever be in West Virginia?  Beats me, but if you are make sure you pack your skis.

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WEST MOUNTAIN, NY

West Mountain, NY. photo: west mountain
West Mountain, NY. photo: west mountain

Where is West Mountain and why on earth would you go there.  Well… it is in Queensbury, NY, overlooking the beautiful city of Glens Falls.  Enjoy those panoramic views of the paper mills.  This isn’t about West in particular, this is about the countless small ski areas that dot the Northeast.  This is the type of place that so many kids get their start at, and coincidently where I learned to ski.  This is what skiing used to be like.  It’s amazing that places like this can even still exist, places like Willard, NY; Mt. Abram, ME; Suicide Six in Vermont.  Make sure you visit these hidden gems before they recede into history.

Why:  Does the thought of a ski in ski out Starbucks make you sick.  $100 lift tickets?  Fur coats and gourmet lunches?  You won’t find these amenities here.  Valet parking?  There isn’t even a high speed lift.  This is the kind of place that the lifties wear carharts and work boots, because they don’t even ski.  There is no “gaper” day because everyone dresses like a gaper without any notion of irony.  These family mountains are really about families, not just relieving them of their money.              

When:  Catch them while you can.  Places like this rely more heavily on natural snowfall, January or February will be best.  If they have night skiing, most do, then you should really do that for the most authentic experience.  You’ll spend most of the time on the lift, but really the skiing isn’t that great anyway.  You’re here for the experience.

Jay Peak, VT
Jay Peak, VT

What kind of list is a top 9 list anyhow?  Well the 10 spot goes for you to chose.  The East Coast has dozens of mountains all within driving distance of each other.  To try to separate them is a futile exercise.  Everyone will have their favorite for a reason.  You won’t need powder skis, even if it snows, so sharpen up your carving skis or pack up your twin tips.  This is the East so you had better take some park laps.  Why are kids like LJ Streno so good on rails?  What else is there to do?  If you don’t yet own a TTT (too tall T) you’d better find one, even though it will be too cold to rock it.  Hopefully your jacket is long enough so the TTT doesn’t stick out the bottom making you look like a complete dork.  Once again this is the East, no one will be afraid to mock you openly.  Ski season is 5 1/2 months away, it’s never too early to start planing for next year.  This is the year… To ski the East.  


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21 thoughts on “The Top 9 East Coast Ski Resorts & Why You Must “SKI THE EAST”:

  1. “You thought mogul skiing died with Jonny Mosely’s ski career? Wrong, it is alive and well and it lives here” this is just made me LOL for reals Mr. Hays. thanks

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +2 (2 votes)
  2. Having skied all of these except for West Mt, I actually agree with most of these picks.

    Maybe not Snowshoe or West Mt. But I’m now near Tahoe north shore.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +1 (1 vote)
  3. No mention of Sunday River? Come on, this report is biased towards Killington, it was probably written by a yankees fan!!! JK Hays man!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +3 (3 votes)
  4. Omg in Quebec you should try Le Massif du Sud with it’s steep glades! Ans what about the Chic-Chocs range in far East Quebec for alpine bowls, chutes and couloir?

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +1 (1 vote)
  5. sugarloaf has a longer season than any of these its season lasted until june 3 once and millington is pretty much done in may come on sunday river is a classic its got some of the best glades in the east i think they should also add smuggs it has the only triple black diamond in the east

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +1 (1 vote)
    1. Smuggs may have triple blacks but that does not mean that they are the hardest trails in the east. Some of them are not harder than black diamonds because Mad River Glen’s Paradise is a black diamond.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      0 (0 votes)
  6. Magic Mountain is what skiing the east is. Bumps, ice, rock, jumping logs, narrow trees (only MRG compares). Out west normally has such great conditions that it makes skiing easier. You find a good skier when they can ski in rough conditions. And just like any resort in Vermont, Magic Mountain can get a little icy. This is a fun place to ski that reflects what the east is about.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +4 (4 votes)
  7. Snowshoe ..what what… It’s actually the best place for a village scene family style. Everything is basically ski in ski out with a bunch of bars and restaurants. We never have to touch the car after we arrive. These days with small kids is means a lot not to have to lug everyone and everything around. Good spot.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +7 (7 votes)
    1. Agreed. Just got back from there today. By far the least expensive place I’ve been to. Even compared to much smaller resorts like Beech mtn, and Sugar mtn in NC! When all the slopes are opened, it’s a very nice place to visit. I definitely recommend this place.

      VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
      +1 (1 vote)
  8. That’s all good and great but this season Okemo is by far the best – and practically only – place to ski on the east coast. For some the fact it has 1/3 each of green, blue and black may be a turn off. And it’s certainly not the biggest mountain or he highest not does it get the most snow dumped on it or have the steepest or longest runs. But, it’s got it’s in the top quartile in just about everything and that makes it a legit contender on any “best of the east” list. This year Okemo has more skiable acres than any other resort in New England, significantly more than Millington down the road (not to mention it actually has a town, no crowds and much better ski schools for kids and way nicer and more able staff).

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)
  9. How about the appalachains with the highest mountain peak in the eastern US they have great runs! Expert to Beginner!

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +1 (1 vote)
  10. I’m unsure why the author says that at Mad River Glen “the lifts are so slow.” Contrary to this, the single chair has been said to be the fastest fixed grip chairlift in the United States. The sunny side double also moves at a speedy clip.

    Not only are the chairlifts at Mad River fast, but, most importantly, they will hoist you up to the sickest terrain in the east.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +2 (2 votes)
  11. I’m unsure why the author claims that at Mad River Glen “the lifts are so slow.” Contrary to this, the single chair has been said to be the fastest fixed-grip chairlift in the United States. The Sunny Side double chair also moves at a speedy clip.

    In addition to their speed–and more importantly–the lifts at Mad River hoist you up to the sickest skiing in the East.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +1 (1 vote)
  12. Wow missed the best ski hill east of the Rockies… LE MASSIF! Better terrain and less crowds than Jay Peak.. still adequate snow. Also worth checking out are Massif du Sud (dry pow hill, but mellow terrain) and Valinouet (mellow hill but hands down best snow quantity-vs-quality in the East). Sugarloaf is decent as well, big enough, fairly mellow and not much snow though. Chic Chocs for backcountry (think Tuckermans x50 and more snow).
    The hills listed are pretty good, but the most are usually very crowded and often have poor conditions. To include Mt Ste Anne and omit the better ones is a gaff.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    +2 (2 votes)
  13. West mountain Andy? Nice. You might as well have listed wacheusett. I’d add some “honorable mentions” but I think others have already.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)
  14. LOL at “West Mountain” being on there. Who wrote this list? Also it’s “Tuckerman Ravine” and it’s not a ski resort. Seriously, who wrote this? Don’t read too much into this list people.

    VA:F [1.9.22_1171]
    0 (0 votes)

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