Originally published in 2016
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? Or Japan? I hope so, but really where should you take your next adventure? It’s time you finally skied the East.
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 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 GoPro 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, 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:
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, and 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 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 April and May (they even extend their hours to 8:30 am to 5:00 pm). Much is said about Outer Limits, steepest, longest, widest, bestest, but the fun 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.
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 today’s age of high-speed six-packs. Also, if you can find someone to show you around, you can 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.
JAY PEAK, VT
As close to a Western ski experience as you’ll find East of the Rockies. The terrain is legit, bolder steeps than you’ll find at Northstar. Even many 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 received more total snowfall than Squaw Valley, CA, in 2013 and 2014. 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 349″ 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 through the brush. Otherwise, test your mettle 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.
This should also include Sugarloaf, ME as well as the 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; the same logic applies here.
When: The Holidays. Am I recommending you plan a ski vacation during the busiest time of year? Yes. When I think Stowe, I think of quaint notions like carolers and a crackling fire. It’s just that kind of place.
MT SAINTE ANNE, QE
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 Canadians 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 necessary 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 frostbite, but ultimately, it was worth it. Did I mention it will be cold?
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 entirely 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 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 the sidecountry 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 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. The bottom line is 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.
TUCKERMAN 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 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 difficult weather conditions make this less of a wintertime activity.
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 need to go when you are there. When and why will you ever be in West Virginia? It beats me, but if you are, make sure you pack your skis.
WEST MOUNTAIN, NY
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 the 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 incredible that places like this can even still exist, 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 Carhartts 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 do that for the most authentic experience. You’ll spend most of the time on the lift, but the skiing isn’t that great anyway. You’re here for the experience.
What kind of list is a top 9 list anyhow? Well, the ten spot goes for you to choose. 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 here. Start planning your trip to the East now.
This is the year… To ski the East.