Opinionated Yankee Ski Bum
Western Ski Snobs
Those of You Who Can’t Stop Talking
About Western Ski Resorts
Dear Western Ski Snobs:
Lo and behold it’s winter again, that special time of year when I receive calls from all over the country, the other end of the line sizzling with excitement as you and your skiing buddies joyously exclaim that tattered and old cliché, “Three feet of powder, dude!”
It doesn’t matter whether you just returned from Alta, Aspen or A-Basin, I’ve heard this line more times than I’d like to remember. I respond, “Wow, it sounds like a wonderful trip, (insert name). I actually did some skiing myself this past week, over in Vermont.” I usually hear a chuckle and then: “C’mon, Steve. Small potatoes! You gotta come out here. This is where it’s happenin. Powder up to our knees, powder up to our waist, powder up to our goggles!”
I end up trying to defend Eastern skiing, but that’s futile, since comparing Eastern to Western Skiing is like comparing cats to dogs. They’re two different species. Yet, I’m forced to contrast in order to convince skiers that the slopes in the East are just as thrilling as the slopes in the West.
First, let me come clean. I haven’t always been an Eastern ski lover. I learned to ski at Maple Ski Ridge, a small slope in Upstate New York. My parents clothed me in a bulky combination of long johns, plaid shirts, and thick woolen sweaters. By the time I put on the awkward skies and tight boots, I felt as mobile as a statue. I took the slow T-bar to the top where I was greeted by a group of shivering kids with red chapped faces and blue lips who were also taking lessons. We then proceeded to follow our instructor down a patch of ice that was better suited for a rink in a figure skating competition. I slid down one run before running into the lodge where I warmed myself by the fire, drank hot chocolate, and sang the chorus to “The Day the Music Died,” the most popular song on the jukebox. It wasn’t until midway through the season, when my mother skied over to my instructor and questioned my whereabouts that she learned I was hiding in the lodge. To this day, my family teases me every time I bring up skiing, wondering whether I bought hot cocoa or not.
Photo from travelenvogue.com
Miraculously, I somehow learned to ski, but when I reached 18, I concentrated my efforts on warm-weather sports like scuba diving, sailing, and biking. My hiatus lasted a decade and when I returned, the sport had dramatically changed. Arguably, technology has had a far greater impact on skiing than any other form of recreation. Synthetic fibers like capilene, polypropylene, and polar fleece keep me as warm outside as I was by the fire at Maple Ski Ridge without thwarting maneuverability. Snowmaking evenly applies snow over the infamous New England patches of ice. Slow T-bars and J-bars have been replaced by detachable high-speed quads and heated gondolas so you don’t feel like Frosty the Snowman by the time you reach the top. New skis have made turning easy and new boots and bindings help you glide in and out of your skies effortlessly.
Now addicted to the sport, I’ve enjoyed Eastern and Western skiing. Believe it or not, both areas of the country offer challenging terrain. The Western mountains are obviously much bigger with incredibly steep verticals, but they’re also known for their wide straight boulevard cruising. Many Eastern trails are narrow strips around quick bends. And then there are the trees. Eastern skiing to me is serpentine trails around corners, down quick dips, through tight slots, always in the company of trees. You feel enveloped by the woods as you whiz by a rolling tapestry of maple, oak, birch, spruce, pine, and balsam. Take for example, Paradise, a wonderful series of trails that braid through the forest at Sugarbush. Here, you’re forever in search of the elusive fall line as you skim across windblown snow, get dumped into a basin of chest-deep snow, and somehow squirt into a glade around the next turn. Choose the wrong direction and you’ll get far too intimate with a chunk of bark. This is the way we ski powder in the East—deep, steep, and filled with great tree skiing.
Photo from Sugarbush
For the most part, Eastern skiing is on hard-packed powder, the result of excellent snowmaking capabilities. You can carve the turns smoothly without having to find your way through waist-high snow. In the West, snowmaking is far too costly for such immense mountains. Fortunately, you get heaps of snow, but if you’re unlucky like I was one time in Vail, you’ll end up skiing on two week-old mush.
I’d also like to dispel the myth that “Bigger is Better.” Bigger mountains can be overwhelming and somewhat inaccessible. New England’s biggest ski area, Killington, is known as the Beast of the East. It has 190 trails, 29 lifts, on seven mountains across three town lines. After a week’s stay here, the size starts to seem manageable and I leave feeling like Julius Caesar after battle when he stated the famous line, “Veni, vedi, veci” (I came, I saw, I conquered). Why would I venture to the West, where some mountains are three times the size of Killington?
If you haven’t gone Eastern Skiing, what are you waiting for? If you’ve tried to ski the East, but found it lackluster, it’s time to reconsider. Go east, young man! You might even find fresh powder. Three inches, dude!