Return to Mount Snow, the Hero of Southern Vermont
Peak Resorts' snowmaking investments are paying dividends, including their earliest-ever opening day.
The day before the first day back always feels a little like Christmas Eve. There’s a rush of preparation, and there are worries that something will get left behind in the confusion. There’s a giddy anticipation. As John and I drive north the stoke is palpable, and the excitement of a road trip through southern Vermont is a big part of it. We arrive in Bennington Saturday night on the heels of a late fall storm; the type whose winds paint the ground in splashes of amber and brown – portents of winter’s imminent arrival. I haven’t been in Vermont since May, and it feels good to be back. It’s already much more like winter here. Walking through town, the chill wind is comforting, like an embrace from an old friend.
We grab two seats at the bar at Madison Brewing Company, the best spot in town for hazy beer, tasty plates, and all things maple. I opt for a Vermont Cheddar Ale soup and maple chipotle wings because I want to stay on theme. I wash my meal down with the Old 76 Strong Ale, a malty English-style ale, and John has an F-Bomb, a combination East Coast-West Coast mixed style IPA whose hop styles blended seamlessly. On our walk back to the hotel, sleet begins falling – another welcome signal that winter is on its way. We stay up late devising plans for the season and sipping on a smoky, peaty single malt whiskey—the perfect nightcap for a chilly Vermont evening.
We’re up before the sun, eager to get on the road to Dover, but first a quick breakfast at The Blue Benn, a nearby classic railcar-style New England diner, where we fuel up with comically large piles of bacon, eggs, and potatoes. John struggles through the haze of last night’s peated enthusiasms and picks at his food. After breakfast, we wrangle up some Pepto for his penance before we hit the road north into the Green Mountains. As we climb, the temperature drops. It’s still autumn in the valley, but the deciduous trees have already made their curtain call in the mountains.
When we arrive at Mount Snow, we survey the damage from the previous day’s torrential, unrelenting rain. Canyon, a frontside blue trail from the summit to the base which just opened the week before, has been almost completely washed away. Fortunately, the mountain ops crew at Mount Snow have done a heroic job and preserved enough snow on the resort’s North Face to open for the day with two routes down the backside of the mountain. Peak Resorts’ $30 million investment in snowmaking and grooming at the resort has clearly paid off as, despite their southerly location, Mount Snow has now joined the ranks of Killington and Sunday River as those East Coast resorts most likely to open in October. They just had their earliest opening day in their 64-year history the weekend before, and while prior engagements kept us off the hill then, it feels great to be back on the hill the first weekend of November.
We boot up in the lodge and make our way to the Canyon Express, eager to make our first turns of the season. “Ski Tracks or it didn’t happen,” John says, reminding me that our unspoken annual competition for vertical has commenced, and we both start a new season on our apps. We step into our skis and drop onto a chair. As soon as my butt hits the seat, everything comes back to me. I begin to acclimate to the previously chilly thirty-five degrees, my goggles’ tint shades the landscape, and I breathe deep as though to rinse out the grime of urban and suburban lowland life. I’m about to do my favorite thing.
When we reach the top, my confidence all but disappears. My skis feel heavy and alien, like a couple of two-by-fours strapped haphazardly to my feet. My turns are clumsy and unsure, and as I flounder down the slope it’s difficult to believe that just a few months ago I was confidently shredding steep bowls in the Wasatch. My first run is an exercise in frustration. I feel cautious and wobbly. It doesn’t help that the surface is a mixture of frozen granular and the occasional patch of refrozen wet snow. Rocks poke through the base here and there, and dirt patches grow on the more southerly aspects of Cascade.
But with each descent my clumsiness dissipates, and while I’m hardly in mid-season form, I am back out on the snow and having fun again. Despite the scree field of mini-death cookies, the quality of the snow is surprisingly good considering the prior day’s weather. What more can I ask for from the first week of November?
By ten o’clock, the crowds have shuffled in and the slopes are full of fellow snow junkies seeking the catharsis of the season’s first turns. Mt. Snow is a Mecca of sorts for East Coast park skiers and riders and, displaced from their usual habitat in the resort’s acclaimed Carinthia terrain parks, they scour the terrain on Freefall for natural features and side hits where they can satisfy their pent-up urge to jib. We take a few moments to appreciate the air show, then download on the Grand Summit Express to grab some lunch and a couple of beers at Cuzzins Pub, where we shoot the shit with the bartender, Cinnamon Tim, while we unbuckle our boots for a while to relieve the aches of early-season boot torture.
Bellies full of chili and a little liquid courage, John and I make our way back up to the summit for a few more laps. The sun and mild weather have softened the snow and helped form plenty of fun, irregularly-shaped bumps. Our midday break did the trick, and I’m immediately feeling more confident. I carve sure-footed turns down the flatter, shaded section of the trail, then buoyantly ricochet off a field of sun-soaked, slushy moguls. I can tell John is feeling the same returning confidence when he careens past me, straight-lining down the final drop to satisfy his long-neglected need to go fast.
We pause at the top and take in the view north past the Somerset Reservoir, toward Stratton and into the Green Mountain National Forest. Bands of clouds slide across a pale blue sky, bordering a mountainscape poised for blanketing. With the exception of a light dusting from the previous night’s storm, there’s no snow in the vista, but the peaks are full of promise and potential, as though the entire state of Vermont is as stoked as we are. From our perch it seems as if we can see through spacetime itself, all the way into winter – like a glimpse of all the fun those mountains will soon dole out to the eastern faithful.
Wary of pushing things too hard on our first day back, we call it a day a couple of hours before closing. We got what we came for, we did our snow dance, and we leave impressed with what can happen when a ski area’s management, a supercharged snowmaking infrastructure, and a couple weeks’ worth of cooperative temperatures from Mother Nature combine to allow for a late-October opening.
Ski season is back, and if these past couple of weekends are any indication, it’s going to be a great one.